IPL 2013: TRPs could soar following the spot-fixing disclosures

With the amount of money floating about, the  extravagant attractions of the good life, and the huge pool of cricketers involved the menaceof fixing was waiting to happen © IANS

The spot-fixing drama surrounding S. Sreesanth— along with Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan — has generated shocked reactions from the cricketing fraternity and beyond. While the incidents are deplorable, they are by no means unexpected, opines Arunabha Sengupta.

There are reactions that range from outrage to anger to pain to disillusion. The arrests of Shantakumaran Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan on charges of spot-fixing, and suspension of the trio by the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), seem to have rocked the cricket world to the core.

Yes, that’s right. The cricket world has been supposedly shocked. Yet again. From every corner we hear screams — merging into echoes across the connected world — for strictest punishment, zero-tolerance and immediate crackdown.

The allegations and disclosures, and the drama in the aftermath, are sensational. However, perhapseven more unbelievable are the reactions — of the fans, former players, officials and administrators along with the cricketing and non-cricketing celebrities. The capacity of the said cricketing fraternity to be shocked again and again ad infinitum is truly intriguing. By all laws of rationality, the sensibilities associated with rigging and fixing on the cricket field should have been hardened into a callus by now.

This is by no means a recent development. Match fixing is as old as the game. In the very earliest days of the sport, in the late eighteenth century, cricket was played for huge stakes,with land, property and money wagered on the results. This was one of the major reasons why the same group of English elites who framed the property laws also came up with the laws of the game. Professionals were hired by the landed rich, trained to perform and deployed in games in which huge amounts were punted on the outcome. And throwing matches was very rampant among the cricketers of that era – a period often assumed to be the age of innocence.

Neither is this the first time the game has been tarnished by filthy lucre. As early as 1832 John Nyren lamented the way cricket was increasingly being played for money. And in the 1860s, novelist Anthony Trollope was disgusted with cricket because of the increasing amount of commercialisation. The colossal sums we see nowadays have definitely increased exponentially, but that is a function of time. The concept is ancient. Every human venture since time immemorial has been influenced by financial considerations, and cricket has never been exempt — regardless of the bed-time stories we like to hear.

And even for those who revel in basking in the illusory after-glow of a fabricated, romantic and blemishless past, the events of the last two decades should have been enough to prepare them for such eventualities. This is not the first time cricketers have been charged and neither will it be the last. Unless suffering from anterograde amnesia, there is no earthy cause forthe startled disbelief that we see.

Besides, why should it be unexpected? Corruption and greed reign over every sphere. Our senses have been anaesthetised enough to read about bribery, fraud and scams without even raising an eyebrow. We see filth in all walks of life. However, when it comes to the cricketers — even for the umpteenth time—we are faced with the impression ofbeing scandalised, appalled, or deeply saddened. The Bible commands the bishops not to be greedy for filthy lucre — no such divine stipulation exists for cricketers. They are as human as you and me, and as fallible.

With money openly ruling the cricketing senses, reputed superstars of the game have openly preferred the Indian Premier League (IPL) to the international commitments for their country.

Incidentally, even this phenomenon of preferring clubs over country is not a spectacular new-age evil either. Due to contractual obligations, or plain financial concerns, cricketers of the glorious past have often made similar choices. Sydney Barnes and Learie Constantine are legendary names who, due to circumstances or necessity, had chosen to do duty for the club even when their services were required in Test matches. Numerous rebel tours to South Africa have often demonstrated thatmoney talks with a near religious fervour to induce conversions. The Kerry Packer World Series took the greatest cricketers away from the official international engagements for a couple of years. Perhaps never before has the choice been dangled with such vulgar display of financial enticements, but this dilemma has been faced many a times in the past. And choosing one over the other is a personal decision, linked to the life and circumstances of the individual player, and hardly provides the license for a black-and-white evaluation of the cricketer’s morality.

However, if money makes cricketers prefer IPL to country, is it really surprising that a bit more will make them overstep once in a while during a 20-over game for their club? Of course it is not an honest practice, and harsh punishment may indeed be the way to go about it. But, why this act of flabbergasted disbelief when this inevitable does take place?

In fact, going by past precedence, the amounts of money floating about, the  extravagant attractions of the good life, and the huge pool of cricketers involved — of various backgrounds, levels of talent, and situations in life — it would have been incredible if nothing of this sort took place at all.
Finally, is it bad for the game?

The question is not really as rhetoric as it sounds. For cricket, indeed it is another blow to deal with — not crippling, but major enough to leave an ugly scar. For the romantic fan, it is yet another smudge on the game that will make him squint to detect irregularities before he can enjoy the next game. For the IPL? I am not so sure.

With late night parties, romping cine stars and financial magnets, dancing girls shaking their hips at every event or non-event, the bashball affair is a spectacle. More than that, the Indian subcontinent likes to view the extravaganza in the same way they treat every enormously popular talent show on television — a reality show where the peripheral noise is as important, or more so, than the action in the middle.
In these circumstances, the delicious spot-fixing spice can actually send the craze, excitementand TRP on a salivating overdrive.

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(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)