Writings on drought versus cricket

THE Bombay High Court activism in re the IPL has become the gift that goes on giving. But as with most gifts, some of the writing that is emerging from the mess makes you wish you could exchange it for something else, something better.

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Random pieces

Life happened. And when Life happens, the blog necessarily takes a back seat. Sorry about that; will resume semi-regular updates from Monday on. Meanwhile, collecting together a few pieces I wrote for various publications during my time away from here, and related stories from elsewhere:

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Srini to Jaggu: Cheers, mate!

In a private corner of a bar someplace, N Srinivasan and Jagmohan Dalmiya are likely sharing a single malt and laughing fit to bust; their laughter probably crescendoes with each new headline in the media, and each new talking head on TV, announcing that Srini’s bid to return as president has been stymied again.

The word the media wants is “facilitated”.

Going in to today’s meeting, there was only one outcome Srinivasan needed to avoid: that the IPL governing council, of which he is *not* a member (ex-officio, he calls himself — but that is in his capacity as BCCI president, from which post he has ‘stepped aside’ — so on date, he cannot be part of the governing council even ex-officio) would accept the Bombay High Court strictures, accept the inquiry committee report as invalid, and order a new probe.

*If* that had happened, Srinivasan was finished — because there is no way in hell a probe committee can be constituted, meet, examine evidence (no matter how superficially) and submit a report between now and September, when the BCCI general body meets to elect the president and other office bearers for next year.

If, therefore, a new probe had been constituted, Srini is de jure in no position to contest in September. And once a new president (along with new secretary, treasurer and assorted other busybodies) are elected, there is no immediate way for Srini to regain control of the reins.

So for Srini — and Jagmohan Dalmiya, who is temporarily in alliance with his one-time persecutor — that needed to be stopped. It was — by the simple expedient of crashing the meeting, grandly “recusing” himself from a meeting in which he had no locus standi anyway, then storming back in after a brief absence and creating a ruckus which ended with the council, shorn of options, agreeing to preserve status quo ante.

So Dalmiya remains ‘interim president’. Srini remains in charge. (Remember that Dalmiya has no legal standing to sign major, particularly bilateral and multilateral) agreements on behalf of the BCCI — that is the president’s remit, so Srini’s signature still has value).

And most importantly, Srini can now contest in September — which makes the result a foregone conclusion. His one potential stumbling block was Sharad Pawar, who had mounted a bid for a return to the Mumbai Cricket Association, and who as MCA president could have legitimately staked a claim in the upcoming election.

That was trumped by the simple expedient of delaying the MCA polls, originally slated for this month, to October — that is, after the BCCI polls. Various ‘reasons’ have been given by MCA; collectively, they are the equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework and I have to redo it all over again and need time so I can’t be bothered to be running elections just now’.

There is a possibility Pawar can still be a candidate if he can get enough other associations to nominate him as their representative — but that is an extremely unlikely possibility because a Pawar heading an association and thus in a position to do favors is a whole different kettle of fish from a Pawar out of cricketing power and thus in no position to offer carrots or wield sticks.

So who is left? Arun Jaitley is the pre-anointed next in line and it suits him just fine to sit out this year; there is a general election on the horizon and the last thing he needs is to have his name constantly in the limelight over the BCCI’s serial acts of corruption.

Rajiv Shukla is the other possibility — but besides having time on his hands, he is currently busy consolidating his own power base, playing his part in the Congress party’s back room machinations vis a vis the general elections, and snowballing the value of his various businesses. He has the IPL back in his hands; like Jaitley, the one thing he does not need is to be named in the same sentence as ‘BCCI’ and ‘corruption’. (In this context, it is interesting to note that when the fixing scandal broke over the IPL earlier this year, Shukla faced some internal ire at the highest levels of his own party, and had to resort to some fancy footwork to distance himself from the mess).

Jagmohan Dalmiya would have been a viable option — but the Bengal boss is content just now to consolidate his total rehabilitation, and cement new alliances; 2013 is a tad too early for him to try for another innings.

Net net, Srini is a shoo-in, in September — as long as his candidature could pass unquestioned. And now it can, since the IPL Governing Council did not — or more accurately, was not allowed to — accept the Bombay High Court strictures.

Of course, the appeal in the Supreme Court could go against the BCCI — but that is a long, long way away. Remember the AC Muthaiah-helmed case against Srinivasan’s various conflicts of interest, that is still awaiting final judgment from the SC? Given that, what chance is there that this one will be heard, and a judgment delivered, in time to trump Srini in September — even assuming the BCCI submits its appeal within the next few days? Srini will fancy his chances of re-election before the SC verdict comes in — and once installed in power again, all things are possible.

So guess who is laughing now, while we collectively celebrate how Srinivasan has been ‘stymied again’? ‘Well played,’ you can hear Srini and Jaggu telling each other, as they clink glasses.

Sins of omission

Bihar does not have a recognized cricket association. Or rather, it has two — the Cricket Association of Bihar whose head, last heard from, was Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Association of Biharl Cricket, floated by cricketer-turned-politician Kirti Azad. The BCCI dissolved the CAB back in 2008 for ‘financial irregularities’ (which is a bit rich, because if held to that standard the BCCI would need to dissolve all its state associations, and then its own self); since then, the issue has been dragging its feet through various courts.

The shenanigans of the rival associations had led to an exasperated Supreme Court declaring — hoping? wishing? — in November 2012 that cricket should not become a ball in the game of political football. To which pious thought we all say Amen.

But that said — how ironic is it that it is this dysfunctional body that today flies the flag for probity, and successfully challenges in court the constitutional irregularities committed by the BCCI in the constitution of its “inquiry committee” to probe gambling and spot-fixing in the IPL.

Read that again, slowly: Bihar, led by Lalu Yadav, is now the outpost of probity for the BCCI.

Look now at who the BCA has to tilt against: A BCCI hierarchy that contains among others, Rajiv Shukla, among the best connected of Congress politicians; a raft of other well-connected politicians including Jyotiraditya Scindia and Narendra Modi, to name just two.

And Arun Jaitley — the BCCI’s president-in-waiting but more to the point, arguably one of the sharpest legal minds in the country and the national law-minister-in-waiting.

Does it not seem slightly unreal that none of these luminaries saw that the appointment of the inquiry committee, which they all endorsed either actively, or passively by silent acceptance, is “illegal”?

When you collude in illegality, what does that make you?

One tangential point — and this has been made by IS Bindra, who to his credit has despite being part of the system been routinely, vociferously, calling out the serial wrongdoings of the current regime:

Jagmohan Dalmiya, the “interim president”, is as unconstitutional an appointment as was the inquiry committee.

Here is a question I’d love to hear Jaitley speak to: Per the BCCI constitution, is it not the vice-president who assumes the duties of the president when the latter is for whatever reason unable to perform his duties? If yes, why was there a need to bring in someone from outside the chain of command to fill the vacuum created when N Srinivasan had to step down?

PostScript: My column on Yahoo today, about how the BCCI has historically rigged inquiry committees to get itself out of trouble.

Dalmiya and the new broom

I read, on Cricinfo, that the BCCI has “initiated Operation Clean-Up” — and I was so impressed.

Were you not? A clean-up, even if it is only ‘initiated’, is good, no? Particularly when Jagmohan Dalmiya, who wields this particular broom, had pessimistically said the day he took charge that there are no instant solutions?

More impressive than the initiation is how wide-ranging it is, this ‘Operation Vacuum Cleaner’.

  • No more apres-match parties (Chirayu Amin said the same thing over three years ago)
  • No more cheerleaders
  • No more strange faces in dugouts (Lalit Modi said that when he chucked Shah Rukh out in season 2)
  • Strict code of conduct in place (Since there is already a code of conduct in place, make that ‘stricter’)
  • No selectors to have ties with any franchise (Oh wait, apparently BCCI officials and such still can — a significant omission, but let’s not carp)
  • Players and support staff to provide their cellphone numbers to BCCI ahead of the IPL (Strange, I thought the BCCI would know how to contact players and officials already, but hey — still not carping)
  • Possible jamming of cellphone towers in the vicinity of stadia during matches (Oh you poor fish, the best bookies and gamblers operate off of the TV screen — but I am still not carping)

So that is a fairly comprehensive laundry list of measures, no, if you ignore my parenthetical carps? So where is the problem?

Here. Had you forgotten this? (Emphasis added):

“Mr. N Srinivasan announced that he will not discharge his duties as the president of the board till such time that the probe is completed. Till such time, Mr. Jagmohan Dalmiya will conduct the day to day affairs of the board,” the BCCI said in a release after a meeting of its working committee in Chennai on Sunday.

So, in case this needs underlining: Jagmohan Dalmiya is in temporary charge. N Srinivasan steps right back in as soon as the inquiry committee is done with its probe — and the time frame fixed was two months, so we are talking end-July/early-August.

Even if the probe is still not complete, the next BCCI election is scheduled for September — and that is when the board members get to either elect Srinivasan for a second term, or pick a new president (In the best traditions of democracy, BCCI-style, the results of the election are already known: the president in waiting is Arun Jaitley).

Either way, Jagmohan Dalmiya’s tenure has till September to run. No more. And the next edition of the IPL, with or without cheerleaders, is only in 2014.

So why are these ‘measures’ worth the internet bandwidth it took to put them up for public consumption?

(I am only asking. Not carping.)

The carrot-and-stick society

Kunal Pradhan and GS Vivek produce a longform narrative on the BCCI. Sample graf:

Srinivasan, the often underestimated vice-chairman and managing director of the Rs.4,050-crore India Cements, has harnessed support by finessing the modus operandi of largesse and patronage into an art form over his seven-year association with BCCI. His greatest achievement-presiding over a conspiracy of silence in which everyone is complicit, from state associations to players to commentators to ex-cricketers. His give-give regime has drawn power by increasing the wages of Team India players from Rs.2.5 lakh to Rs.7 lakh per Test match as BCCI president-elect in 2010. By handing out a one-time bonus payment to former domestic and international cricketers ranging from Rs.25 lakh to Rs.1.5 crore in 2012. By offering central commentary contracts worth Rs.3.6 crore per year each to top opinion-makers Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri. And by pleasing a number of fence-sitting state associations by dropping the irregularity and embezzlement charges levelled in 2006 against their potential rallying point, former president Dalmiya.

It is this tyranny of favours, not too different from the one fashioned by Dalmiya when he was at the helm in various capacities between 1990 and 2005, that forced Jaitley and Shukla to keep mum in the days leading up to the IPL final on May 26. In some way, every top member of BCCI has been touched by Srinivasan’s bounty. His former boss Pawar suggested on May 29 that Srinivasan was “not serious about dealing with wrongdoings”. But the controversial amendment in clause 6.2.4 of the BCCI Constitution in September 2008 allowing office-bearers to own teams had been initiated by a letter from then-president Pawar The amendment let Srinivasan bid for IPL franchise Chennai Super Kings (CSK). On January 5, 2008, Pawar had written to Srinivasan saying he found “no impediment in India Cements participating in the bidding”. Another change in the constitution on September 15, 2012 had paved the way for Jaitley, head of Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), to become president in 2014, by removing the rotation system that demanded the next board chief should come from the east zone. Yet another change, in Rule 15 (vi), which allowed former presidents to seek re-election, paved the way not just for Srinivasan but also for Pawar, I.S. Bindra, Dalmiya and Shashank Manohar.

One minor caveat: The “tyranny of favors” that the writers speak of is neither new, nor exclusive to Srinivasan — it is in fact standard operating procedure for the board, and has been ever since Jagmohan Dalmiya raised it to an art form. Successive presidents, Sharad Pawar included, merely continued the practice. And they have little choice — the structure of the BCCI and the constitutional need for annual elections (or a semblance thereof) means that the incumbent and his intended successor are forced to spend the year making nice with those associations whose votes are key.

Interesting piece overall. Read.

The Dummies’ guide to bookies and punters

We who love our stories clean and unambiguous have over time created an archetype: the super-fixer.

Per legend and lore, as crafted in the media and given further heft by Bollywood (think Emraan Hashmi in Jannat), this mythical figure is an end-to-end gambling solution.

He scripts every detail of cricket matches, beginning with the toss, incorporating the ebbs and flows of the game and ‘taking it right down to the wire’.

He bribes, coaxes, cajoles and threatens cricketers, agnostic of nationality, into following his script.

With his granular knowledge of what is going to happen, he then fixes the odds to favor the book and to suck the gullible punter into betting on what he has already ensured will not happen.

In doing all this, he manages to pull off two mutually contradictory requirements: On the one hand, he rubs shoulders with the top cricket stars who by definition live their lives in the harsh glare of the spotlight and on the other hand, he remains a will-o-the-wisp, invisible to authority.

That combination of fixer and bookie died a little over ten years ago. Literally. He died on the evening of January 19, 2003, when gunshots rang out in the billiards room of the exclusive India Club, in the Oud Mehta residential locality in Dubai.

When the smoke cleared Sharad Shetty, one-time Jogeshwari slumlord turned key aide to Dawood Ibrahim, was found sprawled on the snooker table, bleeding to death of numerous gunshot wounds.

The 2003 World Cup began 20 days later.

Prima facie, those gunshots signaled the transfer of the organized match-fixing racket from the hands of Ibrahim into those of his erstwhile lieutenant, Chhota Rajan. (Four members of Rajan’s gang were later arrested, tried and executed in the UAE for the crime).

Effectively, though, the death of Shetty signaled the end of the combination bookie/fixer, and launched the era of the super-punter as fulcrum in the world of illicit gambling on cricket.

Typically, he is drawn from the worlds of business, finance or Bollywood. He has access to large sums of money, and is a habitué of the party circuit, where movies and cricket collide. And he has easy, unquestioned entrée into the hotels and dressing rooms of cricketers.

His presence at dinner with a cricketer or three is unremarkable and goes unremarked. And the cricketer – young, mostly naïve, drawn from the backwaters and with his eyes blinded by glitz – revels in the friendship he has struck with this very important person who can get him into big parties, and put him next to Bollywood starlets and models who show a willingness, an eagerness even, to ignore the cricketer’s gaucherie and join him for public fun and private pleasure.

So when his new-found friend asks him in course of casual dinner-table conversation what the team composition for the big game is, what the team makes of the pitch and atmospherics, what changes if any there will be in the batting order or who will open the bowling, which batsman is fit and which one is struggling with physical and/or mental niggles – innocent questions of the kind fans pose to cricketers everywhere – the player thinks nothing of sharing these details with his obliging, influential friend.

In gambling, as in any area of business, knowledge is money – and the punter, armed with his insider knowledge, places his bets on certain outcomes he is able to predict with a fair degree of certainty.

He wins, and shares a slice of his winnings with his friend the cricketer. It is all very jolly, all done with a nudge, a wink, a chuckle. ‘Hey, because of what you told me, I bet big on XYZ happening – so here’s a Rolex for you, just a token of my gratitude and thank you so much for helping, you are a true friend.’

The cycle repeats a couple of times, until it is taken for granted by both parties. From then on, it is not even necessary for the punter to meet the cricketer in person – a late phone call before a big game, to ask pertinent questions and gain actionable information, becomes routine, as does the post-game ‘gift’ – in specie and in sensual gratification.

Almost without knowing it, the cricketer goes beyond merely answering questions, and begins to volunteer information – anything he thinks will give his friend an edge in the betting market. After all, if a nice fellow, a good friend, makes some money off of the underworld, where’s the harm?

Insiders call this process ‘grooming’.

And then comes the day the ‘routine’ phone call comes with an unexpected twist. ‘Can you bowl a shoddy over in your first spell, manage to give away say 15 runs?’ ‘Can you contrive to get out before crossing the 20s?’

By now, ‘what the hell, where’s the harm?’ works like an anesthetic on the cricketer’s conscience. Implied, too, is the threat – he has, albeit inadvertently, helped a gambler and profited therefrom; to say no now might result in his outing and resultant disgrace.

And so he bowls that short one outside off. “That was asking to be hit,” says the commentator sententiously, without realizing (or sometimes even knowing) how literally that is true. Or he backs away from his stumps to cut, misses the line, and is bowled. “Something just had to give,” says the commentator. “The pressure was getting to him; good captaincy to open up that gap square on the off to tempt him into an indiscreet shot.”

What does a bad over, an indiscreet shot, matter if there is a party, a willing starlet, an SUV or a foreign holiday waiting on the other side of it?

And who would ever suspect? The bookie, operating deep within the underworld, is a ‘person of interest’ to law enforcement agencies. His movements are watched, his phones are tapped, he has no easy access to team hotels and dressing rooms. And the cricketer is aware of the risk he runs if he takes a call from a bookie, or meets him for a drink, or cozies up at a party, or even allows one to be part of his entourage when he is ostensibly on a private jaunt (Remember Suresh Raina’s trip to Shirdi immediately after IPL 4?)

The punter, however, is not as readily identifiable as such (We know for instance of Justice Chandrachud the intrepid inquirer into match-fixing; do we know though that the jurist’s idea of time-pass, while idling on the balcony of his home, is betting on whether the next car to cross that signal will have a license plate ending in an odd or even number?).

The punter, too, is a celebrity himself of whatever wattage, and is perfectly at home in the restaurants and lobbies of the star hotels that house the cricketer on tour. (One of the most frenetic gamblers during the 70s and 80s was a music-composer duo whose initials correspond to a format for phonograph records).

And thus the risk of association is nullified. (Vindoo Dara Singh with cricketers? Ah yes, wasn’t he the bloke who won Big Boss and made a pot-load of money simply for being less obnoxious than say Sherlyn Chopra?).

With the arrival of the super-punter, the bookie realized he no longer needs to run the risk of fixing matches – all he has to do is follow the money. Cannily, he took a leaf out of the law enforcement playbook.

Today, the world of the bookie is structured like a classic pyramid. At the top sits the kingpin (not so much an individual but a controlling cartel that funds the lower tier, keeps score, and takes a rake-off). At the next level are a string of ‘Tier A’ bookies – no more than 10, 12 tops in a country as large as India – who form a loose confederation , each however building up his own select clientele.

And below them again are the ‘Tier B’ bookies – literally thousands of them affiliated to each Tier A bookie, and operating on small to medium scale in the cities and towns across the country, working with small time gamblers.

The bookies went computerized, with each Tier A bookie having a central repository of all information (including, in the case of big-time punters, details of all previous bets, winnings, and such). And they instituted an internal law – any bet of over 1 lakh, taken at whatever level, had to be immediately flagged (a tactic modified from the RBI guidelines regulating the depositing of large amounts into an individual bank account).

When a flag about a major bet goes up, the Tier A bookie is automatically alerted; in turn, he shares the information with his fellows. By assessing the bet and the identity of the punter, the bookie is able to make an educated guess about the quality of insider information underlying the bet itself.

With this knowledge – provided inadvertently by the big-time punter – the bookies then figure out how to shade the odds so as to benefit from the pre-determined event. And thus derives all the benefits of the ‘fix’, without most of the attendant risk of exposure.

So when an Abad Ponda, advocate to Gurunath Meyyappan, says his client is at best guilty of a minor peccadillo that can attract a fine of Rs 200 at the maximum, this is the big picture he is missing. Or obfuscating.

The Meyyappans and Dara Singhs of this world are super-punters; their position in the worlds of celebrity and/or team management allow them to acquire information on events, even to manipulate said events; this in turn allows them to do what in financial circles would be insider trading; and this in its turn feeds into the activities of the bookmaking syndicate.

It is not an offense with a corresponding number in the IPC attached to it — but it is criminal, all the same.

PostScript: Wheels have a habit of coming full circle. Thus, N Srinivasan along with Lalit Modi was Sharad Pawar’s hatchet-man-in-chief back in the period around 2005, when the NCP strongman was looking to topple Jagmohan Dalmiya.

Mission accomplished, a vindictive board turned on Dalmiya and vowed to put him behind bars (and even had him arrested). More, they slapped a case of misappropriation of funds, dating back to the 1996 World Cup and amounting to the tune of Rs 40.6 crore.

Shashank Manohar was president, and N Srinivasan the secretary, in 2010 when the board got wind of a coup being planned by a seemingly unlikely coming together of IS Bindra, Lalit Modi and Dalmiya himself. Bindra was quickly marginalized; it was easy enough with all the political clout the BCCI commands to pile on a string of offences ranging from foreign exchange violations to passport irregularities against Modi and ensure that he couldn’t return.

Dalmiya, the marked card in the cold deck, was meanwhile subdued by the use of the traditional stick (Rs 40.6 crore) and carrot (play ball with us and we will write it off). And so, in the 2010 AGM, the board formally decided to ‘write off’ the money Dalmiya had, according to the BCCI itself, ‘misappropriated’.

Every quid comes with a post-dated quo, and the date on this one was June 2, 2013: Dalmiya, in an extended meeting with Srinivasan ahead of the crucial AGM, agrees to be the compromise candidate to hold the fort while Srinivasan spends time on paid-leave; during this tenure he promises not to rock the boat and to keep an eye on the inquiry committee to ensure that nothing too damaging to Srinivasan or to his franchise inadvertently pops out, and to step aside gracefully when his benefactor has been “officially cleared”.

It is a wonderful world to belong to. Powerful, lucrative and, above all, safe, politically insulated as it is from all possible repercussions.