Before I joined Wisden India, I spent seven-odd years in the news television industry (there, you won't take me seriously again!). Being a producer-reporter-clown, part of my job was to get excited about every single news development, run to the camera and start talking - fast, often repeating myself, and, on the whole, creating the impression that I know everything about the story, its past, present and future, the causes and effects, the ramifications. I was also expected to pronounce judgements; usually, I stopped short of doing so.
It was very different this time around. When a news channel produced a sting operation during Indian Premier League 2012 involving five small-time cricketers making boastful claims on camera, for once, there was no need to launch into an immediate criticism of everyone from Srivastava to Srinivasan. Finally, there was time to sit back, look at the developments, and study all the angles.
Except that in The Case of the Five Foolish Cricketers, I came up with no fresh insights. There was never any doubt that T P Sudhindra, Shalabh Srivastava, Mohnish Mishra, Abhinav Bali and Amit Yadav would be hung out to dry by the Board of Control for Cricket in India. There was never any doubt that the IPL team owners would get together and agree that they were all innocent. And there was never any doubt that the cricketers would, in due course, sue the BCCI.
This is like 2000 all over again. Corruption takes place under the BCCI's (and, in that case, the International Cricket Council's) nose. The BCCI reacts, bans players. In the 2000 case - incidentally, I was part of the investigating team at Tehelka, though a junior member - at least one BCCI official (then secretary Jaywant Lele) spoke to our 'investigator' Manoj Prabhakar and said enough to suggest that he was not in the dark about match-fixing. In fact, on a later date, in an on-record interview with Tehelka, Lele said even more, suggesting that at least one senior Indian cricketer had 'gotten away with murder'.
But all that was a long time ago. What about now?
N Srinivasan, the BCCI president, is closely associated with the IPL as the Managing Director of the company that owns one of the teams. Is it possible that - forget spot-fixing in random state-level Twenty20 tournaments - additional payments to non-Team India cricketers, if it is happening, is happening without his knowledge? Maybe. Maybe not.
It's simple. Either Mohnish Mishra and the others were actually receiving additional payments from their IPL teams, or they were not. If they were, and Mohnish is right, then he is not the only culprit; his team owners are equally culpable. And if he was lying, and there is no such activity in vogue, then all Mohnish is is a liar and a braggart. And while lying or bragging are not good things (and none of us has ever done it, of course), I don't think the punishment for it is a ban - whether for a year, more, or less. What the player needs is counselling, but then, that is a topic for a whole different article.
When it comes to spot-fixing, things get murkier. In the case of the News of the World expose concerning Pakistani cricketers, the evidence was such that there was no doubt about bookie Mazhar Majeed's claims. It was all happening in front of the cameras. In the case of the Madhya Pradesh Premier League, I'm not sure. In any case, spot-fixing is far too difficult to monitor. If it's happening, it will continue to happen. There can't be a way to stop it. Banning one or two cricketers for being loose-tongued is not good enough. If it has to be purged, we need a well thought-out campaign. What we have right now is one or two cricketers being punished for doing what, it seems, a lot of cricketers are doing. If the sting operation cameras had approached more cricketers, more of them might have said something equally stupid.
Essentially, this is no solution. It might suit the BCCI's purposes to pretend that one or two cricketers are bad apples and removing them from the basket will clean things up. I'm fairly sure that's not the case. Above all, this punitive action against a few minor cricketers only ensures that the powerful remain protected. And that, I'm sure you agree, is not a good thing.