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By Suresh Menon
It may be unsporting, even politically incorrect, to say this – but a larger cause might be served if India do not win the Champions Trophy. This is not fair on the captain and players who have performed superbly so far. India are the best team in the tournament. Yet, an on-field victory might be reflected in one off-field if it saves the necks of those who have dragged the fair name of the game through mud in recent weeks. The spot-fixers, the bettors, and indeed the BCCI itself. All will be forgiven, and perhaps forgotten. Can we afford that?
That a massive clean up operation is called for in the administration of the game in the country and the way the IPL, for one, is run is hardly news any more. In fact, the focus has already shifted away from the shenanigans of the BCCI, team owners and the players who are allegedly involved in the fixing racket. This was bound to happen; public memory is short, the memory of those responsible for the mess is conveniently short too, and nothing trumps an internal scandal like an international victory.
While victory in the Champions Trophy (this might sound presumptuous, with India yet to play their semifinal match, but that doesn’t change the argument) would be seen as a breath of fresh air in the foul-smelling cricketing establishment in the country, we might end up paying too high a price for it.
On the positive side a win would be endorsement of India’s status as the No. 1 side in the world, and more importantly, the confirmation that in one-day cricket at least, the transition is both complete and successful. A new pair of opening batsmen, a strong middle-order, a bowling attack that is steadily coming to grips with requirements and above all an energetic fielding outfit – this is the team that has emerged from the ashes of some recent embarrassments. With the World Cup two years away, the defending champions are beginning to look like the favourites already. This is heady stuff.
But can victory be the great forgiver of all sins, the final arbiter in the struggle for the game’s soul in the country? The choice need not be starkly in black and white, of course. In the ideal world, India would win the Champions Trophy and cricket at home would get the cleansing it deserves. And there is no reason to imagine these two events are mutually exclusive. Yet, for the authorities, there is much to be gained by sweeping everything under the carpet; and a victorious national team provides the ideal excuse to do so. Why rock the boat when everything is so palpably fine?
Conflict of interest? What’s that? And why is it such a big deal? Betting? Ah well, boys will be boys. As for spot fixing, it is so difficult to prove anything that it is futile to spend time and effort in pursuit of that bogey. Only the joyless will pursue uncomfortable truths – victory is the great justification for everything, the final validation. The school of thought which believes all this will grow stronger should India win the title (which will be theirs in perpetuity since this is the last edition of the tournament).
A loss might be the price the players and the fans will have to pay to ensure that the focus remains on the ills of the game in the country. At stake is the credibility of the game itself, and by winning Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men will throw a lifeline to the racketeers in the cricketing fraternity who have been using the sport to further their own, selfish, often illegal ends. Even the promised inquiry against Dhoni and his conflict of interest as captain of India and possible stakeholder in a player management company will run out of steam. When Caesar returns triumphantly from a campaign abroad, they tend to offer him a crown, not a parking ticket for his chariot.
Perhaps I am overstating it. The tournament will take its course, and the law too will take its own course. In a mature society, the one ought not to affect the other. But…