It was perhaps an appropriate end to the season of discontent: a team that had captured the imagination with its brand of fearless cricket, a team that stormed into the final powered by its desire not to just win, but to dominate, found itself paralyzed, in the mind [a skyrocketing required run rate, and Keiron Pollard cooling his heels while lesser batsmen came and scratched around?] and on the field [the fielding, an MI strongpoint, was pathetic; the catching, execrable; the bowling, ordinary], by the fear of failing.
And the man who built a compelling league from the ground up took the stage as “commissioner under suspension” to deliver an overwrought, self-serving speech, crassly turning the focus on himself [and cloaking himself with assorted mantles ranging from Martin Luther King to Krishna] when the spotlight should have firmly been on the cricket itself.
Modi’s speech was inappropriate, but that he made it was not particularly surprising — it is the BCCI way to put itself ahead of the cricket. Remember the felicitation ceremony at the Wankhede when India returned with the World T20 Cup? The likes of RR Patil and Sharad Pawar turned the occasion into a political rally; on the dais, the front row was occupied by Pawar, Patil, Rajiv Shukla, Niranjan Shah, Modi himself, IS Bindra, PM Runga, Dilip Vengsarkar and others, while the cricketers who had against the odds won the trophy were relegated to the third row.
Behind the scenes, a series of thrust and counter-thrust saw the unceremonious exit — okay, suspension — of Modi. And the IPL high-flier has only himself, and the ‘brains trust’ that advised him, to blame. The script was for him to attend the governing council meeting, now on as I write this, accept his suspension, retain his seat in the BCCI as vice president, and let the dust die down. Instead, he first said he would skip the meeting; then, in bizarre fashion, called it his own meeting and sent out agendas, and indicated that it was no part of his plan to accept the compromise formula worked out by the likes of Pawar, Shukla, and a couple of former cricketers.
Bad move, as it forced the board to take pre-emptive action — action that has not merely taken the reins of the IPL out of his hands, but also deprived him of his BCCI position, which means he is now shorn of all power, and has been set up for the hangman, as the board’s sacrificial victim of choice.
While on this, I find the media fairly amusing: when first thrown the Lalit Modi-corruption bone, the media climbed all over it. Now, as we approach the denouement, the media reacts with equal parts triumphalism [“We did it, our relentless crusade got Modi out” — actually, no, the media got played by a government that sat on corruption for months, then picked its time, and indulged in some inspired leaking] and “soul-searching”. Thus, several television anchors, who risked chronic laryngitis while the “drama” was unfolding, are now doing the “give Modi his due” number.
Typical. And typically short-sighted, to imagine that this is about a person, rather than a concept. Modi the man is not, never should be, the issue. The IPL is an idea — a very good one. It deserves to be allowed to take root, grow strong, and build itself up into the truly great sports franchise it has the potential to become. And it cannot do that if it operates under the cloud of corruption, of financial skulduggery, of funny money and funnier operators. Because in such an atmosphere, a dangerous cynicism sets in, to the discredit of the cricket itself.
An instance in point — as the MI chase went on the rocks, the buzz on Twitter was that the outcome was fixed. That too was the substance of calls from assorted friends. “The betting was on MI to win, considering how dominant it was — so MI was bribed to lose, just so the bookies could make a killing,” an angry friend called to tell me, as the chase entered the last five overs.
How do you know? “Oh come on, even the blind can see what is going on,” was his response. Translated, it actually means: I don’t know, I have no evidence, but since the IPL is corrupt through and through, why is this beyond the realm of the possible?
So I asked him, fine, commit to this: Are you saying that Sachin Tendulkar is corrupt? Because the decision to hold Pollard back was his; the decision to take Rayudu out of the number three position where he had produced compelling performances was his; the decision to send out Bajji ahead of established batsmen, and Duminy ahead of Pollard, was his. So if the outcome was fixed, it had to be Tendulkar who did the fixing. So — is Tendulkar corrupt?
“No, I don’t think so,” was his answer. How was the game “fixed”, then? He didn’t know. He only knew that it must have been, because everything about the IPL, from the ownership of the franchises to the holders of lucrative rights had been fixed, so why would match outcomes be exempt?
That impression in the minds of the fans is precisely what the IPL does not need, has not needed through the three years of its existence. And that is why this cannot be about Modi’s sacking. [There are some interesting arguments, including a point/counterpoint with my friend Ramesh Srivats, on this topic in the comments section here] That is merely a beginning, akin to quarantining a virus carrier; the treatment itself is key, and how the BCCI goes about it from here on will determine the future of the nascent league.
Examining the financials and cleaning up the franchise structure — all of this is merely a beginning. What the current crisis affords is an opportunity to go beyond that, to put in place the structure for taking IPL to the next level.
On that, read one of my favorite cricket writers:
There might have been a more meaningful way for Indian cricket to use corporate imagination and energy. Tenders could have been floated for partnerships with state cricket associations, rather than for owning teams. This would have avoided creating the parallel team structure that now exists. More importantly, it would have avoided the murky ownership issues that the league is now being investigated for.
As partners, the companies/consortiums could be mandated to invest in grassroots cricket, take the sport into disadvantaged communities, support first-class cricket, and help build spectator infrastructure. They could also be enlisted to try and tackle the most nefarious problem blighting domestic cricket: nepotism, especially in player selection. This could be done by establishing ombudsman panels comprising a nominee of the partner, one of the association, and a third independent member, each “of outstanding repute”, to whom any matter of impropriety may be referred.
The prize for the partners would have been a shot at a three-week-long Indian Premier League. This would feature eight teams, qualified through the domestic tournament, with each team allowed to contract three foreign players in the XI. From the IPL they would draw the invaluable brand exposure and a share of revenue, as they do now.
The job of the partners would not then be so superficial and self-aggrandising as that of the owners now. At present they are super-selectors in a fantasy game, buying and selling and managing their playthings under rules set by Modi. In the alternative proposal, they would be compelled to help create the strongest possible cricket system in the states, without which their team would not be able qualify for the IPL. It would be a far more equitable arrangement too, as Ramachandra Guha argued the other day, because a city or state would be rewarded for its cricketing merit rather the money power of someone who has bought a franchise there.
The basic idea, and it is a very good one [a variant had been surfaced on this blog a few days ago — in case you missed it then, here you go], is to use IPL not merely as a money-minting machine, but as the one thing Indian cricket has sorely lacked: a mechanism to upgrade infrastructure, improve spectator comfort, create and refine a talent pool, and serve as a feeder mechanism for team India.
Back to today: the governing council is meeting, and what it will do is ‘discuss’ the issue after having already taken, and acted on, the decision to suspend Modi. In other words, the meeting now on is mere formality, meant for the public record and to provide a post facto imprimatur to the decisions of the ruling cabal. Which is why I am totally uninterested in the press conference to follow the meeting.
Modi, meanwhile, will challenge the decision once it is officially announced — possibly legally. It won’t do him any good, though. He will also “file his response” — which won’t do much good either. As far as he is concerned, the end game is on, and the outcome is obvious: mate in three moves.
He can take consolation, if consolation is the word, in this: he has no one to blame for his downfall but his own arrogant assumption of entitlement. If the circumstances surrounding his exit lead to a refurbishment of the league, he can, on the plus side, take credit for two accomplishments: the first is of having created the league, and steam-rollered it onto the world stage and two, of having been the trigger for its refurbishment, for the eventual creation of a league we can all take undiluted pride in.
That is more than any other administrator in Indian cricket history can claim.
PS: Also read, Sambit Bal’s take on Lalit Modi’s rise and fall.