The game I love is being slowly and systematically destroyed in India and I need the key destroyers — the BCCI, in my view — to answer one simple question: Whose resource is it anyway?
Events in the last few weeks, in particular, have only highlighted the rot that set in many years ago. Now, dark clouds of extreme doubt and utter cynicism hang over everything to do with cricket and the BCCI.
Slowly. Relentlessly. Definitely.
Players have been trapped for spot fixing IPL matches. A Bollywood actor is being questioned. Several bookies have been arrested. An IPL team CEO is also being questioned for apparent questionable links. The ICC has pulled out one of its elite umpires from standing in the Champions Trophy. We do not know why, but in this climate of extreme cynicism, we have to assume the very worst; that the net has dragged in even a former ICC ‘Umpire of the Year’.
The IPL looks utterly fixed at the moment, although another expletive starting with the letter F and ending with the letter D would seem rather appropriate too.
Let me declare my cards: I do not like the IPL now. In fact, I detest almost everything it stands for.
I watched the IPL with much interest in its first season, and I loved it. I was a fan of this novel format because it was franchise cricket that brought together the best players from the world for a cricket carnival that lasted a few weeks. It propelled hitherto unknown players onto an international stage. It gave an opportunity for young Indian players to rub shoulders with some of the greats of the game. And it provided financial security to a very large set of players. This was exactly what Indian cricket needed, I thought. I even devoted some of my own research time to develop a better algorithm for scheduling the IPL (a publication on this is currently under review).
Moreover, much like Suhrith Parthasarathy, I wasn’t about to dismiss what seemed like an exciting concept without giving it a fair go. I genuinely believed that we would see new technical expertise being developed as a result of this craze. And there are people who will say that the IPL in particular — and the T20 format, in general — has indeed contributed to cricket in a technical sense. I was drawn immediately to the novelty of the IPL concept: a heady cocktail of entertainment and cricket that showcased Indian talent on the world stage in a genuinely exciting manner. I also enjoyed the stroke making as much as I did, the routine public floggings that bowlers received.
Then, as with many things in life, the novelty wore off. Unlike many things in life though, what I noticed was that apart from greed, there was a distinct lack of permanence or a cogent narrative to the IPL that I could see. After every ugly season, I only remembered the stench. I realized that the IPL was nothing but an instrument that fueled the insane greed of a few people; such an instrument only has hands and eyes on the cash-till. It operated in a totalitarian regime which ensured that people were either in or marginalized as they fed what appeared to be an insatiable greed. Everything else, other than the cash-till was made insignificant.
Goose. Golden Egg. Rinse. Repeat.
Such a greed machine always gets things very very wrong. I have nothing against commerce. But when commercial greed takes utter precedence over values and permanence that a sport ought to strive for, then everyone loses: the game, the administrators, the players and the fans. In the IPL, over time, cricket became almost secondary. In a relentless pursuit of TRPs, the TV station which had paid the BCCI a lot of money for rights to broadcast IPL games had no choice but to adapt to stay afloat. Cricket took a back seat. We got an extremely noisy television studio where the more loud one got, the better it was. We had dancing girls in the studio. Soon, short skirts, noodle straps and Bollywood glitterati were thrust into our faces at every opportunity. The after-match parties were talked about, advertised and sold. All of these defined the show more than the cricket on view.
Unsurprisingly, everything started to go pear shaped. With each passing episode, a lecherous greed seemed to grip the IPL. More games, more teams, more timeouts, more advertisement revenues, more players, more parties, more betting, more muscle flexing, more dancing girls, more sponsors on every inch of space, more money being siphoned off, more greed, more conflicts of interest, more being shoved under the carpet, more carpets being procured, more band-aids to cover up gaping holes.
More, more, more, more, more, more, more of everything except cricket.
I have no problems with glitterati, dancing girls, noodle straps and parties. I hate that all of that, wrapped up in a ‘more, more, more’ culture has taken precedence over cricket.
And in a culture that focuses on the cash-till and one in which more is actually less, are we surprised that a few players were led astray by exhibiting the seemingly ceaseless greed of their masters?
I am not at all surprised.
Today, the IPL represents a painfully tortuous mangling of everything I have loved about this game. Like Prem Panicker, I fell a sense of loss, a bereavement: “The abiding sense of loss that is a direct consequence of being deprived of something dear to me.”
Some people I talk to say I have a choice. They say I can switch off from cricket for the two-month period that the IPL is on and read books or watch old DVDs of movies I need to watch.
To those that say “If you do not like it, do not watch it,” I say ‘I just can not do that’ because the IPL uses resources that belong to me. And to you. And you. And you too.
I would switch off if it was the now-defunct Indian Cricket League (ICL). The ICL used its own resources: grounds, players, coaches, administrative machinery.
Not the IPL. As a fan of Indian cricket, I have a vested interest in the IPL because it uses resources that ‘belong to me’. The BCCI is entrusted with the task of managing these resources through a license to operate, provided to it by the ICC. The resources are the grounds, the nurseries, the administrators, the practice pitches, the groundsmen, the district competitions, the representative leagues, the Ranji Trophy, the Irani Trophy, the umpires and the players that have all been bred by the game you and I so love.
So, to those that say “If you do not like it, do not watch it,” I say, “If you want me to switch off from the IPL and if the IPL is truly a market-led initiative, then get your own resources.”
Until then, I need to know the answer to this simple question: Whose resource is it anyway?
If it is mine, then I have a say. Please hear it: Clean up the darned beast. And now.
— Mohan (@mohank)