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By Partab Ramchand
I have always believed that in India at least cricket is the Teflon game. The term comes from the brand name of a "non-stick" chemical used on cookware and was first applied to President Ronald Reagan. Just as Reagan was the Teflon president – he was unaffected personally by any criticism or controversy that might have erupted during his presidency to remain hugely popular at the end of his eight-year stint – cricket is a game that will hardly suffer any lack of popularity by any criticism, controversy or even scandal.
Ten years ago when the spectre of match fixing surfaced and probes into the controversy proved that players had underperformed I was convinced that cricket would have to endure some dent in its mass popularity. After all shouldn’t followers of the game be upset and angry when they know that they are being taken for a ride and that results of games have been decided beforehand? Yes, there was a hue and cry for some time but all died down and the craze for cricket has continued unabated. India has been a one sport nation for decades and the following for other sports has been miniscule when compared to the passion for cricket.
If anything the just concluded third edition of the Indian Premier League confirmed the raging popularity of cricket in this country. Over the last couple of weeks the IPL garnered much adverse publicity for off the field happenings and the charges ranged from money laundering to match fixing to corruption among various franchisees. The Union Minister of State for Foreign Affairs was forced to resign and there was intense pressure on the all powerful IPL commissioner to follow suit till he was finally suspended just after Sunday’s final. The IPL went from the sports pages to the lead story on page one. Newspapers, television channels and the internet were choked with scandalous stories, allegations, charges and counter charges. The high and mighty were named among those involved.
All this however was off the field. On the field things continued as smoothly as ever as if nothing was happening. The matches were conducted as scheduled and most important as if to underscore that cricket is indeed a religion in this country the following for the games was as frenzied as ever. The IPL was followed with the same high level of interest that had marked it in the first two editions. The TRP ratings on television continued to be high and spectators thronged the various stadiums in their thousands. The talking point wherever one went was the IPL. Which teams would make it to the semifinals? Did this team or the other have a chance? Why did Kolkata Knight Riders and King’s XI Punjab fare so badly? Who will be the highest run getter Sachin Tendulkar or Jacques Kallis?
With more and more skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard day by day and cricket, the BCCI and the IPL being high profile entities the media will keep coming out with stories substantiated or not and there will be an air of uncertainty for some time. Some dirty linen will be washed in public – at the time of writing Lalit Modi is threatening to come out with names of people who interfered with the functioning of the IPL should he be forced to quit. The dishonourable deals and sleazy off field happenings will be the subject of discussion for a while. But take it from me that cricket per se will not in any way be affected. It will continue to enjoy the exalted status it has enjoyed for decades.
``Cricket is religion, Sachin is god’’ has been the most common poster that is held in the stands for years now. It does not exaggerate in either way for both the game and Tendulkar can do no wrong. Let there be controversies and scandals, resignations and allegations, charges and counter charges. Cricket’s popularity will remain undiminished. The following for the game will continue to be passionate, the crowds will still flock to the stadium, TRP ratings will continue to be high and cricket will continue to be the main subject of discussion at homes, offices, clubs and on the streets. No amount of muck thrown will stick to it at least for an extended period. After all it is the Teflon sport remember?