Moot question: Are Indian Premier League (IPL) matches fixed or did spot-fixing take place?
It could be argued that the sting (by the channel India TV) shows corruption only as intent, not in real, legal terms, but that would be ignoring the warning signals that have clearly emerged. The conversations with players—even if most of it is loose talk—bespeak what the former sports editor of The Statesman, Kishore Bhimani, termed “casino culture” in the IPL: Beneath the razzle-dazzle, behind the serious and legit stuff, possibly some shenanigans are also taking place.
Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt serving prison sentences doesn’t seem to have been a deterrent to spot-fixing, if the sting operation is any indication.
It would appear that the corrosive influence of spot-fixing is hardier than the most stubborn virus! The big concern for cricket administrators—and not just in India—is that this malaise seems to have spread to domestic cricket. In England too recently, there was a ban imposed on a player for conniving with bookies to concede a certain number of runs in an over.
In a fix: Kings XI Punjab fielder Shalabh Srivastava is one of the five domestic players in the IPL to be suspended over spot-fixing claims. Photo by Sajjad Hussain/AFP .
Can the five players suspended by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on allegations of spot-fixing be put behind bars?
As yet there seems to be no direct evidence linking them to misdeeds. Even T.P. Sudhindra, who was shown bowling a no-ball in a domestic tournament as discussed, has not been shown to be a direct beneficiary of any money or favour, as was the case with Amir, Asif and Butt. Unless the inquiry initiated by BCCI under new ACU (anti-corruption unit) chief (Indian chapter) Ravi Sawani comes up with something tangible, good defence lawyers should be able to keep them out of jail.
If spot-fixing cannot be controlled, what other measures could be taken to limit the problem?
It would seem that the salary cap on domestic players seems to have become the ground for envy as well as a tool for nefarious negotiations with franchise owners, leading to underhand deals.
Why is this salary cap problematic? Doesn’t it allow franchises to spend their $9 million (or Rs 48.78 crore) purse more prudently?
In theory it should, but may not. First, the logic is flawed. Foreign players, even those who have not played international cricket, don’t have a cap; they come through the auction. Domestic Indian players who haven’t played international cricket have a salary freeze. What is perhaps worse is that an Indian player who may have played just two-three international matches may earn in crores while an equally, if not more talented, player suffers in comparison.
This leads to heartburn, and in some cases, could lead to diabolical measures of redressal. This again has two aspects. A player may be seduced into corruption like spot-fixing, etc., or sucked into wheeling-dealing with franchise owners to earn more.
Are franchise owners guilty?
There’s no evidence to suggest that. But from the transcripts it appears that this is common talk among players. The BCCI must address this forthwith to stem the problem if it exists. A good starting point would be disclosing the salaries paid to retain star players. How much a Sachin Tendulkar or M.S. Dhoni or Chris Gayle earns, for instance, is open to speculation because it is shrouded in secrecy.
Why not an ‘open’ system where there is no cap on player purchases?
This option was disputed by some franchises to limit the spending power of some owners with limitless resources at their disposal. The objective was to ensure that the IPL has eight teams of almost equal strength, not a couple of franchises pocketing the best players.
So what should the BCCI do now?
For the immediate issue, move as swiftly as possible with the investigations and live up to its “zero tolerance against corruption” policy. It would do well to take assistance from an external investigating agency to support its newly formed ACU.
In the long term, the IPL needs to be treated as a corporate entity, with proper regulatory protocols, checks and balances in place. Knowledgeable estimates put it as a $4.2 billion property. But in the public eye, it is still run like a mom-and-pop shop. Allegations of vested interest and conflicts of interest abound.
Apart from a professional CEO, an ombudsman and a representative of franchises, two independent directors in the governing council would make it a more robust authority which should be able to address most issues.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at email@example.com