If we assume that the players punished are guilty in the IPL spot-fixing case, then the first phase has ended satisfactorily. The BCCI must be congratulated on the unsentimental and largely crime-fitting punishments that have been handed out to S Sreesanth and company (although it is possible that Amit Singh, cricketer and bookie, might have got away with a mere five-year ban).
But we have been here before. Over a decade ago. And that case involved a player whose profile was even higher - he was an India captain no less. He too was banned for life. But it was a case that failed to stand a court's scrutiny. The Andhra Pradesh High Court while lifting the ban on Mohammad Azharuddin made the point that the BCCI had not made out a good enough case. The Board swallowed the insult and did not bother to challenge the ruling.
All of which is a slightly roundabout way of leading to the question that asks itself. Will the Sreesanth case hold up in a court of law?
The difference is that this time the Delhi police have registered a case (in the earlier instance, there were no formal charges against the players till one was finally filed a few weeks ago), and presumably the BCCI itself will be better prepared.
The Commission of Inquiry in the earlier instance seemed to be so keen to give the players concerned a clean chit that many who were called before it were surprised that they were not asked any relevant questions at all. This time the public pressure has been greater, and the Board itself had finally awoken to the fact that they ought to be seen to be doing something.
Leaving aside for the moment the philosophical question of why we should believe the Board when it says that the players were guilty but not believe another of its committees which said the officials involved were not guilty, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the rot is deeper than Sreesanth or Ankeet Chavan. It is facile to say they were mere pawns because they were fully aware of what they were doing, but what of the quick-change artists such as M Gurunath (from owner to CEO to enthusiast in one easy move)?
Are the players being punished so the officials can go free, and the BCCI can point to its decisive action in one case to cover up for its lack in another? It is more convenient to find the players guilty and carry on as if the IPL has been cleaned of its dodgy elements than to dig deeper and find franchise owners and perhaps Board officials themselves involved in the fixing story.
From all accounts, the bookies arrested in the wake of the player arrests have been singing like canaries, but we have heard the public outpourings of only one of them, Vindoo Dara Singh. That it is the police and not the BCCI which is joining the dots, presumably tapping the phones and following up with the interrogations, might suggest that this time the authorities are serious.
The BCCI's order of priority is generally itself, then near and dear ones, followed by sponsors and franchise owners, players and only finally the game of cricket, although the last two occasionally change places.
Since the spot-fixing story broke in the media, Indian fans have had to deal with worse crimes, huge scams and political and economic fallouts of governmental inactivity. In the large scheme of things, wearing a towel to signal that a fix is on would not constitute a major life-altering crime in the eyes of many. But this is a dangerous notion. Cricket cannot afford to entertain crooks just because every other walk of life seems to do so. In fact, that is reason enough to clean up the game.
The BCCI has done well in phase one. But tougher battles lie ahead. The battle to regain the IPL's credibility, for one. The battle to ensure that the guilty are punished in a court of law. And the battle to ensure that the message - you cheat at great peril - filters down to those who tick the 'I don't know' box when asked to choose between what is right and what is wrong.