With every unravelling allegation and revelation in the spot-fixing controversy, the lucrative Twenty20 league loses more credibility; with CSK pressing the panic button the signs are traumatic. (BCCI Images)
In less than a few heady hours on Friday May 24 the actions taken by unknown officials within the umbrella of India Cements Limited and its IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings to try and cover up any role that Gurunath Meiyappan, the son-in-law of BCCI president N Srinivasan, had in CSK's running wreaked of panic. It also further eroded the IPL of its credibility, turning the odorous soap opera of the last eight days into an even sicker, more foul-smelling and convoluted mess.
Within minutes of visuals of the BCCI-IPL rulebook being flashed on television, which states that a franchise can be terminated if it fails to match certain defined criteria, Indian Cements' executive president released a statement stating that Meiyappan "is neither the Owner, nor CEO/Team Principal of Chennai Super Kings. Mr. Gurunath is only one of the Members (Honorary) of the Management Team of Chennai Super Kings. India Cements follows zero tolerance policy and if anyone is proved guilty, strict action will be taken immediately. India Cements assures full co-operation with BCCI and the Law Enforcement authorities."
Within an hour of this, Meiyappan's name was removed from the admin section of CSK's Wikipedia page. In this time Meiyappan's name vanished from CSK's website. Not too long after, CSK's management deleted all tweets on its Twitter page from before May 5. On February 15, 2013 an tweet had been sent from this official handle encouraging fans to follow Meiyappan (@gurunath75) "for the updates on local players signed by us". That handle belongs to Meiyappan, who in the first part of his personal bio terms himself as 'Team Principal Chennai Super Kings'.
Clearly, India Cements and CSK had pressed the panic button hours before Meiyappan landed in Mumbai for questioning by the police. For the last few years Meiyappan has been a very public figure in matters related to CSK. He has been present at auctions - he was the designated official to raise bids - and matches, which only honorary and officials of the franchise can do. In an interview to the Hindu in February 2011, Meiyappan made a candid remark that, against the shadow of the allegations levelled against him, could prove damning: "Before every game, Dhoni, Fleming and I exchange our elevens at 5.45 pm (for the night matches)."
All this is on the record, so just how CSK plan to erase the implications of Meiyappan's alleged role in illegal activity promises to only add to this IPL potboiler. His arrest shortly before midnight on Friday now brings into question whether Chennai will be able to contest Sunday's final against Mumbai Indians at Eden Gardens. As per Clause 12.3 of the IPL anti-corruption code, a franchise's agreement can be terminated if "with immediate effect if: c) The Franchise, any Franchise Group Company and/ or any owner acts in any way which has a material adverse effect upon the reputation or standing of the League, BCCI-IPL, BCCI, the Franchise, the team (or any other team in the League) and/ or the game of cricket."
What then of Srinivasan's role? How will he, as father-in-law, head of CSK owner India Cements and BCCI president, take disciplinary action against either Meiyappan or the franchise? If ever there was conflict of interest in Indian cricket, this is it. CSK and India Cements have tried - foolishly, it must be said - to erase traces of Meiyappan having any official role with the franchise but even if a legal battle ensues, it will be extremely difficult to prove he was never a part of the team management and ownership group. Adding more masala was an agitated Srinivasan snapping at journalists who tried to reach him on the phone. He denied having ever said he would resign from his post with the BCCI, as was reported earlier in the day.
How is the common cricket fan supposed to take the IPL seriously? How can he or she look at the next match and not raise an eyebrow? Just over a week ago, three Rajasthan Royals players, one an India Test cricketer, were arrested. The police have so far addressed two matches played this season, but have publicly said they have at least 15 more in question. There are even suspected matches from the 2012 season, and with each day the proceedings keep getting murkier. Many have made the distinction between spot-fixing and match-fixing, but there is no denying that what has been alleged in IPL 6 has a direct bearing on the outcome of a match. This isn't just about a no-ball or a wide; if a bowler can agree to concede 14 runs off an over that amounts to match-fixing. What if two bowlers are doing it in the same match? That's 28 runs. In a format where it's not uncommon to see matches lost by under five runs, a bowler allegedly taking money to concede above 14 runs in an over is huge.
Against this scandalous background, how the organisers and those they employ to showcase it can profess to running a healthy, cricket-centric tournament is laughable. It is nauseating to read critic pundits still talk of how "outstanding" and "excellent" the cricket has been yet change their tone in Twitter in the immediate aftermath of all the shocking allegations and revelations. That very cricket which they praise is covered with the blanket of spot-fixing. How can you purport to run a tournament free of troubles when the kin of the BCCI president, who happens to be a team principal, is arrested on suspicions of illegal activity? This is so much more than "three bad eggs".
The IPL 6 final may happen, it may not. But right now, it's the identity crisis that needs attention. Since it was launched the IPL has claimed to be aid the growth of Indian cricket. But by not taking preventive measures to safeguard its players and the IPL, the BCCI has in effect hurt Indian cricket. In case the government does intervene and take over the running of Indian cricket, who will support the BCCI? Instead of jumping onto the defensive and publicly refusing to accept something was wrong and deflecting harsh questions to the role of the police, the BCCI should have suspended the current office bearers and replaced them with an ad-hoc committee. By choosing to sit and wait for action until all the cold, hard facts unravel; the BCCI has given the impression of being indifferent.
Now, more than anything, the BCCI must win back the fans - the fans who have the right to be disillusioned. No level of skilled cricket in the IPL will change that.