It's been a tumultuous fortnight to what was already an action-packed tournament, and here we are. The end of IPL 2013. Although if the news reports on TV are anything to go by, the '2013' could be dropped from that last sentence.
For domestic Indian players like me, who are not established stars, the last two weeks have left us slightly rudderless. We are neither targets, nor shining examples of how the supposedly guilty should have acted. We are not owners or administrators, who are either lying low or fire-fighting.
We are just among the guys still thankful if we get an extended opportunity in the playing XI, but a little more wary, a lot more cautious and increasingly chary of even simple acts on the field, such as getting out a towel to wipe the sweat off our brows. Who knows what could be misinterpreted when? In times like these, you don't trust the system or even your own mates. We are the kind who could be easy fall-guys, especially if - god forbid - someone big is involved and has to cover the tracks.
When the three Rajasthan Royals players were detained by the police, most of the big guns were trained on Sreesanth. How could a Test cricketer be involved? It was shocking to us too, but almost as shocking was that Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan were named. As a worldly-wise individual, you know that temptation and greed are as old as the human race. As a sportsman, you instinctively believe that when you step on the field, your opponents are not going to give anything less than 100% for the entire duration of a match.
Having plied the domestic circuit and the IPL, I knew Chandila and Chavan as more than nodding acquaintances, and less than friends. And nothing could have prepared me for this. Three weeks before the Delhi Police picked him up, Chandila had spoken of his ability to bowl restrictively and how his dearest ambition was to do well in days' cricket. "If you ask me what I want to achieve in the next 12 months, I would say that I want to represent Haryana for the entire season," he had said then.
In December, Chavan had taken 9 for 23 for Mumbai against Punjab in the Ranji Trophy - the third best figures ever.
Every cricketer today is well coached in the art of the platitude, so you can discount the words, but what of their deeds? They might not have been close to India selection, but they were doing reasonably well for themselves. It's scary that they - who have accomplished more than I have so far - fell prey. And it's disappointing and infuriating too. I miss a tumbling catch, I bowl a no-ball, I play a slog-sweep and I can feel raised eyebrows. And they're raised much more easily for us. It may be an imaginary feeling, but it feels real in this period. That legacy of doubt and suspicion in the eyes of the cricket fan is what they've left us with now: I can't wipe honest sweat from my face because they've made the towel dishonest.
I get it when people say that we should be part of the auctions so that at least one avenue of possible lure arising from frustration is cut. You see guys who's performances are several notches below yours get much more money because at one point they were lucky enough to play for India - sometimes for a solitary limited-overs match. But it appears now that all players will be part of the auctions next year - so couldn't those who took the money they shouldn't have waited for a year?
Players on the fringe don't often move in the same circles as the 'suits' do, but I've become reasonably pally with one of younger guys who is part of the management in my franchise. And he was cynical about even fresh auctions that would include all domestic players.
"The auction's been gamed earlier too, with so few India internationals," he says. "I mean, look at that 'player retention' scheme they had in 2011. It was very clearly announced then that if you retained one player, $1.8 million would be cut from your budget. But - and this is the key - they also said that this 1.8-million figure was not what the franchise had to pay the player. That was a private matter between the franchise and the player. The same held true for each player you chose to retain. So you could - and some did - retain four players and lose $4.5 million from your auction budget. And it didn't matter if you were paying 10 or 20 million to those four players - you could pay them what you liked. And this wasn't even an under-the-table kind of payment. All perfectly above board, but private. And unfair in the sense that it made a mockery of salary caps which were put in place to ensure a fair league, and not one where whoever had the deepest pockets got the best players."
The suit has a point there, but that's not all. "Look at player transfers and retentions through injuries. Royal Challengers Bangalore got Chris Gayle as a replacement for the injured Dirk Nannes, who they had bought for $650,000 in 2011. After the season Gayle had in 2011, why would he choose to stay back, when he could have got a lot more than that by being in the auction? It doesn't make logical sense. Mumbai and Delhi used the transfer window to buy Dinesh Karthik, Pragyan Ojha and Kevin Pietersen. Does what they pay for them impact their auction budget? Do the prices paid for players bought via the tie-breaker affect the auction budget? It should, shouldn't it? For next year, if not this one?"
Food for thought indeed, but not of immediate concern to me. I don't envy the star players their star salaries. They've earned it. But the lack of transparency from the top downwards eventually hurts people like us. Did Chandila and Chavan look around and think that there was a feeling of some players making money unfairly - if not illegally? I'm as much a fringe player as anyone, and I don't really feel that, but I can see how some might.
Every franchise in the IPL has players of great stature and players like me. And those of us who've sat down with them to speak about the game, have felt the power of the great tradition of cricket. We've imbibed the value they place on Test cricket, even though we acknowledge the intensity of the modern Twenty20 game.
The actions of a few - and I'm fairly certain it is only a few, even if there may be more than the ones currently under the scanner - have tainted all of us. I hope it's a temporary taint, and not one that lasts, because I want to come back to the IPL next year and I don't want to look over my shoulder, wondering which action is scrutinised by whom.
And most of all, I want to be able to put the experiences of the past two weeks behind me. The players on the fringe have been the forgotten lot while the scandal has exploded. It's a blessing to not be in the crossfires of a scandal, but if you're innocent and all you want to do is play well and win a game of cricket, being lost and forgotten in an atmosphere of fear is the last thing you need.