Is IPL the Indian Premier League? Or is it something more important? Say the Indian People’s Lifeline. Or, India’s Privileged Lotuseaters. Or India’s Powerful Legislators. Or Initiative to Protect Literati. But no, IPL means the Indian Premier League, modeled on the English Premier League, and while theirs is about their national game (football), ours is about our national game (cricket).
National or not, we are talking about a game. A mere game, however popular it is. Yet to see our media, you would think that the whole country was at a standstill and holding its collective breath for news of spot / match / son-in-law /BCCI President fixing, and nothing else mattered. The new Chinese Premier came in smiling and went out smiling, murderous Naxalites ambushed and killed 27 Congress leaders in Chattisgarh … In most places in the world where TV anchors and newspaper editors have a sense of perspective, they would know the importance of these and similar stories. But for our media stalwarts it was, IPL first, IPL second, IPL third and everything else was non-news.
Their cynicism, and their unrelenting focus on the IPL ‘wrong doing’ has achieved the singular objective of making the whole tournament suspect. The other day I met a young college-going woman who showed a surprising interest in the IPL (surprising because of her gender). ‘So did you celebrate the Mumbai Indians’ victory in the finals?’ I asked her. ‘It was all fixed, of course,” she said, “But I still enjoyed the game.”
All kinds of wild allegations have been flying around. In a league match, Pollard dropped 3 catches at point in the first over. ‘Fixed!’ yelled the ‘experts’. Now let’s approach that from a common sense point of view, rather than a so-called expert’s point of view. For this particular episode to be fixed, the bookies would have to have three people in their pocket: Mitchell Johnson, the bowler, to bowl 3 identical balls; Mike Hussey, the batsman, to play 3 identical strokes; and Pollard, of course, to not only besmirch his reputation as a fielder, but to miss the last catch deliberately in such a way that the ball hit him on the face, and he had to walk off the field with a bloody nose. Which scenario sounds more credible? Then there is R P Singh’s infamous no ball off the last ball of a match. ‘Fixed!’ the ‘experts’ say. What would our common sense say? That even God couldn’t have fixed a match in such a way that two whole innings were so programmed that everything depended on the very last ball. Not just two whole teams would have to be fixed, but they would be such perfect cricketers that there wouldn’t be a run extra here, or a run extra there.
I could go on, but you get my point. The point being that, of course, bookies and the mafia flourish, especially in a field where there is illicit money to be made ( betting is illegal in our country). With their large money power, and their other methods of persuasion, they will always find a pliable minor cricketer or two who will be tempted to stray; they will always try and get to some important players too besides the marginal ones, but generally they will be rebuffed; so they will drop the idea of match fixing, but instead do spot fixing in as many ways as possible.
I remember going with a friend a few years ago to an acquaintance’s house near the stadium where a Test match was to begin. I saw him pick up a phone, dial a number, give his name and say ‘Rs 10,000 on India winning the toss.’ A few minutes later, an equal sum on who would bowl the first over. . . This, by the way, is years ago, when Rs 10,000 then is probably equal to one lakh now. But what can you do when there are people around with more money than sense?
What we can do is when every time the phrase ‘match-fixing’ crops up, reach for our guns. Failing that, we can use our common sense, and see how wild most of these allegations are. You then see the game for what it is: a contest and not a charade; you then see the talented young men sweating and toiling and throwing themselves around, and admire them for doing their very best, so that they themselves shine, and their team wins the game.