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By Suresh Menon
In the backyard matches of our growing years – the IPL is a sophisticated, moneyed version of such games – you sometimes borrowed a player from the batting team to keep wickets when short of players. Even at that age, the man behind the wickets was not so unsubtle to deliberately drop catches to aid his team. But should the batsman step out and miss the ball, the keeper would collect it and make a heart-rending appeal for caught behind, giving the striker enough time to regain his crease and avoid being stumped.
The BCCI has done much the same thing with its ban on the five players who were ostensibly exposed by a television sting operation. It has acted swiftly and decisively, but cannot escape the charge that the whole exercise has been a smokescreen to protect the franchises who allegedly offered the under-the-table payments well beyond the official limit of 30 lakh per player.
What kind of investigation is this which cherry picks what is convenient to the authorities, but ignores the implications of those very 'confessions'? If Monish Mishra was offered 1.45 lakh more than he was entitled to, why did the investigation not follow it up by questioning Pune Warriors, the team he plays for? Either Pune says it is not true, in which case you cannot punish Mishra, or it says it is true in which case the franchise needs to be disciplined too.
A life ban for spot fixing is well deserved for the punishment has necessarily got to be exemplary. T P Sudhindra joining the ranks of Mohammad Azharuddin a little more than a decade after the former India captain got his just desserts is a blow both to the system of deterence that the Board has always claimed it has in place and a depressing reminder that human nature cannot be legislated against. If Sudhindra's case is genuine, it is difficult to work up any sympathy for him. There are no laws against match-fixing or spot fixing in India; they come under the broad classification of 'cheating', and a clever lawyer might possibly be able to play havoc should the case go to court. But Sudhindra is 28, and it could drag on beyond his normal playing life.
Unfortunately, all five players – Shalab Srivastava, Abhinav Bali and Amit Yadav are the others – have been tarred by the same brush when in fact their 'crimes' are different. Srivastava said that there was black money floating around in the payments to players (in India you must be really naieve or in denial not to believe that) and there was a suggestion by the TV channel that he agreed to bowl to order for ten lakh. This is not his confession, mind you, but the channel's word. How can you be guilty on someone else's say-so?
I hold no candle for the banned players. For all we know, the players are involved in shady deals, and “everybody knows” (a favourite Indian argument) that they are guilty. But it will need more than television innuendo and nudge-nudge, wink-wink allegations to prove it.
How can you ban a bunch of twenty-somethings for “loose talk and unsubstantiated bragging” in what they assumed was a private conversation. All bragging, by definition, is unsubstantiated, and if you do not exaggerate and gild you boasts when you are in your twenties, then when will you? It is an age when bragging, athletic, sexual, academic, intellectual is at its peak!
The BCCI's reluctance to take on the IPL franchisees is understandable, but not easily forgiveable. After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune; and if it appears at times like this that part of the millions paid by the IPL owners go into the account marked 'protection money', there is a certain logic to it.
A more honest investigation might have revealed a bigger mess than a bunch of boys bragging. But even exaggerations are based on truth, and no investigating team should accept the one without bothering to seek out the other.