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.