IPL 2013 Blogs: 'Spotting' the error in the fix

Mounting hysteria on one side, willful blindness on the other. Fans of the game who might soon have a 'former' tag attached to them.

Updated: May 21, 2013 15:42 IST
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It's been barely a week since the news of the Delhi Police's arrests of S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan first hit the cricketing world in its collective gut. It's felt like a lot longer because, whether while flipping through news channels or clicking through websites and blogs, it's all anyone has written or spoken about.

Narratives have been sharpened - on television (mostly), there's been no room for nuance: from the betrayal of 'a billion' to the end of Indian cricket, from calls to remove the players' names from all records - friends on twitter jocularly suggested score-cards might read 'X caught EXPUNGED bowled REDACTED'- to endless quoting of 'sources' who all revealed more explosive, and so-far unverified, allegations. Even the ordering of the names of the trio has coalesced, from the most famous to the least.

Somehow, the talking heads who scream betrayal on television seem to communicate more 'he-who-shouts-loudest-wins-TRPs' than cricketing anguish - of the kind felt by devoted fans who didn't attend a marquee clash they had tickets for.

The studio hosts on SET MAX and on-air commentators have been the exception. Listening to them almost makes you want to read up on quantum physics and the mechanics of parallel universes and alternate dimensions, because they seem to be inhabiting one, such is the determination with which the issue has been avoided.

Akshay Kumar and Sonakshi Sinha have an upcoming movie? Oh gee, we'll get all excited about that, but god forbid we mention that the tournament we're covering has taken the most public 180-degree turn imaginable.

Mounting hysteria on one side, willful blindness on the other. Fans of the game who might soon have a 'former' tag attached to them, and full stadiums in the days immediately following the controversy that moved N Srinivasan to thank the people who had turned up. In the middle of it all are the alleged spots that were fixed.

And those spots are one of the two things that have occupied my mind the most after the initial shock and sense of sadness that accompanies any such revelation.

All three bowlers supposedly delivered on their promise to bowl overs that went for more than 12 runs, thereby fixing a spot in the match. Just an over, just 13-14 runs. Except, in the case of a Twenty20 match, it's not 'just' anything.

Can a singular 'spot' be fixed in a Twenty20 match? In an already compressed format, where one wide down the legside, one top-edged six, one misjudged dive are the differentiators between victory and defeat, the fixing of one period of play - however brief - must surely count as match-fixing.

Here's the math for the league stages of this year's IPL. Of the 72 matches, 23 were decided by the thinnest margins - winning by ten runs or with six balls to spare being the outer limits.

More than ten runs and six balls bowled at the minimum were enough to decide the outcome of a third of the matches in a very long league. There's a marked blurring of the lines between spot and match fixing, because in the shortest format, even an over is enough to change the outcome for a significant number of matches. This is neither new, nor revolutionary, and surely if the players are indeed guilty, they knew what they were doing wasn't merely affecting a short period of play, but potentially the result of the match itself.

Which brings me to the second gnawing thought of this episode. It seems to stretch the principle of willing suspension of disbelief when three players from the same franchise are the only ones whose names have come up, while the number of bookies being arrested has reached double digits already. All those betting men, spread across India, and they were only successful in manipulating three players from the same team? It could well be the case, but surely it's worth examining further.

I understand, and wholly concur, when Srinivasan says the BCCI has to follow 'the canons of natural justice' and can't be expected to take wholesale action if no other names have been mentioned. But what I'd have liked to hear, in addition to that, is that the enquiry that will be headed by Ravi Sawani will have broader powers - to investigate how far the rot spreads, and not just determine whether the three players named are guilty or not.

For all I know, that may well be the case, and there could have been several good reasons to keep the scope of the enquiry away from public consumption. When the controversy broke, there seemed to be genuine hurt in Srinivasan's voice while answering questions from across television channels. And he's right too, when he says that the BCCI does not have the power to police all bookies across the country, but can only focus on educating its players. But given that the board is composed of several powerful politicians across most state associations, it is surely not beyond its power to institute a more comprehensive enquiry.

Whether the results of such an enquiry will affect attendance on the ground is another matter. The stadiums were full in Hyderabad, Pune and Bangalore in the days after the scandal broke. And viewership in Indian cricket didn't suffer too much after the match-fixing scandal of 2000 too. That we might have forgiven too easily is a plausible argument, as is the fact that post-2000, the fans didn't go away because Indian cricket found a golden generation that gave them their finest on-field decade.

The other explanation is scarier and more disturbing. It may not be the exploits of Sachin Tendulkar, the artistry of VVS Laxman, the steadfastness of Rahul Dravid, the dignity of Anil Kumble or the leadership of Sourav Ganguly that brought Indian fans back. They may have returned in any case - perhaps in slightly fewer numbers and with a mite less loyalty - simply because cricket has become a national habit, and after the initial outrage, it's easy to move on.

We have perfected the art of moving on after terrorist strikes, after all, with invocations to a city's 'spirit', so what's in a dodgy game? Apathy is as much a national habit as cricket is.

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