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Paint of taint: How the IPL spot-fixing scandal hurt the gentleman's game

Here's an excerpt from Boria Majumdar's new book 'Eleven Gods and A Billion Indians'

Boria Majumdar 

IPL 2018, IPL, cricket
Photo: Reuters

Live pictures of Sreesanth, a double World Cup winner, being paraded like a criminal by the Delhi Police became a rage in India and everyone was keen to know what lay in store for the tainted trio. But what did the arrests mean for the tournament at large? Would it be stopped or would it carry on? Would the fans give up on the and stay away from the knockout stages of the tournament? Were the arrests only the tip of the iceberg, with the possibility that more instances of cricketers’ corrupt behaviour could unravel in the days ahead?

Even as the questions kept multiplying by the minute, the Royals, due to play in Hyderabad next, decided to carry on with their plans with the CEO [Raghu Iyer] staying behind in Mumbai. Dravid, everyone agreed, would meet the press in Hyderabad and do his best to stem the tide. ‘It helped to have Rahul as captain. He is one the world listened to and believed that the team as a whole really had no idea about what was going on,’ Iyer said.

What was of interest was that Sreesanth, picked up late that night by the police, was in Mumbai on personal work and was not part of the playing XI against the Mumbai Indians. He, Iyer confirmed, was desperate to play but was not included by Dravid and Upton. Sreesanth was displeased with the decision and did not want to be with the team if he was not included in the playing XI. The team management, based on inputs from Upton, had agreed. He could be a negative influence if he was around, had been Upton’s argument. It is a matter of conjecture what Sreesanth might have done had he played the match against the Mumbai Indians and if his displeasure stemmed from the fact that a deal had turned sour.

Paint of taint: How the IPL spot-fixing scandal hurt the gentleman's game. Photo: Reuters

Paint of taint: How the spot-fixing scandal hurt the gentleman's game. Photo: Reuters

Already under intense public scrutiny and pressure, the Royals lost the game against Hyderabad despite bowling the opposition out cheaply. ‘Things had impacted the team,’ said Iyer. ‘There was a lot of mistrust floating around with players starting to look at each other with suspicion.’ This was especially true of the foreigners who had started to look at the Indians, except Dravid, with very different eyes. Former Australia fast bowler Shaun Tait, too, Iyer confirmed, was suddenly the subject of scrutiny. ‘It was rubbish, you know.

All of a sudden we were told that Shaun was bowling wides and no balls. I was not sure where all this was coming from and Tait was concerned with these rumours.’ Trying to get a hand on the situation, the Royals cancelled a trip to Delhi and flew back to the team home base in Jaipur. This could give them some respite from the media and also allow them to regroup. ‘Paddy Upton [Royals’ coach] led a team-bonding exercise for well over five hours and it really helped. Not everything and everyone was corrupt and we were still a team that stood united was the message,’ Iyer concluded.

To their credit, they won the next match in Delhi and travelled to Kolkata to play the qualifiers in a slightly better mental space. Just when it seemed that the Royals and the BCCI had managed to get a hold on the crisis, the Mumbai Police made a second major arrest, which escalated the calamity to a very different level. The arrest of Vindoo Dara Singh, son of Dara Singh, the legendary wrestler, actor and politician, and himself a small-time actor, for his alleged association with bookies, seemed to open up a very different trail of investigation which went far beyond the BCCI’s ‘three rotten eggs theory’. On 23 May, the Mumbai Police called the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) boss Gurunath Meiyappan — who is also the son-in-law of BCCI chief N. Srinivasan — for questioning. This meant the BCCI itself was now in the corruption radar. Srinivasan, despite his many attempts, could not distance himself from his son-in-law and when Meiyappan was arrested by the Mumbai Police late on 24 May, the crisis turned into a catastrophe of humongous proportions.

Hand in glove: Cricketer Sreesanth after his arrest in the Indian Premier League match-fixing case. Photo: Reuters

Hand in glove: Cricketer Sreesanth after his arrest in the Indian Premier League match-fixing case. Photo: Reuters

CSK, as a franchise, made a gigantic blunder on 24 May in trying to distance itself from Meiyappan, stating that he was neither the owner nor team principal. Within minutes of the declaration, his photograph wearing the owners’ badge started doing the rounds on Facebook and Twitter, adding to the embarrassment of the franchise, the BCCI and its supremo, Srinivasan.

Srinivasan, who wielded enormous power in Indian cricketing circles at the time, rejected all calls for his resignation on moral grounds and blamed the media for hounding him. That he was feeling the heat, however, was clear. Prior to a press conference which Srinivasan was supposed to preside over only hours before the final in Kolkata on 26 May, he is said to have called his friend and advisor-of-sorts Shashank Manohar for guidance. Manohar, a former BCCI chief and one known for his no-nonsense stance, allegedly advised Srinivasan to step down pending inquiry. This conversation was the start of a bitter fallout between two of Indian cricket’s most powerful figures, a spat that continues to influence major cricketing decisions at the time of writing. Srinivasan wasn’t keen on giving up his BCCI post and differed from Manohar and his resignation theory.

Eleven gods and A Billion Indians Author: Boria Majumdar Publisher: Simon & Schuster Pages: 400 Price: Rs 460

Eleven gods and A Billion Indians Author: Publisher: Simon & Schuster Pages: 400 Price: Rs 460

Manohar, on the other hand, believed that the only way Srinivasan could protect the BCCI and keep his own dignity intact was by resigning and distancing himself from the inquiry. The press conference in Kolkata on 26 May was one of the worst in the history of the BCCI. By terming Meiyappan a mere ‘enthusiast’, Srinivasan allowed the media to take pot-shots at the BCCI and label it a body that lacked transparency and probity. Fans started lampooning him on social media, saying they, too, wanted to be a mere enthusiast and rub shoulders with the likes of Dhoni and Suresh Raina.

At a time of serious tumult for the BCCI off the field, it was expected that the IPL, in its final stretch, would also suffer a fan backlash. A number of Mumbai Indians players who were in Kolkata for a playoff encounter against Rajasthan on 24 May confessed to me that they could hardly sleep that night and were glued to their television sets following the unsavoury Meiyappan saga. Two of them even suggested that the players were in no mood to celebrate the win against the Royals given what was going on in the country. They were apprehensive that the final against Chennai could turn out to be a damp squib with fans boycotting the game. To everyone’s surprise, though, Eden Gardens was packed to capacity on 26 May, with 61,000-plus fans attending the match. Off the field events, it was evident, had little impact on the game itself and the IPL still had takers. While Srinivasan was booed by the crowd when he stepped on to the podium to hand over the IPL trophy, a loud cheer was reserved for the Mumbai Indians and Sachin Tendulkar.

Reproduced with permission

First Published: Fri, April 20 2018. 22:00 IST