“A metropolis beyond imagination”

The cavalier attitude to doing due diligence ahead of the selection process (time was, it was mandatory for players to produce fitness certificates ahead of selections; players in time found tame doctors to produce the necessary certification; over time, the charade was given up altogether; in circa Srikkanth, the practice is to pick the team and, in the addendum, add pious hopes that various players sporting various niggles will recover in time to save the selectors’ blushes) seems set to cost the Indian team — per most recent reports, Praveen Kumar’s injury has not responded to treatment as rapidly as was hoped for, and the bowler will now rush to England for additional treatment. Whether he will or will not be able to play is still unknown.

That aside, will leave you with a lovely piece by Suresh Menon on the tragedy of Eden Gardens. An edited excerpt:

Few, however, have been able to capture the sheer passion of the Kolkata fan. The illogicality of his obsession, the thoroughness of his preparation, the amount of hardship he is willing to put himself through for the pleasure of seeing Tendulkar bat or Sourav Ganguly adjust his sweater.

And it is this constituency that Jagmohan Dalmiya and his band have let down. The fan asks for nothing more than a good match – and an India-England tie had the potential to be just that in the World Cup – but whether it was the arrogance of the president of the Cricket Association of Bengal or his stupidity that has denied them this, it is not good for either Kolkata or India, or indeed cricket….

The Board of Control for Cricket in India must take some of the responsibility too, for although the World Cup is an ICC event, the national board has obviously to ensure that venues are ready and the shopping list of do’s and don’ts adhered to. It might have suited the current dispensation in the Board to blacken Dalmiya’s face for political reasons, but as usual in the petty politics played out by petty men, the larger picture is missed. Hang national pride, who cares about how a nation about to sup at the high table appears to the rest of the world.

Suresh ends his piece with the thought that this fiasco could be the end of Jagmohan Dalmiya. Not a hope (even the writer doesn’t believe it). The functional illiterates that comprise the BCCI may not know Sun Tzu from Chop Suey, but “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is the number one tenet in the Board playbook.

For the first two years after the regime change, the Board spent considerable energy trying to “finish off” Dalmiya, with Modi leading the charge and at one point claiming that Dalmiya would be sent to jail.

What followed was hilarious, if you like your comedy like your coffee — black.

The BCCI trotted out charges of misappropriation of funds relating to PILCOM, the Pakistan-India-Sri Lanka joint committee that conducted the 1996 World Cup. In December 2006, he was expelled from the board and all its member associations.

Dalmiya went to court — and in June 2007, got a stay from the Calcutta High Court of his expulsion. And then the real fun began — Dalmiya moved a counter case charging Board officials including Sharad Pawar, Niranjan Shah, Shashank Manohar and Chirayu Amin with perjury.

Thing was, the board based its suspension on an amendment to the rules governing disciplinary action that had, as per usual, written after the fact (remember recent imbroglios about last minute amendments to auction rules, and the other one relating to conflict of interest where a convenient amendment was inserted after the fact? SOP for the BCCI, this habit of writing its rules on water).

Worse, the BCCI honchos had forgotten that for a rule or amendment to be legal, it had to be duly registered. Since they had casually pencilled in a convenient amendment to justify their proceeding against Dalmiya and pre-dated it, it was not possible for them to register the clause, as the discrepancy in dates would then show up. They hoped no one would notice. Dalmiya, who during his tenure had developed enviable expertise in exploiting the rule book to his own personal ends, did.

To really put the lid on it, the officials while appearing in Calcutta High Court in response to Dalmiya’s legal challenge, placed the hastily written amendment before the court and swore that it was in fact official; when queried about the fact that it had not been registered, the officials further claimed that the Board had sought and received permission from the appropriate body to register the amendment at a later date.

Both were lies (arrogance is bad enough — when you add ignorance and chronic idiocy to it, the mix becomes combustible, and that is the real problem with the lot currently running cricket affairs in the country). The amendment as presented in court was dated September 2000 (the intention being to make it appear as if it had been written when Dalmiya was still in charge), but the application for its registration was made only in late 2006, after action had been taken on its basis against Dalmiya.

Faced with the prospect of criminal charges pertaining to falsification of documents and perjury, the Board decided on discretion as the better part of revenge, and allowed action against Dalmiya to lapse. It then proactively worked to bring Dalmiya back into the fold, first facilitating his re-election to the CAB as president by failing to appeal the court verdict, then tossing him several sops. (Ironically, thanks to the BCCI’s tendency to over-reach itself, the upshot was that the real issue — misappropriation of funds — had to be given a quiet burial).

All of this was based on the belief that a Dalmiya within the BCCI family was less of a danger than a vengeful Dalmiya floating around on the outside — more so when the prospect loomed that he might join forces with Lalit Modi. (Imagine the havoc those two, who know where more bodies are buried than your average cemetery attendant, could have caused had they worked in tandem against the board.)

Given this, fat chance Dalmiya and his administration will pay for the gross negligence, that has deprived the Calcutta crowd of a chance to watch the national team play in the World Cup in the unrivaled atmosphere of the Gardens.

PS: This habit of sneaking in last minute clauses into the rule book is about to get the Board into trouble on a different front. News reports indicate that there is a clause stating that 20 per cent of match fees will be deducted from capped players in the event their team fails to make it to the Champions’ League. Not surprisingly, players are up in arms and have already registered their protest, on the grounds that they had no prior line of sight into this clause, which was sprung on them at the last minute. Said players might want to consider another aspect to this: 10 teams, only three CL slots. In other words, the clause is tailor-made to save seven franchises considerable sums of money. Wonder who pencilled this dilly into the contract at the last minute.

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The Cat in the Hats — the sequel

The selection of the national team for the World Cup. Another back from behind win by India in the one day series, just when South Africa was salivating over the prospect of taking over as number two in the rankings (and while on that, would you say Zaheer Khan to Graeme Smith, at the start of the South African innings, ranks among the best spells you ever saw that did not get a wicket?). And in other news, a Prime Minister besieged by allegations of corruption finds the perfect solution: a Cabinet reshuffle that takes the corrupt ministers out of the departments they are practicing (practice might actually be the wrong word to describe their depredations — they are perfect in what they do, no?) their corruption in, and moves them into other departments to practice their corruption in. Lewis Carroll foretold this Cabinet reshuffle, and parodied it before the fact in the famous Mad Hatter’s Tea Party scene.

In passing, and thanks to a conversation with friends like @sumants and @kskarun on Twitter while the reshuffle exercise was on, I was prompted to dig out my well-thumbed copy of the Jonathan Lynn/Antony Jay classic, Yes Prime Minister, to find a passage I could only vaguely remember at the time. Here it is (from the Man Overboard episode):

Hacker: ‘What I want is to show the public that there are no divisions in the Cabinet.’

Bernard: ‘But there are divisions.’

Hacker: ‘I don’t want to multiply them.’

Bernard: ‘Prime Minister, if you multiply divisions you get back to where you started….’

Tip to political analysts: When trying to make sense of what is happening in your area of specialization, you will find the two Lynn-Jay books, Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, a far more valuable resource than all the scholarly tomes on politics. For instance, on the whole Niira Radia-privacy-wire-tapping issue:

Sir Humphrey: “Surveillance is an indispensable weapon in the battle against organized crime.”
Jim Hacker: “You’re not describing politicians as organized crime?”
Sir Humphrey: “No…well, disorganized crime too of course.”

Could anything sum it up better?

Okay, enough non-sequiturs. In what has been a busy few days, a story that merits attention slipped under the collective radar. Remember when a Parliamentary Committee decided to question the BCCI honchos about foreign exchange violations and other skulduggery? Questions were asked about the source of funding of some IPL teams, and also about various foreign exchange transactions relating to the IPL edition held in South Africa.

The BCCI’s defense was the classic SODDIT (Some Other Dude Did It). And the sod they said did it was, but of course, Lalit Modi. (This move prompted Revenue Secretary Sunil Mitra to inform the Yashwant Sinha-led committee that for all legal and tax purposes, the IPL was a subset of the BCCI and that therefore the BCCI was responsible for any and all decisions taken by the IPL).

Turns out, even such distinctions are unnecessary. While we were distracted with the national team selection and the SA ODI, CNN-IBN broke a story that received surprisingly little attention in the media. This one.

Never mind that the source of our very own mini-wikileaks is fairly obvious, what the released documents (Here’s the cache) indicate is fairly obvious: N Srinivasan’s (Earlier post: The Cat in the Hats) fingerprints are all over the thing.

#BCCI President Shashank Manohar was formally authorized to take, on behalf of the BCCI, the final decision on the venue.

#The payment process for the SA edition of the IPL was detailed by N Srinivasan, who signed the agreement with CSA.

#N Srinivasan approved, and signed off on, all payments, transfers of funds, etc.

An under-reported story is the extent to which N Srinivasan’s insidious control over the Board extends. (For example: An India Cements employee is chairman of the national selectors — in fact, the first chairman after a rule change that ensured that the selection committee would not be changed after each board election — and also brand ambassador of the franchise that is owned by India Cements. A sports management agency owned by the CSK skipper represents, among others, India Cements. And so on. Tug on any thread you see before you, and it unravels endlessly.)

In continuation of that theme, consider this clip:

Every case for approval was made by Prasanna Kanan who was the CFO of IPL and otherwise an India Cements employee seconded to BCCI. He reported all expenses to N Srinivasan who approved them. No money was paid except after go ahead by N Srinivasan who controlled the entire expenses.

That is to say, the Chief Financial Officer in “Modi’s IPL” was an India Cements employee “seconded to” the BCCI. Reminds me of when I was transferred from Rediff.com to the newspaper India Abroad. The same organization owns both entities, so my shift was in the nature of an inter-company transfer. In the same spirit, would you say the same entity/person owns both India Cements and the BCCI?

The last time I wrote about the president-elect of the BCCI, a friend asked in email why I was banging on about this bloke. There is a reason: The story of Indian cricket follows an endless, destructive cycle. Some matches, some triumphs, some disasters, then a monetary scandal; some noise about said scandal, some ‘inquiries’ calculated to buy time till we forget; some more matches, some ‘give them bread and circus’ distractions; another monetary scandal… rinse, repeat, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Back in the day, there was a big brouhaha about the corruption of the Jagmohan Dalmiya regime; hosannas were sung when Dalmiya was replaced by Team Sharad Pawar (what irony!), which sought an electoral victory on the plank of introducing transparency (more irony — Pawar and his hand-picked successors have if anything been more devious, their corruption more subterranean, than anything Dalmiya ever did). The Modi regime at the IPL was deemed corrupt; it has since been replaced by the N Srinivasan regime (Chirayu Amin is nominally in-charge of the IPL, but discount that — as must be painfully evident now, all decisions whether they relate to the BCCI or the IPL emanate from the office of India Cements the Board Secretary). Come to think of it, the shuffling of the board bears parallels to the various Cabinet reshuffle exercises at the center, no? Same problem — endemic corruption. Same solution — move the corrupt around the party table, Mad Hatter style.

A sub-set to this problem is the very real danger that corruption does not begin and end with the Board honchos — increasingly, wittingly or otherwise, players get drawn into this web, as pointed out in passing in these two posts: Apres the Auction and its sequel, and Putting the Free in Markets.

If it is not important to “bang on about this”, as my friend characterized the posts in this series, then what is?

Out, damned spot

Our TV channels yesterday dreamt up an interesting storyline to harp on: The PCB, so went the narrative, was back-pedalling on its initial ‘tough action’ stance, and was now paving the way for the inevitable whitewash by mooting a ‘conspiracy’ to ‘defame’ Pakistan cricket. [Did you know that it was RAW that held a gun to the heads of innocent cricketers and forced them into fixing? No, seriously].

‘Evil’ cannot exist without a corresponding ‘Good’, as any kid who knows his Ramayan will tell you — so in furtherance of this narrative, the talking heads set up the ICC president as the good guy, the one who was talking tough, asserting the body’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy, facing down the Pak board.

Compelling — and so incredibly funny.

The ICC president, now blazing away in the service of all that is good, was the same guy who wrested control from the Jagmohan Dalmiya group promising much: complete transparency; a website on which the BCCI would periodically inform the public about its doings and publicize its statements of accounts; professionalism… ah heck, you know the list.

During his tenure and that of his handpicked successor, none of these promises materialized. He did, however, deliver on some line items he had not made part of his election manifesto — among them, the complete rehabilitation of a player who was deemed guilty of match fixing by the very same board, and banned for life.

Said ICC president and his personally chosen successor are so invested in a ‘zero tolerance’ policy that they agreed to allow the ICC’s anti-corruption unit to monitor the 2009 edition of the IPL. Remember how that came about?

The ICC offered the services of its unit; the BCCI sat on the request for months, taking no action whatsoever. When the news hit the media, the BCCI pushed back, saying the ICC was charging an inordinate sum for its services. It turned out that the ICC’s bill for having its inspectors present at all venues, rigorously covering the games and off-field activities, was $1.2 million — a paltry sum when contrasted with what the BCCI was earning from the IPL. When its ‘exorbitant charge’ excuse began to look threadbare, the BCCI promised to ‘study the issue’ and ‘arrive at a solution’. It finally did — on April 17, 2009, it told the ICC that the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit was welcome to monitor the IPL.

The catch? The BCCI had green-lighted the ACSU late afternoon of the day before the IPL actually kicked off. In other words, by sitting on the proposal for months, the BCCI had effectively ensured that the ACSU would not have the time to deploy its personnel to provide adequate safeguards [typically, the ACSU works on a series or tournament two to three months before the start deadline].

It is commonly accepted that the betting syndicate really came into its own with the proliferation of unstructured tournaments in Sharjah, Toronto and elsewhere [again, think of who authorised and pushed through those tournaments]. Such meaningless cricket encounters made it easy for players, who had little or nothing invested in the results, to succumb to succulent lures.

A similar situation has been emerging thanks to the laissez faire nature of the IPL, with its relaxed dug out rules, its after hours parties fueled by much wine, unsupervised mingling, and nubile women trucked in by those who deal in that commodity to warm cricketers’ beds. And that makes you wonder — why is the Indian board so resistant to supervision of the IPL?

It was always known that Pawar’s benevolent hand over Lalit Modi’s head was what enabled the ‘IPL Commissioner [Suspended]’ to do what he pleased. In recent times, it has turned out that Sharad Pawar, his daughter and sundry relatives have their hands in the IPL till. Equally, it is common knowledge that Shashank Manohar has played the role of willing water-boy for Pawar [You do know that Manohar’s daddy is counsel in residence for the NCP, yes? Just one in a spiderweb of interconnections — the two only fell out when Manohar sided with Shashi Tharoor over the franchise auctions, and Pawar for his own reasons wanted the franchises to go elsewhere.], Srinivasan and others in the power elite, using the fig leaf of his authority as BCCI president to help deflect questions about their involvement.

Seriously – how do you write ‘zero tolerance’ and ‘Sharad Pawar/BCCI’ in the same sentence without busting a gut laughing?

The larger point is that current reactions to the spot-fixing controversy has mirrored what has gone before. Every single time cricket comes in the crosshairs, the official reaction has been to appease the fans’ anger by handing down ‘salutary’ punishment to a couple of players, move on, and hope that once the fans have forgotten, the same players can be brought back in, in various capacities, through the backdoor. Or, better yet, climb on the moral high horse and pretend that nothing untoward happened at all.

[Just as an example of the latter, consider this: Why was Salim Malik banned? Because Justice Qayyum, during his hearings into organized corruption, decreed that “he was 100 per cent guilty” of various offenses, including bribing Mark Waugh and Shane Warne to adversely impact on the result of the Karachi Test of the 1994-’95 series. However, the ACB has routinely maintained that Waugh and Warne never took the money. One of the two sides is clearly lying — I mean, if the two Aussie players never took the money, how in hell can Malik be “100 per cent” guilty of giving it? What, the bundle of cash fell somewhere in between the two?]

At no point in the tangled history of cricket corruption has any official, either individually or collectively as a board, ever been questioned regarding his actions. We could look at examples from recent Pakistan cricket history, of players publicly suspected, axed, and promptly rehabilitated. On each occasion, the focus has remained on the player; never do we ask who brought him back, and what that official’s stake was in the rehabilitation.

This tendency is hardly new. Remember Mohammad Azharuddin? The man Sunny Gavaskar once said, after watching his performance in a Sharjah tournament, that he was “running as if there was no tomorrow, and if he keeps running like this there won’t be”? Then Board secretary JY Lele endorsed that view, and on record said Azhar should not be picked for national duty again, remember? And then this happened. We — present company included — questioned why the selectors had done what they did [Followers of fashion might have, at the time, noticed spiffy new Patek Phillippe watches on some selectorial wrists]; we never however questioned who the shadowy figure behind the scenes was, who over-ruled even his own number two and brought Azhar back.

Then, once the Outlook story broke, Dalmiya strenuously, repeatedly, insisted that there was no corruption in cricket. When the shit storm got too hot to handle, he got hold of a fire-extinguisher by the name of Chandrachud, a former jurist known to be inordinately fond of a flutter, and who told us, with soap opera sincerity, about his earnest desire to ‘do something for cricket‘. Boy, did he, just! In case you have forgotten just how much whitewash was then applied, here’s links to two stories I wrote at the time: one, the day before the verdict was to be announced; the other, reviewing the verdict.

Thing though is, Chandrachud was acting on instructions. We blew a raspberry at his report, but we never once questioned why the then BCCI boss was bending over backwards to try and brush all allegations under the carpet [later, when the government got involved and ordered a CBI inquiry, Dalmiya pushed back, refusing to accept the CBI’s involvement in what he said was an internal affair of a private body]; why he was repeatedly involving the authority of office to bring Azhar back into the side. What did Dalmiya have to gain? Did we ask? No — just as we don’t ask questions of Pawar and gang, or of the PCB, today.

The hidden story of corruption in cricket is the story of sundry officials [and, please, let’s not talk of this as a purely ‘sub-continental’ phenomenon — boards across the cricketing world have been complicit, at various times, in various ways, in covering things up] who have, through their acts of omission and commission, created an atmosphere that, if not outright facilitating corruption on the part of players, at least condones it in nudge-wink fashion. And unless the official role in corruption becomes part of the conversation, we are never going to resolve this issue for good. At best, we will kill off the careers of a couple of cricketers, the circus will go underground for a while, and resurface once the dust has settled [Qayyum, if you recall, had issued strictures against the two Ws of Pakistan cricket, back in the day; today, their successors, the two brilliant Ms, are being accused of pretty much the same sort of offense. What is common? A board in denial.]

Spot fixing is not new, despite the media’s breathless seizing on that phrase with all the eagerness of a kid with a new toy [Hey, what did Herschelle Gibbs say he took money from Hansie Cronje for? To score under 20 [It’s a different matter that he then had amnesia and went on to score 74]. Williams? To give more than 50 runs in his 10 overs. And so on, so there you go.]

It is also among the most difficult ‘crimes’ to spot, and take action against. While on that, read Osman Samiuddin’s prescient piece from earlier this year.

Now we know it doesn’t matter what Tendulkar does, for the reality, as the ACSU’s first comprehensive report revealed in 2001, was far more complex. They called it occurrence-fixing, but soon Rashid Latif would give it a far more evocative name: fancy-fixing, which opens up cricket’s vast statistical landscape. With fancy – or spot – fixing, each ball of a match is effectively an event, an opportunity to bet and thus an opportunity to fix. It emerged that bets were being taken on the outcome of the toss, the number of wides or no-balls in a specific over, the timing and specifics of declarations, individual batsmen getting themselves out under a specific score, even field settings.

A visit last year in Karachi to an individual familiar with the world of bookies was mind-altering: bets were placed on what the first-innings total in a county match would be by lunch on the first day, or how many overs a bowler would bowl in the first hour of a session or a day, or on how much difference there would be in first-innings totals, or on how many runs a specified group of players would make. It didn’t stop.

Paul Condon, among others, also explained why spot fixing is difficult to control, in his exit interview from anti-corruption duties:

It is a wonderful game, but if you were designing a game to fix, you would design cricket, because it is a whole series of discreet events, and every ball you can bet on. You can’t guarantee a throw-in or a free kick in soccer, but if you’re a corrupt player, you can guarantee to do certain things at key moments [in cricket], and if you can bet on that you can make a lot of money. Corruption in any walk of life, whether it’s politics or business or sport, is about human frailty and weakness, and opportunity. Most cricketers are totally sound in their integrity, but one or two still mix with the wrong people.

Condon is also worth reading on how easy it is to get sucked into the circle of corruption — and that brings up another point that has baffled me these last few days.

While some talk of ‘zero tolerance’, there seems to be a section of opinion-makers hell bent on parsing corruption. This lot says, okay, spot-fixing is bad — but hey, it is a lesser evil than match-fixing; spot fixing does not affect the outcome of the game, so the punishment should be less severe.

Really? Firstly, the argument that spot fixing cannot affect the outcome of the game is wooly-headed at best. Consider this: I am a bookie/fixer; I fix certain individual outcomes. For instance, a batsman then in prime form, will not score too many runs. Another batsman will get run out. A bowler for the same team will, while defending a score, give away way too many runs at the top. [That’s a real live example — think Cronje] In each case, I’ve “spot-fixed” certain outcomes. Now tell me that cumulatively, those individually bad performances do not adversely affect the team’s result?

The asinine part of this debate on degree of culpability is that it focuses on the offense the News of the World brought to light — to wit, the bowling of no balls. The apologists therefore go, oh hey, kid bowled a no ball and made a shitload of money, big fricking deal, we should be so lucky. What is ignored, though, is that the bowling of no-balls on cue was merely a demonstration, by a fixer to what he thought was a potential client syndicate, of just how well he could control on-field performance. If this wasn’t NOTW carrying out a sting, but a real betting syndicate ‘inspecting the goods’, as it were, then the demonstration would have convinced them the fixer could do what they wanted him to.

And then the real fix would have begun  – a bad over here, a dropped catch or two there, an underperforming bowler, a maladroit batsman…

Still think it is all innocent, and merits no more than a slap on the wrist? Here’s the corollary: once you start down the route of taking money for performance, there is no stopping; in the words of the famous song, ‘you can check in any time you like…’

So this time a Mohammad Amir takes money to bowl a no-ball. Next time, the team is about to bowl under conditions where someone with talent can literally make the ball talk — and that is when the fixer comes to him and orders him to bowl badly. You think he can say no? Not a chance — once you are caught in the toils of the betting syndicate, you are their’s for life — and that is another reason why you cannot treat ‘spot fixing’ as a lesser crime, deserving of a lesser punishment. [Read Amit Varma on the subject of this crime, and appropriate punishment, here].

There’s a heap of angles to this latest controversy; above, I was merely riffing off points that stood out for me. Here’s one last in that list — a Delhi High Court, no less, has argued that betting should be made legal.

That should gladden the heart of, among others, my libertarian friend Amit Varma, who argued this case way back in 2005. Money quote:

In some ways it is perverse that “betting” and “match-fixing” are treated almost as synonymous terms in India. It is like frowning upon sex because rape is a bad thing. Match-fixing is unambiguously wrong because the player who participates in it is betraying an implicit contract with the fans of the sport, and perhaps an explicit one with his cricket board. Why is betting wrong, though? What justifies it being banned in India?

Speaking from a different perspective, R Mohan once made an identical point to me in course of an interview:

The problem is that we, all of us, tend to forget that these are two different issues. Does betting exist? Of course it does. And perhaps 99 per cent of India’s 950 million population are guilty of it. Have you staked a bottle of beer or a pack of cigarettes on the outcome of a match? If you have, you are gambling — the same as the guy who stakes a million on the same game. There is no law that says a little gambling is legal, but a lot of it is not. Gambling exists, period — andeverybody does it. You gamble when you buy stocks, you gamble when you put your money in a fixed deposit because how do you know if the bank will still be there, and in a position to pay you back, five years later?

The laws in this regard make no sense. I mean, I can walk into any racecourse in the land and bet a million on a particular race, and it is all entered in black and white and perfectly legal. But if I bet a rupee on a cricket match, I am guilty of a crime. Where is the sense in that? And again, if I go to Ladbrookes of London and bet on whether Sachin Tendulkar will score a century in the coming game, say, that is perfectly legal too. So, we have a situation where betting on one sport is legal, the other is not. Where betting on the same sport in one place is illegal, in the other, not. Where is the sense in all this?

If the government had any sense at all, they would legalise booking — I mean, it is not going to go away, is it? And give licenses to bookies. And through these means, add maybe Rs 500 million, Rs 100 million to its treasury.

Thoughts?

So you think you can dance

Like a meticulously choreographed, rigorously rehearsed dance, the IPL imbroglio is finally heading towards a pre-scripted, dramatic finale.

It started out with the board wanting to use the excuse of governmental investigations into the IPL’s functioning to trim Modi to size, clip his wings a little, put a layer of oversight [that is to say, a governing council in something more than name, one that functions not merely as a rubber stamp] on the functioning of the commissioner (suspended), and get back to business as usual.

Modi’s combative responses to the series of show cause notices [one, and two] and, more crucially, his determined effort to fling mud helter skelter [his claim that Manohar and Srinivasan were dirty and hence could not sit in judgment over him] changed the choreography of the dance: the BCCI at that point figured that he was more trouble than he was worth, and that it could not work with him even in a curtailed role.

At that point, the Board put into motion a series of moves aimed at a predestined conclusion. Step one was the BCCI laundromat kicking into life, with Manohar giving a clean chit to Amin — very necessary, as Amin had been designated as the next head of the IPL with Bharat Patel as his ‘advisor’. Having exercised his authority, Manohar then grandly recused himself from the disciplinary committee that will hear Modi’s case — in one shot, fulfilling half of Modi’s demand while prima facie injecting an appearance of impartiality into the further proceedings.

Srinivasan, who was named with Manohar as an interested party and hence in no position to sit in judgment on Modi, had earlier covered his particular base by saying he had taken then BCCI president Sharad Pawar’s permission to be part of an IPL bid: in other words, the BCCI secretary had sought, from his immediate superior who was himself heavily conflicted, permission to be similarly conflicted — a proceeding possible only in the looking glass world of the BCCI. Besides, he is in any case not a member of the disciplinary committee, so Modi’s strictures against him sitting in judgment are meaningless.

All of that was part of the set up — the BCCI then got into the climactic part of its performance today, with Srinivasan’s ‘rejection’ of Modi’s responses. I so totally love this bit, don’t you?:

“Since Mr Lalit Modi has accused me of being biased against him, after a thorough and careful reading of his explanation against the charges, I have passed an order that it was not acceptable.”

Laugh-out-loud funny, that bit: the first part of the sentence, regarding the accusation of bias, has no bearing on the second half of the sentence, which is Srinivasan’s determination. In other words: Modi says I am biased; let me, in totally unbiased fashion, say he is full of bull. Right.

The final steps of this dance have already been choreographed. Tomorrow, Amin will meet with the franchise holders and, irrespective of an agenda that includes, among other things, rationalizing the norms on player retention, discussing the revised schedule for IPL4 when two new teams enter the mix, and similar issues, the unstated agenda is to clearly signal the changing of the guard, to finally acquaint the franchises with the fact that the Modi era is over, and that they now have a new dispensation to deal with.

Fast forward to July 3. At the Special General Body Meeting, Srinivasan’s ‘rejection’ of the charges against Modi will be taken up. The SGM will ‘determine’ that there is prima facie cause to refer the issue to the disciplinary committee. The SGM will also nominate someone to take Manohar’s place in that committee, and to join Chirayu Amin [see why Manohar had to clear Amin’s name? Else, the same objection Modi raised against Manohar, of bias, would apply] and Arun Jaitley in determining the nature of action.

Irrespective of who the third wheel is, that committee will determine that Modi is in gross violation of BCCI guidelines, that a pattern of irresponsible behavior exists, and that therefore he should be stripped of all powers and either retained in the Board as an ordinary member, or expelled altogether — that final determination depending on how Modi acts from here on. Fling more mud, and it is finito; pull in your horns and lie low, and we’ll leave you with some sort of role within the board.

What I don’t understand is this: why stagger this drama out? All the decisions have already been taken. [If Modi’s position as IPL commissioner were still in doubt, Amin — who is one of the troika who will render judgment — wouldn’t be actively stepping into the IPL boss’s role with his meeting tomorrow, would he? There is nothing so pressing that it couldn’t wait till after the June 3 meeting, and a final determination of Modi’s fate].

So why this drawn out charade? For whose benefit is this drama being played out?

PS: Noticed some folks asking about posts relating to the whatever-cup played out in Sri Lanka, where yesterday they played the final before the final. Sorry, folks — haven’t been watching. Largely because I am swamped with some stuff I need to finish before the half yearly deadline, and partly because I found the whole thing immensely boring, and largely pointless. I’ll pass; am off to Chennai on some urgent personal work tomorrow, and will be back at work, and on blog, Monday. Be well, meantimes…

Pawar play

A couple of days ago,this newspaper unearthed fresh evidence to show the involvement of a powerful minister and his family members : together,they held 16.5 per cent share in a company that had bid for one of the teams from Pune.Unlike their claims,let us be clear that it is not an insignificant portion;but that is another story.

The fact is all this would have remained buried but for some sharp investigative reporting; after all, theirs was an indirect investment in the form of two companies : Lap Finance and Namrata Film Enterprises. Who would have guessed the powers behind these two obscure companies.

Who would have guessed, indeed! [The above is a clip from ToI Sports Editor Bobilli Vijay Kumar’s opinion piece in Sunday’s paper].

Not for the first time [and speaking as a mediaperson myself], I’m hugely amused by how well trained we journalists have become. Someone, for his or her own personal interest, throws us a nicely colored ball. And off we go en masse, barking happily, to ‘fetch’.

ToI, for instance, has front-paged the story of Sharad Pawar’s links to the IPL most days over the previous week. The pattern was set early: a revelation and reactions from Pawar/Supriya Sule one day. Next day, a fresh revelation that refuges Pawar/Sule, and the father-daughter combine’s reactions to that revelation. And so on — with the paper making self-congratulatory asides about its intrepid reportage. [Tangential note: I’m talking of ToI here merely as the most obvious example].

The fact is all this would have remained buried but for some sharp investigative reporting.

Umm. The fact is, all this would have remained buried but for (a) Lalit Modi’s misjudging a strategic play and tweeting publicly about Sunanda Pushkar’s sweat equity and (b) the resultant no-holds-barred war within the BCCI, that has led to some inspired leaking by both sides. For instance, ToI’s “sharp investigative reporting” claim is belied by the fact that every media outlet has copies of the same documents in its possession. Consider:

DNA has in its possession a copy of a City Corp board resolution —submitted by Deshpande to the BCCI along with his bid — expressly authorising him to bid on behalf of City Corp.

That’s DNA on the front page, yesterday. Here’s Cricinfo:

But the minutes of the January 31 meeting, a copy of which is available with Cricinfo, states that Deshpande was asked to go ahead with the bid in the company’s name.

I could go on — that theme, of having the document in possession, is a constant in pretty much every media house that covered the story. If you didn’t know better, you’d end up conjuring visions of a whole pack of journalistic Sherlocks following the blood trail and, in concert, fetching up at the spot where the body was buried.

More prosaically, what you are actually seeing is the outward manifestation of an internecine conflict for control of the BCCI. Modi, who needed to please his backers, attempted to torpedo the Kochi franchise by roping in Pushkar’s equity, and linking her to Tharoor. That got the whole show-cause snowball rolling. Pawar, who is intricately linked with the IPL, backed Modi to the hilt [though Modi has other backers within the BCCI’s higher echelons, Pawar’s is the most powerful voice; without him, the rest fall apart].

That was stage one. Once it became clear that the disciplinary hearing would end in Modi’s ouster, the ‘IPL commissioner [suspended]’ attempted to up the ante by first pointing fingers at Shashank Manohar and more pertinently, to N Srinivasan. The idea was to undercut his opposition by taking out the two top members of the BCCI hierarchy.

Now comes the BCCI push-back: some inspired leaking by the board’s bigwigs [how do you suppose the documents “came into the possession” of various media entities?] is clearly aimed to turn the heat right back on Pawar, to reduce him to a spent force, and thus to weaken Modi’s position within the board [in a case of unintended irony, the documents the board is now busily leaking are from the very same boxes Lalit Modi had delivered, with considerable fanfare, to the BCCI — thus earning brownie points for giving up what was actually BCCI property in the first place]. Significantly, Modi took time off from responding to his own slew of notices to mount a spirited — if not persuasive — defense of Pawar.

The amusing part is how the media is playing facilitator in what is really an internal war. Each fresh revelation triggers a concerted baying for blood: first Tharoor; then, when the government of India got into the act through its investigative arms, Modi; then, through Modi’s various tweets and media statements and letters, the likes of Srinivasan; now, Pawar…

Interested parties want one or the other personality brought down; some inspired whispering in the media’s receptive ears is all it takes these days to get the job done.

Which is not to suggest that the various officials are lily-white. The board is one vast web of conflicting interests [It always has been — from what seems an endless lifetime of chronicling the board’s shenanigans, here’s a link to a series dating back to when the CBI, after concluding its match-fixing investigations, went after the BCCI — oh, and by way of bonus, the man in charge then was AC Muthaiah, who is now playing the role of crusader]. The current scenario is no different: Modi has his fingers in the IPL pie; N Srinivasan has a stake in it; so does Sharad Pawar; IS Bindra and other officials get their slice of the action; star cricketers Ravi Shastri and Sunny Gavaskar get to suckle at the BCCI’s teat in return for lending the board the legitimacy, such as it is, of their presence…

The defenses trotted out by those under attack are equally hilarious. N Srinivasan, responding to the charge of conflict of interest, argued that he had Pawar’s permission [which is nice — one conflicted official gave another official permission to be similarly conflicted]. Pawar’s argument is that he may have stakes in entities ranging from City Corporation to, more recently, Vijay Mallya’s United Spirits, argues that owning stake in a company that bids for IPL franchises is not equal to owning a stake in an IPL franchise. And Manohar produced this gem while defending Chirayu Amin from a recent Modi salvo:

Shashank Manohar, the BCCI President, has challenged Lalit Modi’s contention that Chirayu Amin, the interim IPL chairman, was part of a consortium that bid unsuccessfully for the Pune franchise. While clarifying that Amin’s intention had been to only invest in City Corporation Ltd – the concerned group – in the event of a successful bid, Manohar alleged it was Modi who urged the franchise to contact Amin to become a part of that consortium.

Eh? The ‘clarification’ is that a senior board official wanted to wait and see if a particular entity won its bid — and then he would invest in that entity? That is a ‘defense’?

And that is why why I’m not particular impressed by all this “investigative journalism” that’s going on. What, after all, has all this muck-raking unearthed? That various officials have hidden stakes in the IPL? No shit, Sherlock? What, you thought Modi was running the IPL without taking a salary because he was interested in the uplift of cricket in this country? Or that sundry officials push and shove and elbow each other to get prime positions in local associations and through that, in the BCCI hierarchy, motivated by nothing more than undiluted altruism?

Here’s what I wish the media would do. In its next expose, could it incorporate a line that reads: ‘Documents leaked to us by Shashank Manohar Lalit Modi N Srinivasan  [insert appropriate name here] indicate that…’? At least that way, we’d know who is playing the latest hand in this endless soap opera — and that would help us understand better the nature of the latest set of charges being levelled.

M for minefield

I’ve never seen a real live minefield. Until now.

Lalit Modi’s central demand, that the BCCI president and secretary recuse themselves from the disciplinary hearing, is easily handled by the BCCI — its constitution provides for the composition of the hearing committee, and the president and secretary are on it [the secretary is in fact the convenor of said committee]. There is no provision constitutionally for such recusal, and that is the push back you can expect from the board.

The real problem for the board is the multiple land mines Modi has strewn throughout his 14-page email. As under:

Manohar, Modi alleges, was responsible for the controversial decision to scrap the initial opening of tenders for the franchises and went out of his way to entertain former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor and accept the Kochi bid much after the lapse of deadline.

He denies the allegation that he tried rigging the bids in favour of two business houses for the two new teams added for the fourth edition of the IPL; instead he claims the bids were processed and vetted by the board’s corporate lawyers and counsel Akhila Kaushik, appointed on Manohar’s recommendation.

That Manohar was responsible for scrapping the initial bidding is no secret. He had said so himself, alleging that the process was flawed. The problem for him is Modi’s push back that the clauses were vetted by no less than a lawyer who was once Manohar’s father’s junior, and a good family friend who the board president recommended for the BCCI job. Again, no surprise — the board routinely treats various well-paying positions within its structure as Christmas goodies to be handed out to favored friends. But if Kaushik was involved in the initial bid process, it’s going to be damnably difficult for Manohar.

What is really interesting is Modi’s diabolical mud-slinging ability. Note that Modi has conflated two events into one. The first was the aborted bidding process for the auction, replete with highly restrictive clauses — a process he personally stage-managed. The second is the final auction, which saw Kochi and Pune walking away with the winning bids — a process that had BCCI oversight, with Kaushik as part of the team. What Modi has done is cleverly created the impression that Kaushik, and through her Manohar, had somehow been part of the original flawed process, and that it was the board president, not Modi, who was responsible for the restrictive clauses in the first instance.

He claims Manohar was party to the decision fixing the net worth of the bidder at $1 billion and that he discussed the issue of deposit also with him at the Governing Council meeting on March 7 and got his approval.

Nice exercise in twisting facts around, this. The impression conveyed is that Manohar had discussed all details of the bid process with Modi. What is camouflaged is the actual sequence of events: March 7 was a Sunday. It was the date originally scheduled for the auction. That morning, Manohar insisted that he be shown all the relevant paperwork — which Modi had kept to himself till then. At that point, the board president discovered some of the more prohibitive clauses inserted into the tender document.

[For instance, the requirement that bidders had to establish their net worth at $1 billion — a clause that did not apply during the first IPL auction; also the clause that bidders had to give an advance guarantee of $100 million and a rolling bank guarantee for the total sum of the winning bid. Note that if both clauses had been operational during the first IPL bidding, neither KXIP nor Rajasthan Royals would have gone to consortiums that included Modi’s relatives, as both those franchises were in no position to comply with those terms].

So, painting by numbers: Manohar saw the clauses on March 7 morning and blew the whistle on the auction at the last moment. Modi today twists that around and says the auction details were “discussed” on March 7 — to convey the impression that all of this had the board’s official imprimatur.

Modi has brought up the issue of the controversial IPL TV contract with Sony and MSM, claiming that Manohar was aware of the termination last year of the contract with Sony and the subsequent litigation and eventual settlement. The litigation process was, he claims, supervised by Akhila Kaushik, “who reports directly to you”.

Another classic instance of facts being used to convey a contrary impression. The sequence: Modi finagled the abrupt cancellation of the Sony contract. When Sony threatened court action, the board got into it. At that point Shashank Manohar, then the president in waiting serving under Pawar, was given the onus of sorting the issue out. He did just that — with Kaushik being one of the fronting lawyers in the process.

The impression conveyed in the Modi email, however, is that Manohar is somehow complicit in the shady dealing that saw Sony abruptly deprived of the rights it had won in a lawful bidding process. Nice. Also, typical.

It is where the role of Srinivasan is concerned that Modi is on a firmer wicket.

Among the charges levied, Modi said he had “sufficient cause to apprehend bias” on Srinivasan’s part and that he had “consistently frustrated and exposed his attempts at misusing his position as Honorary Secretary of the Board, so as to confer a wrongful benefit to his team at the cost and expense of other teams and the BCCI.”

Modi alleged that Srinivasan had tried to “alter or propose panel of umpires” officiating in the IPL matches and had circulated an email “directing a panel of umpires handpicked by him”. He claimed Srinivasan had attempted to ensure umpires from Chennai or Tamil Nadu stood in his team’s matches.

Another charge Modi made against Srinivasan was that he had “consistently pushed tailor-made policies” intended to benefit the Chennai franchise. In support of this charge, Modi cited the proposal of franchises retaining seven players (four Indian, three foreign) for the 2011 season and beyond. Modi’s reply to the show cause says Srinivasan tried to get franchises to agree to the proposal and that the “only reason for doing so was to ensure that Chennai Super King retained its players.”

Modi also alleged that Srinivasan had tried to ensure Kieron Pollard, who was bought by Mumbai Indians during a silent tiebreaker in the 2010 auction, could not play “by raising some frivolous issues with the West Indian Cricket Board.” Modi termed Srinivasan’s action a “brazen act of abuse of power”.

He claimed Srinivasan had used his power to “alter the auction rules” so that Chennai’s purse would be $2 million as opposed to the $1.85 million that was mentioned prior to the auction. “Despite my opposition he used his clout as secretary to pressure the management to accept back-dated player contracts and cancel the contracts of one of his players so that he could have his full purse and thereby have an advantage in the bidding process vis-a-vis other teams.”

The first charge, about getting TN based umpires to officiate in matches involving the side, could potentially raise the whiff of match-fixing, if there is in fact an email trail detailing that charge.

The second, about the retention of players, is clever use of facts to convey an entirely different impression. When the proposal for adding two teams to IPL season 4 came up, Modi initially proposed that at the end of season 3, all players would go back into the common pool — a nice trick to have a massive auction all over again, and mop up incremental revenues. The franchises, without exception, pushed back. Their argument was that the only real value they had, besides the ownership of the team name, was the brand building they had done around various players. To lose that, the franchises argued, would defeat the purpose behind the whole franchise model. At that point, the board fronted by Srinivasan, with Modi a party to the negotiations, attempted to arrive at a via media, and after much deliberation hit on the 7-player retention idea.

What Modi does here is create the impression that somehow, Srinivasan pushed through a model that was intended to benefit CSK in particular. How? Is it anyone’s argument that Mumbai, for instance, would have been totally happy tossing its players, including Tendulkar, back into the pool?

On the last two — the Keiron Pollard issue and the bit about altering auction rules — I personally have no clue what exactly happened; how this develops, once Srinivasan responds, will be interesting to watch.

Overall, the email accomplishes one purpose: it signals that Modi is officially done playing defense, and that going forward the play is to sling lots of mud in lots of directions, in particular targeting the vulnerabilities of his chief opponents within the BCCI. The message clearly is: either you let me off the hook, or I wrap my arms tight around the pair of you and take you down with me.

PS: More bits of the email are quoted in this HT article. More links, when I am done with a day’s worth of meetings and am back at my desk.

#2: Ruchir Modi, Lalit’s son, gets an alcohol bath.

The Dostoyevsky Defense

It’s a good thing the IPL is over and with it, all reason to be concerned about the environment. Six cartons of printouts running into a few thousand pages [I read five newspapers this morning and all of them cite a different figure — was tempted to hold up the hand of the highest bidder and declare that paper the winner] — what was Modi thinking?

Actually, the “IPL chairman and commissioner (suspended)” — trust Modi to use his suspension on his visiting card — and his legal team has been thinking fairly hard. And fairly well. And their response could in time to come be studied by those who study such things, under the title The Dostoyevsky Defense or some such: note that his reply is roughly the size of Crime and Punishment and Notes from the Underground. Combined.

You’ve got to love the man. Not only does he bury the BCCI under a mountain of paper while he himself chills in Monaco, he adds a gratuitous barb that it should take a “trained lawyer” like Shashank Manohar only three or four days to go through those six crates. Brilliant.

The framing of his defense has been uniformly fascinating. Step one [kind of like castling, say, where the objective was to build a defensive stronghold] was when he demanded that all charges against him be basis documentary evidence. Consider the original charges one more time: “behavioral patterns” is off the board because what the hell kind of documents can the board produce to back that up?; the charge that he tried to muscle Kochi into surrendering the franchise is equally off the table because (a) he is certainly smart enough not to threaten anyone through documented paperwork in triplicate and (b) the minutes of his meetings with the franchise, which IPL CEO Sundar Raman wrote, would only tend to present the picture Modi wished to present.

So that is two out of six charges defused. A third relates to the charge of finagling the internet rights to favor family and friends — and on that no one, not the board, not even the various investigative arms of the government, have been able to piece together with appropriate documentation the elaborate shell game through which rights were transfered and re-transfered until they ended up in the ‘right’ hands. So that is three out of six charges defanged even before the disciplinary hearings have even started.

The remaining three charges are what Modi and his battery of high priced lawyers have buried under a blizzard of paperwork — and significantly, the papers are supposed to include copies of SMSes sent to “members of the governing council”. That line underscores what has become common knowledge in recent times — that while Modi did not at all times take the governing council in toto into his confidence, he roped in various individual members, including two former cricketers who are part of the council, into parts of various schemes [that also explains why Ravi Shastri and Sunil Gavaskar have, unlike Pataudi, been totally silent on the issue ever since it hit the headlines].

Modi’s strategy is simple, and so is his defense: injured innocence, and a paper trail a mile wide to show that various members of the council knew what he was doing as he was doing it.

In other words, he changes the nature of the charges against him. It is not about whether there was irregularity in the granting of franchises to KXIP and Rajasthan Royals — the point, he will argue, is not whether everything was kosher or not, but whether he kept the governing council in the loop while it was all happening. To that end, his argument is, if I informed one member of the council of what I was doing at the time I was doing it, it is tantamount to having informed the whole council.

Neat.

And not much the BCCI, its disciplinary council, or the IPL governing council can do about any of this. The BCCI still wants him out of the top chair in the IPL — but Modi is, with every step, making it increasingly difficult for the honchos to justify taking the step of removing him. The end game here promises to be even more fascinating than the 12th game of the recent world championship between Anand and Topalov.

Meanwhile, the best team in the competition takes on the best-performing team in the T20 World Cup – a rare instance of the two most deserving finalists facing off in the marquee match. Should be fun — see you on Twitter at game time.