The fault, dear Brutus…

Law Minister Kapil Sibal made an interesting statement the other day:

Kapil Sibal said the government should keep away from sports “as far as possible” as it could damage it.

“Sports can’t be run by governments…governments getting involved in sports activities would ultimately damage sports,” he said.

He said more:

“I am not saying that in every situation, but as far as possible government should keep away. But when it becomes absolutely necessary, then there is no way out, then of course at that time government can take a position,” he said.

Wait — the police discover evidence of large-scale betting, which is illegal. The police discover evidence of large-scale money transfers and the active involvement of the underworld. And the law minister, no less, thinks it is not ‘absolutely necessary’ to ‘take a position’? Wow!

When the implications of this statement sink in to the minister’s fatuous head, the inevitable disclaimers and clarifications will emerge (“When I said sports, I was referring only to cricket — of course the government should get involved in all other sports so we can thoroughly damage them all”) – but for now, the statement stands, and it is one loaded with implications.

For starters, it questions the need for a sports ministry, currently headed by Minister of State Jitendra Singh. It also questions the need for the allocation of Rs 1219 crore for sports and youth affairs in the current budget (a hike, incidentally, of Rs 214 crore from the previous year).

Could we shut down a ministry that clearly has no business existing, and save that money, please?

Oh never mind – that is a cheap debating win. The real implication of Sibal’s statement is far more fraught: what he is saying is that the government has no intention of doing anything at all in relation to the large-scale corruption in the IPL, to the gross mismanagement of cricket by the BCCI.

That, the minister is saying, is the BCCI’s business, not anyone else’s.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be: the BCCI runs a parallel government, and its leaders have sufficient bipartisan clout to ensure that there is no interference. After all, look at the lineup of the BCCI’s top officials: Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley, Farooq Abdullah, Rajiv Shukla, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Ranjib Biswal, Anurag Thakur… politicians of varying stripes united by their “love for cricket” and also by their shared determination to protect their cozy fief from external scrutiny.

And looming large in the shadows is patron saint (I use the word ‘saint’ loosely. Very loosely) Sharad Pawar, who plays the part of ex-officio godfather — or, to borrow from N Srinivasan’s new-minted lexicon, “enthusiast”.

With that kind of collective clout opposing it, what is the government to do? Exactly what Kapil Sibal did: try to find a pretty way to dress up its impotence, to disguise the fact that it can do nothing against a body that purports to run cricket at its behest.

Those dreams you had, that this latest round of corruption and malfeasance would be the final straw that breaks the back of government patience and forces it to act to rein in a body run amok? Wake up and smell the coffee – it ain’t going to happen.

But wait – did Pawar not say that if N Srinivasan had an ounce of honesty, he should resign? Did the BJP – of which Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley are leading lights – not fulminate and demand Srinivasan’s immediate dismissal? Did Central minister Lalit Maken not demand that the BCCI come under the purview of RTI, while dismissing that body’s claim that it is a private entity?

Clearly, there was a groundswell of political support cutting across party lines, for a purge. So why did it all go pffft? Why did Kapil Sibal – the government’s go-to man when it needs someone to come up with a ‘face-saving’ statement – effectively signal the government’s hands-off policy?

The simple answer: Dominoes.

Back in the day when Pawar took over the reins and we celebrated the decline and fall of Jagmohan Dalmiya, cricket was quietly partitioned off behind the scenes. And it was inclusive – everyone (of any consequence, that is) got a slice. (In passing, does anyone remember that not so long ago Virendra Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and other senior players threatened to quit Delhi, alleging large-scale corruption in the selection process? Who is the head of the DDCA, again?)

The result is a Mexican stand-off of sorts: no one can speak out about anyone else, because if they do and their target begins to feel the heat, he just might decide to open his mouth and spill all sorts of beans about the ones talking out of turn.

Hence the sudden silence, after the initial bluster. The BCCI honchos know that they are all stacked up like dominoes – the fall of one will lead inevitably to the fall of the rest.

The sequence of events is instructive: N Srinivasan went totally silent on the day of Gurunath Meyyappan’s arrest and for a couple of days thereafter, thus buying the time he needed to tug on various sensitive strings.

Once he was sure things were in control, he came out into the open and hosted a press conference that was nothing more, nothing less than an extended fuck-you to fans and the media alike. And the government of the day has, through the ever-ready mouth of Kapil Sibal, now signaled that there will be no repercussions.

So how does this play out now? The BCCI committee will meet, and the inquiry will go right down to the wire (after all, Ravi Shastri is one of the three members – and while on that, did you fall off your chair laughing at the thought of a bought-and-paid-for BCCI mouthpiece being named to an “independent” inquiry committee looking into the misdeeds of his paymaster’s son-in-law?)

It will then recommend “strict action” against a few players – after all, from the days of the French Revolution we have known that nothing stills discontent so much as a few human sacrifices offered up on the guillotine of expediency.

It will find that there is no real evidence against Meyyappan, but will recommend – it has to signal impartiality, no? – that this “enthusiast” be prohibited from all direct involvement in the game.

And then it will be back to business as usual, for the BCCI knows, none better, that given time and distractions, we fans will forget.

The fault, dear Brutus, lies in ourselves, that we are underlings

There is a lesson there for us fans: Nothing will ever change, unless and until we really want it to.

PS: Does it strike you as strange that the IPL is beset with allegations of corruption and sponsors are actively considering pulling out — and there has not been a single, solitary statement, not so much as a peep, out of IPL Commissioner Rajiv Shukla?

It reminds me of this fictional exchange:

“I will have you know, sir, that my integrity has never been questioned.”

“Questioned? I have never even heard it mentioned.”

PPS: Cricinfo has ten questions for N Srinivasan.

I have just one: If Gurunath Meyyappan is not officially involved with the IPL, if he is just “an enthusiast”, then what exactly is the “independent committee” inquiring into?

PPPS: Woah! Didn’t realize there were this many Shakespeare fans out there. Some outrage in my mailbox about me misquoting WS. Okay, I was simplifying. The full Cassius quote is “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings”.

I knocked out the stars because it didn’t fit. It could have been “lies not in Srinivasan but in ourselves”, though.

Update @ 5.45 pm: Srinivasan has been arguing that the BCCI is united; that no member of the board has asked him to step down; that it is merely a few ‘fugitives’ and the media that is doing all the demanding (by the way, what does he mean by ‘merely the media’? Since when did the media become ‘mere’?).

Anyway. Here you go: IS Bindra says he should step down. As does Jyotiraditya Scindia — who among other things is a member of the disciplinary committee.

“Let me say this that I, for not even a moment, am assuming or saying that anyone is guilty. But considering the environment that is around cricket today, considering the fact that we do need to cleanse the sport in every single meaning of the word, I do believe that it would be in the fitness of things, if Mr. Srinivasan did step aside until this matter reached a conclusive end in terms of an inquiry,” Scindia told the television channel Times Now.

“If he and his family members, or rather his son-in-law, is absolved then surely he can come back. But considering the environment that cricket is in today, I do think that if you combine the fact of a conflict of interest and his own family member being involved in an ongoing investigation, it is in the fitness of things and more from a spirit point of view and propriety point of view, I do believe that he should step aside.”

 

Crime and lack of punishment

A small story on the front page of the Times of India, May 10, merits some attention. The money quote:

Some will still recall the famous episode in which he broke down a door after being dismissed at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla during an India-West Indies Test in 1983.

(Sir Vivian) Richards recounted, “Someone called me up the night before in the hotel. It was an anonymous call. He said, ‘Mr Richards? You don’t know me but if I were you tomorrow I’d be careful of (the umpire). The next day, I got hit on the pads. The ball wouldn’t have hit another set (of stumps). Kapil just sort of went ‘aah’ (gesticulating disappointment) and I was given out. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the finger going up. You never heard about match-fixing and all that stuff so I don’t know what was going on then.”

The story underlines what so many of us have been saying for so long: corruption in cricket is not new. And this knowledge is why so many of us opted out of cricket reporting, as I explained in this post.

The French have a phrase for this manifestation of disillusionment: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (The more things change, the more they remain the same).

Between the period Sir Viv was speaking of and today, we have had many, many changes in the way cricket is played; we have had old heroes bow out and new icons emerge; we have invented new strokes and new deliveries to counter those strokes; we even have new forms of the game complete with cheerleaders and carnival barkers masquerading as commentators. But some things remain the same. The corruption at the heart of the game is one such.

In mid-May 2012, the BCCI ‘launched’ an inquiry into corruption among cricketers.

In mid-May 2013, the BCCI launched an inquiry into corruption among cricketers.

Ironically, the two ‘launches’ were exactly a year apart. So what does it say when the outing of corruption becomes an annual event in the IPL calendar? And equally, why despite all these well-meaning ‘inquiries’ does the malaise persist?

Because of the nature of the ‘inquiry’ itself. Neither the 2012 edition, nor the latest one, are actually meant to inquire into anything other than what was discovered by other agencies, and outed in media headlines.  The 2012 edition thus confirmed that the five cricketers caught in the TV sting were culpable; the 2013 edition will find that the three players indicated by the Delhi cops are in fact culpable.

That is not an ‘inquiry’; that is merely validation of what has become common knowledge. And that leads to the conclusion that these ‘inquiries’ are meant to serve one purpose only: to create the impression that the BCCI is ‘serious’, and is ‘doing something’.

Sir Humphrey Appleby, of Yes Minister fame, invented this playbook (or at least, gave it clear expression):

Minister, two basic rules of government: Never look into anything you don’t have to. And never set up an enquiry unless you know in advance what its findings will be.

What did the BCCI carefully refrain from looking into? Here is Harsha Bhogle, from a year ago:

The greater issue in this sting – if you were patient enough to get to it – was the realisation that many players get paid more than they are entitled to. And that’s because there is a ceiling on how much uncapped domestic players can earn, there are some naughty money transfers going on.

…..

And so the issue of players being paid more than the contracted amount remained a whisper. Now players are saying it happens. The BCCI can look at it two ways. It can disbelieve the players or it can accept what they are saying and launch a serious investigation (which has been done but I do not know what its scope is) though it is very unlikely the board would not have known about it in the first place.

It will be unfortunate if only the players are investigated because you cannot accept money unless someone offers it. If the players are saying they were offered extra money, then it means the franchises were violating IPL rules too. If players are to be punished for accepting money they shouldn’t have from franchises, then the franchises should be punished too. In his recommendation in 2010, on the Ravindra Jadeja case, Arun Jaitley suggested as much, and I think his legal acumen and stature can be used to strengthen procedures in the IPL.

Harsha is by nature unfailingly polite; he inclines to calling a spade a manually operated eco-recreational implement. As a mind experiment, though, let’s try calling a spade by the name on its birth certificate. What does ‘naughty money transfers’ mean? Under the table payments. And what does that mean? Unaccounted — that is, black — money. Paid off the books, by franchises to players. And what is the word for that?

Anyone say ‘corruption’? Okay, you get the cigar.

Why connect — when a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon rain forest-style — that problem of franchises finagling the books to today’s problem of three players shading their performances for spot cash? Because this could have been — in fact, was — foreseen. Here is a very prescient Sharda Ugra, circa 2012: (Emphasis mine):

The India TV sting operation will end up being misleading only if the IPL allows it to be. What the sting operation has revealed again is that some of the IPL’s most influential stakeholders are willing to go the extra mile to get players they believe they need. The players, who cannot understand what the word ‘enough’ means, are just willing to bargain long and hard.

If the franchises are not pulled up or reined in, another sting operation in a few years’ time will just offer up another round of suspensions.

The only thing Sharda got wrong is when she anticipated the next upheaval in ‘a few years’. As it turned out, it took only 12 months almost to the day for the next round of headlines, and resulting suspensions.

And it is not just columnists reading tea leaves invisible to the rest of us. The problem has been repeatedly brought up in news reports as well. Here for instance is a story from the Hindustan Times, from 2011:

This effectively means the IPL gave franchises a free hand to pay the retained players. According to the buzz in the IPL fraternity, Mumbai Indians – who retained Sachin Tendulkar, Lasith Malinga, Keiron Pollard and Harbhajan Singh – and Chennai Super Kings – who retained Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Albie Morkel and Murali Vijay – have spent anywhere between $8 and 12 million to retain these four players.

Add to this the case of domestic uncapped players and it is proved beyond doubt the salary cap just doesn’t exist. From this season, the IPL has introduced a cap for Indian players who haven’t broken into the national squad. Based on their experience in domestic cricket, they could be paid salaries of Rs. 10, 20 or 30 lakhs. Had the players and the franchises stuck to the clauses, we wouldn’t have witnessed  Siddhartha Mallya, son of the RCB owner, flying to Vadodara on Monday to woo Ambati Rayudu into switching to the Bangalore outfit from Mumbai Indians.

Rayudu, eligible for Rs. 30 lakh per year, has apparently agreed to a Rs. 80 lakh per annum deal with the Mumbai Indians. And the buzz on Monday was that RCB offered him an eight-figure deal to switch loyalties in their favour.

A year later, here is Tariq Engineer in Cricinfo, discussing the same issue. For me, though, the money quote is this:

While the board has cracked down on players, it has so far not acted against the franchises. N Srinivasan, the BCCI president, came out in defence of the owners after Monday’s sting. “All the franchisees have people of stature behind it,” he told a television channel. “It will be wrong to presume they are doing something wrong and then make enquiries. If something comes to light it is different. All the franchisees are reputable people and I have respect for them.”

You can almost picture Srinivasan exchanging the more traditional dhoti for a toga, and declaiming: “For Brutus is an honorable man, and so are they all, all honorable men…”, about those who had the blood of cricket Julius Caesar on their hands.

The BCCI knew what was going on. Hell, its president, wearing his other hat as head honcho of a successful franchise (which ironically ended up bidding successfully for the services of Ravindra Jadeja, who the BCCI had suspended earlier for shopping for a better deal), is an integral part of what is going on. But the BCCI, and its president, chose to do nothing about it. Why? Cue my favorite bureaucrat, Sir Humphrey, again:

To put it simply, Prime Minister, certain informal discussions took place, involving a full and frank exchange of views, out of which there arose a series of proposals which on examination proved to indicate certain promising lines of enquiry which when pursued led to the realization that the alternative courses of action might in fact, in certain circumstances, be susceptible of discreet modification, leading to a reappraisal of the original areas of difference and pointing the way to encouraging possibilities of compromise and cooperation which if bilaterally implemented with appropriate give and take on both sides might if the climate were right have a reasonable possibility at the end of the day of leading, rightly or wrongly, to a mutually satisfactory resolution.
James Hacker: What the hell are you talking about?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: We did a deal.

 Exactly. They did a deal, the BCCI and the franchises. And its structure was simple: we have rules, in case anyone asks, but you guys who own franchises are welcome to do whatever you can get away with.

What does any of this have to do with spot-fixing? This: The IPL has not been set up, nor is it being run, as a kosher cricket tournament. The emphasis is on the money everyone gets to make – from the Tendulkars, the Dhonis and Gayles of this world to the unknown regional player whose lottery number unexpectedly came up.

When corruption is institutionalized and made standard operating procedure, why should instances of random corruption occasion such national breast-beating and soul-searching? Another year, another scandal — in other words, business as usual, no?

In The Aeneid, Virgil wrote: Crimine ab uno disce omnes — From a single crime, know the nation.

We prostitute our women and criminally abuse our children; we convert our most valuable natural resources into private gold mines for the benefit of the very few. What does it say about us as a nation when we corrupt even cricket — that sport we follow to forget, for a few minutes, the muck that surrounds us, that sport that is, soi disant, the religion that binds this nation?

PostScript: Since ‘inquiry’ is the theme of this post, this direct quote from N Srinivasan (via the Tariq Engineer article linked to above) is the most illuminative:

It will be wrong to presume they are doing something wrong and then make enquiries. If something comes to light it is different. All the franchisees are reputable people and I have respect for them.”

See? That is the BCCI mindset, right there. We will see/hear/speak no evil. If some external agency — a TV station doing a sting, cops trailing the underworld — bring something to light, and we have no other option, then we will ‘launch an inquiry’.

Srinivasan probably didn’t mean to say that in so many words — but his words are a Freudian slip that reveals just how ‘serious’ the BCCI is about rooting out corruption in its midst.

And the rest is silence

Going unnoticed in all the World Cup-related hype is the fact that another powerful franchise, the Royal Challengers, has added its weight to Mumbai Indians on the question of the last minute changes in IPL auction rules.

“I look forward to clarification from the IPL or response to Mumbai Indians letter. I have further gone on records to say that I wish there would be an inclusive process, where the franchise, the principal stakeholders, would also be given a greater consultative role in the entire IPL administration process.”

That is Vijay Mallya, expressing the hope that the IPL will in fact respond in some detail to the MI missive. To know how futile that hope is, read the letter in full — paying particular attention to the items a-j sought for per #6 in this note:

Hilarious, that wish-list. How in heck can there be agenda details, minutes etc for decisions that were made arbitrarily, with no reference to the governing council besides its usual post facto rubber-stamping duties?

While on that, said GC never seems to learn. When the Modi imbroglio hit the headlines and questions were asked about why the GC had not been more active in forestalling corruption, the response trotted out by worthies like Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri was that their brief was related to cricket and related matters alone; finances were not their concern. So here you go — an issue directly relating to the cricket, and the GC as always remains invisible. (Ironically Pataudi, who for a brief while won kudos for “introspecting” and suggesting that GC should have been more aware of what was going on, was in September 2010 retained on the Council alongside Ravi Shastri, who in contrast to his garrulous commentary avtaar has absolutely nothing to say about anything to do with his IPL governing council duties. Since his retention, there has been a scad of other controversies culminating in the murky doings around the January auction — and lo, Pataudi remains mute.)

Then again, the reasons for the GC’s inertia inadvertently came to light last year thanks to the mini-furor over Sunil Gavaskar being dropped from the Council, and the former India star in turn claiming that he had not been paid for his three years of turning a blind eye as a member of the GC. Remember how that argument went? Gavaskar said he was not paid; on behalf the board, N Srinivasan said of course he was paid. It turned out that both were right — the BCCI had paid Gavaskar what it was supposed to on paper, which is a sum of Rs 1 crore per IPL season; what Gavaskar was claiming was the larger sum “promised” by Sharad Pawar, in his capacity as then BCCI chief, for his “services”.

As is our way, the public debate at the time was all sound and fury, with both parties posturing for the media — but substance there was none. For instance — did anyone ask Pawar why he would pay Gavaskar a sum over and above that promised? What was that additional payment for, and what ‘service’ was Gavaskar supposed to render in return for that additional amount? Did anyone pose those same questions to Gavaskar, asking him to explain the sub rosa deal, and why he had agreed to accepting an undisclosed sum over and above the princely amount he was getting for doing the three monkeys act all in one go?

In a post earlier, I had argued that corruption to be eradicated or at least curtailed had to be tackled at source. On a related theme, read Gideon Haigh. And at the end, know this: this furor, too, shall pass. With no answers to the questions raised. The BCCI will sync up with the franchises behind the scenes, paper over the whole affair, and it will be back to business as usual — because that is the nature of this particular beast.

On a happier note, some good reading in the Outlook special issue on Sachin Tendulkar, now out on the stands. The roster of writers is excellent — the cream of the crop, really, from India and abroad. Buy it, savor it, keep it. In passing, my friend Krishna Prasad had called, asking if I was interested in contributing a piece to that special. Would have loved to — only, the call came at a particularly inopportune moment, with little or no mindspace to deliver what the subject required. In retrospect, of all the articles and blog posts on Sachin written over the years, I think the one I would have submitted for the special is this one — one of the last pieces I wrote for Rediff, as it turned out. My attitude today to Tendulkar the cricketer is what I tried to capture in this segment:

What does it say of Tendulkar that having raised the bar to impossible heights in 1998, he is able to effortlessly vault over it 11 years later?

We have for the space of two decades repeatedly witnessed the alchemy of genius effortlessly convert the impossible into the seemingly inevitable.

Do we, then, treasure each such glimpse of divinity in and of itself, painstakingly weaving them into the Tendulkar mythos and marvelling at our fortune that we were eye-witness to events that will provide grist for a generation of sports balladeers to come? And in the process of thus celebrating the genius, do we refrain from questioning the mortal who, in the lengthening interregnums between individual outbreaks of brilliance, needs the deeds of the past to justify his presence in the present?

Perhaps there is no pat answer to the conundrum. Writing in Mint, Dileep Premachandran quotes Mathew Hayden as saying: “When Tendulkar goes out to bat, it is beyond chaos — it is a frantic appeal by a nation to one man.”

Maybe we should just stop parsing the numbers; maybe we should be grateful that every once in a while, Tendulkar hears that appeal, and responds as only he can.

In passing, another good read — Wasim Akram on the art of pace bowling.

The wellspring of corruption

Writing in Cricinfo this morning, Harsha Bhogle makes a point that plugs straight into something a cricketer and a friend told me last night.

Why do I play this game?

If the answer is that you want to excel at the one thing that you are good at, that you want to find the limits of your ability, that you relish the challenge of a competition, that you get goose pimples putting on your country’s colours and walking out to the expectations of your countrymen, you will pursue those goals and take whatever reward you get. Invariably it will be handsome.

If the answer is that you want to earn a good living as quickly as you can, that you want to bask in the comforts of the material pleasures that your talent delivers to you, you will take whatever financial inducement comes your way. Inevitably it will be tainted, inevitably the dessert will be laced.

It is our choices that tell us who we are.

But these choices can be influenced; sometimes, and I hope never, young players can be coerced into walking down a specific path. And so it comes down to the air they breathe when their minds are still fragile. It could be the air of excellence that drives a young man to newer heights of achievement. Or it could be the putrid air of greed that could infect him and snuff a career out before it has had time to blossom.

The point is well taken — like any other seed, corruption needs fertile ground in which to spout, to flourish. [While on that, read Tariq Ali] And the saddest part of the ongoing corruption saga is that all conversation is about rooting out the individual plant, never about clearing up the soil itself.

That is the point my cricketer friend made last night, while we were discussing the recent developments. I was arguing for ‘zero tolerance’ in practice, not merely in words. I’ll paraphrase his reply, from my notes:

Great! “Zero tolerance” — sounds wonderful. So let’s look at how you’ve applied this principle in real life, in recent times. The ‘commissioner’ of the most cash-rich cricket tournament in the world has been accused of corruption to the tune of dozens, hundreds of millions. And — nothing. Yesterday he was holidaying in the Bahamas, today he is enjoying life in London, tomorrow he will fly in a private jet bought with money earned from the sweat of cricketers to some other playground of the super rich. The second in command of the BCCI has been publicly accused of deeds ranging from manipulating his own acquiring of a franchise, to fixing auctions, to fixing umpires to favor the interests of his side. And — nothing. He denies it, throws mud at his accuser, remains in his post. The then president of the BCCI has been accused of, even proven to have, undisclosed interests in various franchises; he has been accused of actively working to manipulate the results of franchise auctions. And? He is now the head of the ICC.

This, the cricketer said, is the atmosphere in which the game is played in India today; this is the example we set the young and the upcoming: that corruption comes with benefits, but it does not carry a price tag.

He has a point. In any corporate environment, if there is an accusation of corruption, the first official act is to suspend the concerned person from his post. That is not a proclamation of guilt, but merely a routine part of the investigative process. If I am accused of finagling the books and siphoning money off from the editorial budget, say, and you leave me at my post while my guilt is being probed, I can use that time to hide all traces of my malfeasance. That is why the company’s first act will be to suspend me pending investigation. [Read Kamran Abbasi on why the suspension of Butt, Asif and Amir is right, why that does not conflict with the presumption of innocence that is the right of every human being; this is also why the ridiculous posturing of the likes of Wajid Shamsul Hasan will do more harm than good.]

Yet, in recent times, every single top official in the administration has been accused of corruption to varying degrees — and every single one of them remains in his post [with the exception of the ‘commissioner/suspended’ — and that suspension was not so much the result of a genuine desire to probe the charges, as it was a manifestation of the internal power politics within the board].

This [my friend said] is the example you are setting for the young, impressionable players. They see a bunch of officials who have never sweated it out on the field of play, never put their skills on the line, making untold millions from the sport and getting away with it. And yet you think that they, themselves, will have the moral fibre to resist all opportunities to make a fast buck. That sounds realistic to you?

That is the “putrid air of greed” Harsha is talking about. It is the “putrid air” that Indian [and Pakistani] cricket has breathed from the early nineties on, through successive administrations, each of which has proved to be more corrupt than the last. So I agree with my friend — the real surprise is not that a few are corrupt, but that so many others are not.

There is another way of looking at this issue. Money, not talent, dictates whether we get admission to a school or college of our choice; money, not ability, dictates whether we get a job as a policeman, a jurist, a doctor, an engineer, whatever. So, if I have to bribe my way into a cop’s uniform, why is it surprising if I use that uniform to cloak my own corruption? Surely I didn’t spend all that money to get that post simply so I could uphold law and order? That bribe was an investment; now that I’ve gotten what I wanted, I need to make that investment pay dividends. [Society accepts, or at least does not actively question, this practice — what the hell, a judge, no less, who was accused of large scale corruption was ‘punished’ by being made chief justice of a state high court. This bloke is going to uphold the law?!]

From that point of view, consider this: corruption in cricket begins not at the international, but at the regional, level. It is no secret that state-level selectors take money to pick players for the representative side — so if I, as a player, make that investment, what do you suppose I’m going to do once I make the cut? [A tangential point — it is these same state selectors who in time become members of the national selection committee — which, as far as they are concerned, widens their window of opportunity].

I’m not merely theorizing, here, that corruption exists at that level and that corruption, defying the laws of physics, then trickles up: have we forgotten this already? Some of the most senior players of the national team accused the selection committee of their home state of widespread corruption. What was the outcome? A politician who is also head of the state selection committee flat out said there was no such thing. The long-time head of that state association, arguably the most mismanaged in Indian cricket, “assured” that the “complaints would be considered” [ironically, this gent, who has been in his post for aeons,  is one of three members of the disciplinary committee that will hear charges of corruption against Lalit Modi].

Accusations surface, noise is made, nothing further is ever done — and in time, we forget. Change venue, rinse, repeat, and there you have the story of India’s dysfunctional cricket administration. Seriously — what fools are we, that we expect honesty and integrity to flourish in this soil?

Eye Browse

1. Umberto Eco’s piece in the Guardian about the importance of good handwriting struck a nerve. I used to pride myself on my neat, even writing. Now, I have a collection of fine writing instruments [one of my obsessions], and a handwriting that deteriorates into the realm of the illegible after about two sentences. From Eco:

The crisis began with the advent of the ballpoint pen. Early ballpoints were also very messy and if, immediately after writing, you ran your finger over the last few words, a smudge inevitably appeared. And people no longer felt much interest in writing well, since handwriting, when produced with a ballpoint, even a clean one, no longer had soul, style or personality.

And while on that, a recent study indicates that handwriting is the best lie-detector test there is.

2. Social media familiarity breeds contempt, seems to be the moral of this Times Online story on Stephen Fry.

3. “When the pet develops rabies and starts biting its own mentors, it must be put to sleep, no way around it,” a senior general involved in military operations in the North-West Frontier Province told me in late April, suggesting a definite new realization — if not change of heart altogether — that as far as the military establishment was concerned, the militants had gone too far. Until that point, the Army’s claims that it was doing its best to hunt down “miscreants” were met with skepticism across the board.

That clip is from a Foreign Policy article suggesting that Pakistan is making more progress in its war against terrorism than an increasingly cynical world is prepared to acknowledge. It ends however on a prophesy designed to further fuel the cynical view that most of Pakistan’s ‘successes’ are calculated pitches for its fund-raising drive:

And we should not be surprised if, as a result of Muslim Khan’s interrogations, his mentor Maulvi Fazlullah also gets captured — perhaps timed to coincide with President Asif Ali Zardari’s trip to New York to host a “Friends of Democratic Pakistan” summit on Sept. 24, at which he is expected to urge the world to better compensate Pakistan for its efforts against extremists, who under the tutelage of al Qaeda still pose a grave threat to the entire region. But perhaps now it’s time the international community shows it is willing to reward success.

4. I can never get enough of writers talking of writing [the NYT series is a favorite, often visited/re-visited resource]. Here, for those interested in such, is today’s find.

5. A blog post gives six reasons for politicians to take to Twitter. Clip:

Now what you can do with Twitter – Dr Shashi Tharoor on his visit to his constituency met with a girl who has lost both her legs and on the same day he tweeted –

Visited a girl who lost both legs to a train when crossing the track bcoz road to her home was underwater. One more tragedy of underdevpmnt”

“Will look for prosthetic help for the girl. In her final year of high school. Desperately poor. A couple of Jaipur Feet cld change her life

That 280 letters changed the life of that girl. The same day itself offers for help came from all over the world and last I heard that girl is undergoing treatment. Could such quick response possible without Twitter? What does that show? Doesn’t that show that politicians and elected representatives can use twitter to spread the word faster than any other media out there?

Indeed. The catch? How many politicians are articulate enough to use that tool to get the right message across?

6. In The Atlantic, Mark Bowden has a great piece outlining, against the backdrop of TV coverage of the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, how journalism has been ‘outsourced’ to political hit men, business interest groups and such.

This process—political activists supplying material for TV news broadcasts—is not new, of course. It has largely replaced the work of on-the-scene reporters during political campaigns, which have become, in a sense, perpetual. The once-quadrennial clashes between parties over the White House are now simply the way our national business is conducted. In our exhausting 24/7 news cycle, demand for timely information and analysis is greater than ever. With journalists being laid off in droves, savvy political operatives have stepped eagerly into the breach. What’s most troubling is not that TV-news producers mistake their work for journalism, which is bad enough, but that young people drawn to journalism increasingly see no distinction between disinterested reporting and hit-jobbery. The very smart and capable young men (more on them in a moment) who actually dug up and initially posted the Sotomayor clips both originally described themselves to me as part-time, or aspiring, journalists.

Then again, who needs journalists? As this piece in Columbia Journalism Review underscores, the new business model is to spend a lot of money on a telegenic talking head, and let the news gathering end of the business go whistle. While on the media, Nikhil Pahwa linked on Twitter to this spiderweb of inter-connectivity between politicians and journalists in India. Open link with caution — guaranteed to change the way you read newspapers/watch television. :-)

7. From TED via Mental Floss: Oliver Sacks in prime form on the subject of hallucination.

8. Transparency International has just released its annual report on Global Corruption. To no one’s surprise, India wins high placement.

9. Sometimes, all it takes to provoke a really stirring debate is a really badly written opinion piece. This qualifies. The writer sets out to trash contemporary Indian writing in English on the basis of book titles and blurbs; the resultant debate, now two weeks long and counting, is proving to be the gift that goes on giving. Wade right in — the last word hadn’t been said yet.

10. What happens when one of the most famous opening sentences in literature is rendered in Emoji? This:

Moby Dick is passe. Here's Emojidick

Moby Dick is passe. Here's Emojidick

The New Yorker, on the project. Seems to me we’re coming full circle — from symbol-based communication to alphabets, and now back again.

11. Having observed two of the four UN General Assembly sessions [as much of each as I could stomach] out of the five during my tenure in NY, I found them incredibly boring affairs. But then, they never had Muammar Gaddafi, spelt any one of 50 ways,  over during that time. My loss. Your gain.

Over and, for the day, out.