The deafening silence of our cricketing legends
First a confession: I am an IPL convert. I find the T20 game inventive, exciting and almost addictive. I have even learnt to take in my stride Sidhu's pun-a-minute motormouth, the inane banter of the model anchors and the gratuitous presence of cheerleaders. And yet, as the IPL has drawn to a close, I am left with a bitter aftertaste. A hardened Mumbaikar has found it tough to truly rejoice in the success of the Mumbai Indians. Something, somewhere, has cracked in my heart and, yes, I am grieving.
It would be easy to blame the spot-fixing scandal for the heartbreak. Yes, cricketers, who 'fix' their performance for money, have betrayed us. But somehow it's not the sight of the Sreesanths and the Chandilas in jail which trouble me. Spot-fixing is a global problem and there is little that the best anti-corruption unit can do to really put an end to it. There will always be individuals driven by greed: Sreesanth got caught but I have little doubt there are other 'rotten eggs' who have got away.
Nor are BCCI officials responsible for my sense of disillusionment. Officials in all sports, not just cricket, have a unique ability to stick fevicol to their backside. Mr N Srinivasan is only symbolic of the rhinoceros-like hide which is necessary to be a sports administrator in India. Sports unites our political class like little else. Is it any surprise that the same politicians who call for the Prime Minister's resignation on a monthly basis are now citing 'due process' as a reason not to seek Srinivasan's removal? The BCCI has always been a small, cosy club of elites which looks after each other. If greed drove some cricketers to become 'fixers', then power is the glue that convinces officials to brazen it out.
Nor am I shocked to learn that one of the team owners has been arrested for betting. The moral fibre of some of the super-rich IPL franchise owners and organisers has always been suspect. The man who started the IPL refuses to return to the country and face the law. A number of owners are facing charges levelled by state investigating agencies and Parliament committees. The privilege of sitting in a team dugout doesn't make one a genuine cricket enthusiast; money can buy that privilege and it should come as no surprise if some owners have misused access to players for self-aggrandisement.
No, the 'fixer' players, the arrogant officials and the sleazy owners don't trouble me. What is really responsible for my depression has been the attitude of the ex-Indian players, many of them legends of this game. Since the spot-fixing and betting scandal broke out, these illustrious heroes have barely spoken. Instead, there has been a peculiar conspiracy of silence at the highest level of the cricket-playing community which is deeply concerning.
If a Sunil Gavaskar, the original little master, who made a reputation of standing up for players' rights, now chooses to be diplomatic over the volcanic eruption around him, then it is reason to feel anguished. If a Ravi Shastri, who claims to call a spade a shovel, has reduced himself to a showpiece spokesperson for the BCCI, then there is little one can say. Not a single of our contemporary greats - be it a Dhoni or a Sachin - has chosen to go public with their concerns (the lone exception has been Rahul Dravid who likened 'spot fixing' to a personal 'bereavement').
Apparently, stringent and lucrative player and commentary contracts are seen to have 'bought' the silence of our icons. Last year, all past cricket players were given hefty cheques as retirement benefits. It was a nice gesture by the board, but one which it appears was designed to ensure servility. Today, our star cricketers are either players, mentors, brand ambassadors, commentators or selectors: all subject to the BCCI's diktats, each compromised by the relentless desire to be on the gravy train. The few like Bishen Bedi and Kirti Azad who have spoken out are branded as permanent angry rebels driven by personal agendas.
Let it be said, I come from a cricketing family. It is not as if my father's generation stood up to the board. Many of them, my father included, could not withstand board pressure when they played the game. But in their defence, I will say that the stakes were heavily stacked against them. The players of the 50s and 60s did not have either the financial muscle or the self-belief to confront the board and demand greater accountability.
Today's cricketers, who are crorepatis several times over, do not face the same compulsions. That they have chosen to play safe rather than question the board is the real disappointment. It is not as if the board has only harmed Indian cricket: there is much the BCCI has done which it needs to be credited for. But where it has gone wrong like in the obvious conflict of interest in IPL management, they must be made answerable.
For now, those questions have been posed by 24x7 media. But Mr Srinivasan is right: he will not resign only because of a frenzied media response. The only way to end the lies and denial is if the country's top cricketers came together on one platform and demand a change in cricket's governing structure. Indian cricket survived the match-fixing crisis because a few good men led by Ganguly, Kumble, Sachin, Dravid, Srinath and Laxman showed the way. It's time for the entire cricket fraternity to stand up and be counted again.
Post-script: At the IPL prize distribution, we had the trimurti of Rajiv Shukla (Congress), Anurag Thakur (BJP) and N Srinivasan do the honours. Where were our cricket legends? Dressed in designer kurta-pyjamas, they were the glorified impresarios for the night. Enough to leave any true cricket fan angry and depressed.
More about Rajdeep SardesaiRajdeep Sardesai is the Editor-in-Chief, IBN18 Network, that includes CNN-IBN, IBN 7 and IBN Lokmat. He comes with 22 years of journalistic experience during which he has covered some of the biggest stories in India and the world. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the Managing Editor of both NDTV 24X7 and NDTV India and was responsible for overseeing the news policy for both the channels. He has also worked with The Times of India for six years and was the city editor of its Mumbai edition at the age of 26. During the last 22 years, he has covered major national and international stories, specialising in national politics. He has won numerous other awards for journalistic excellence, including the prestigious Padma Shri for journalism in 2008, the International Broadcasters Award for coverage of the 2002 Gujarat riots and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award for 2007. He has won the Asian Television Award for best talk show for the Big Fight on two occasions and his current flagship show on CNN-IBN, India at 9, has been awarded the best news show at the Asian awards for the last two years. He has been News Anchor of the year at the Indian Television Academy for seven of the last eight years and won more than 50 awards in this period. He has also been the President of the Editors Guild of India, the only television journalist to hold the post and was chosen a Global leader for tomorrow by the world economic forum in 2000. An alumni of St Xavier's College, Mumbai, he has done his Masters and LLB from Oxford University and has also played first class cricket for the Oxford University team. He has contributed to several books and writes a fortnightly column that appears in seven newspapers.
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