The days of Slapgate and Lalit Modi versus P Chidambaram seem far away, and rather timid compared to the controversies that have surfaced during the fifth season of the Indian Premier League. In a week that's resembled something like the midpoint of the French Revolution, we've had a sting operation by a Hindi news channel, five cricketers suspended, a Bollywood superstar and IPL franchise owner banned from a stadium for five years after fighting with the security personnel and an overseas player accused of trying to molest a woman during a late-night party at an up-market hotel.
Around these controversies, we've seen former IPL chairman Modi speak on air about shady underhand deals in the league and former players and politicians – which include former players turned politicians and politicians who wish they were players – debate the IPL in the Parliament. One of these, the former India cricketer turned BJP MP Kirti Azad, has even announced that he will go on a fast outside the Feroz Shah Kotla against the IPL after this slew of controversies. "Yahaan kaala paisa tha, match-fixing thi, daroo thi...bas rape ki kasar thi [there was black money, match-fixing and alcohol here...all that was missing was rape]," ranted Azad on a news channel after news broke on Friday that Pomersbach, an Australian in the Royal Challengers Bangalore franchise, had been taken to a police station in New Delhi on assault and molestation charges arising from an incident at an after-match party for the IPL players.
The IPL has constantly courted controversy and invited plenty of criticism, but the events of this week have been the worst the league has been hit with. Monday threw up the sting operation alleging spot-fixing and money laundering, and on Tuesday the BCCI suspended five domestic players. Wednesday saw a stand-off between Shah Rukh Khan, co-owner of Kolkata Knight Riders, and security officials at the Wankhede Stadium, and on Thursday Khan told reporters he had been provoked and would abuse guards again if he had to even as the Mumbai Cricket Association filed a police complaint against him. On Friday, the king of Bollywood was handed a five-year ban from entering the Wankhede. Shortly before the MCA banned Khan, came the news that Pomersbach had been detained for allegedly molesting an Indian-American woman. It wasn't supposed to be like this, was it?
All is not right in the IPL world, and the BCCI's infamous ability to react to controversial matters, especially where wrongdoing is concerned, stands to be showcased yet again. For critics who grumbled about the IPL being more than cricket and the devil incarnate, this week's incidents offer much ammunition. It cannot be discounted that there has been some good, entertaining and engaging cricket on display in IPL 5, but when the public's doubt over the authenticity of that cricket has increased manifold, the tournament's reputation will indeed take a hit. Khan's altercation does not augur well for the tournament either; a franchise owner, and that too a man of Khan's power, has been banned from a leading cricket venue. Khan can go on saying that his life won't change if he cannot enter the Wankhede, but the repercussions of the ban could be felt in the future and lead to much bad blood. Khan can shout himself hoarse but his actions and the reaction from the MCA has left a mark on the IPL.
The truth about and repercussions of Pomersbach's detainment in New Delhi will surface soon enough, and if he is found guilty, then it will be damning for the IPL. Few doubt the amount of alcohol that flows and women that are on offer in the IPL, but even if the Pomersbach incident is found to be in isolation from franchise-sponsored affairs, there will have been enough damage done.
Already struggling with low TRPs, the IPL needed a strong, successful and overall clean season in 2012. When Sunday came to a close, the tournament was wide open with seven teams vying for the final four spots. Come Friday, and the on-field action has been completely overshadowed by the revelations of Monday, the player suspensions of Tuesday, the brawl on Wednesday, the to-and-fro of Thursday, and it's not just the rupee which has hit a new low on this Black Friday.
Whether the IPL picks itself off from this week from hell could be one of the most engrossing and most followed stories of the near future. Sadly, that's not what the league was supposed to be about. In all this, the cricket has been sidelined.