Meiyappan’s alleged involvement has ensured that the latest spot-fixing scandal is the mother of all cricket scandals

Gurunath Meiyappan is the team principal and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) — a team that has made the final of the IPL five out of six times, won it twice and could pick up a third trophy on Sunday © AFP

By Jaideep Vaidya

At 7.15 pm on Thursday, May 23 — exactly a week after the spot-fixing scandal hit the Indian Premier League (IPL) — Gurunath Meiyappan sent a “legally worded” fax to the Mumbai Police’s Crime Branch saying that he will appear before them for questioning on Monday, May 27, as against the May 24 deadline set by the authorities. The request for the extension to the deadline has since been turned down and Meiyappan has been threatened with an arrest warrant if he does not show up on time. Meanwhile, around 2,000 km east of the city, the tournament prepares to host its second qualifier in Kolkata — the winner of the match will progress to the final. However, the events over the last seven days have all but pushed the result of the sixth edition of the cash piñata of a tournament to a mere formality.

It all started on May 16, a day after the Rajasthan Royals visited Mumbai for a clash against the Mumbai Indians, when the Delhi Police took custody of three Royals playersS Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan — after they unearthed evidence linking them to spot-fixing in the league. The IPL was never a tournament shy of controversies, with each of the five editions prior to the current one giving enough fodder to newspapers and news channels to splurge across their columns and tickers in big bold lettering. But this time, it was different. The Pandora’s box that has been smashed open by the cops is one that is lethal enough to stamp an inerasable blot on the gentleman’s game.

With each passing day, the skeletons keep tumbling out of the closet with tempestuous speed, and today, there are enough to fill a graveyard. The scandal has already reached a magnitude big enough to overshadow the shameful match-fixing saga that marred the country at the turn of the millennium. The credibility of the IPL as a tournament, which many believe is already long gone, is diminishing faster than the chips of a really bad Poker player. What started with the arrest of three players, including a discarded World Cup-winner for the national team, today it has spread across various industries and vocations. At the time of writing, the police are investigating the role of players, bookies, Bollywood stars, gangsters, umpires and team owners. But one name stands out in the list — one that could potentially have unforeseen, unthinkable ramifications on Indian cricket.

Gurunath Meiyappan is the team principal and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) — a team that has made the final of the IPL five out of six times, won it twice and could pick up a third trophy on Sunday. Meiyappan is also married to the daughter of Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) chief, N Srinivasan, who is the owner of the franchise. That’s not to say being the son-in-law of the most influential name in Indian cricket is Meiyappan’s only shot to fame. To the uninitiated, Meiyappan is a well-known public figure in Chennai whose family owns AVM — the oldest and most high-profile TV serial production house of South India. He is the son of AVM Balasubramanian and grandson of AVM Meiyappan, the founder of the company.

An heir to a sizeable fortune, Meiyappan’s wedding to Rupa Srinivasan was Chennai’s version of the Royal wedding — the coming together of two of the most prosperous families in the city (Srinivasan is, of course, the founder and managing director of India Cements — a company whose net worth was more than Rs 4,000 crores as of March, 2012). Meiyappan, who had dabbled in golf and racing earlier, was given charge of the Chennai Super Kings when Srinivasan formed the franchise in 2008. Since then, Meiyappan has been a regular feature in the team dugout, dressing room and after-parties. He is one of the chief decision makers of the franchise and one of the prime architects of the heavyweight of a team it has become, filled with superstars galore coming at a hefty price tag. He is a man who once told The Hindu in an interview that, “Before every game, [captain MS] Dhoni, [coach Stephen] Fleming and I exchange our elevens at 5.45 pm [for the night matches starting 8.00 pm].” You don’t need further proof of his level of involvement in team matters.

To have such a name added to the murky mixture that has brewed up in the last week begs to propel this saga to a whole new level. Ever since Meiyappan’s name was first flashed across news channels a couple of days ago, the Indian cricket fan’s worst fears have all but come to the front. The involvement of Meiyappan in the spot-fixing controversy is literally like knocking on the BCCI’s door, who have spent the last seven days trying to tune down the brouhaha with the “few rotten eggs” theory and promising “strict action” against the accused if proven guilty.

However, Meiyappan has since been linked to Vindoo Dara Singh — a small-time actor picked up by the Mumbai police for questioning related to betting, who was also spotted with Dhoni’s wife Sakshi during a CSK match. Vindoo has allegedly told the police that Meiyappan lost a lot of money in betting this season. While Meiyappan’s name has so far not been linked to spot-fixing, betting is illegal in the country as well. Times Now reported the cops have records of almost 30 phone calls between Vindoo and Meiyappan, and that ever since Meiyappan’s name appeared on the radar, he has gone AWOL [absence without leave] from his home, with the police unable to communicate with him before his fax landed on their laps Thursday evening. After giving him a deadline of 5.00 pm on Friday to surrender and avoid being termed a fugitive, Meiyappan’s fax asking for a three-day extension has only added to the mistiness of the story. If he is indeed clean, why would he ask for three extra days to appear, unless he needs the time to make a strong case for himself with his legal team.

“IPL or a den of sleaze?” asked a news channel on its evening primetime show. Anchors, in booming baritones, while playing up “the muck that has shot through the roof”, continue to demand the resignation of Srinivasan and his family members. While BCCI officials continue to recite the all-too-familiar verse of “don’t jump to conclusions” and “let the investigation be over”, the uncertainty over the whole situation is enough to send a chill down the spines of Indian cricket lovers. If the BCCI chief and/or his family is involved, what next?

Where will that leave Indian cricket? Where will it leave a team that just two years ago was at the pinnacle of the sport after bagging the World Cup? Where will it leave one of India’s greatest captains, Dhoni, who is as good as Srinivasan’s adopted son and vice-president of his multi-million dollar company?

Srinivasan, as the head of the most powerful cricket board in the word, has had his decent share of critics in his five-year tenure, even within the country. But even the most vocal of them will hope that he isn’t involved in this mother of all scandals, for the sake of Indian cricket.

(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog – The Mullygrubber)