Friday, May 17, 2013

A format that lends itself to corruption

May 17, 2013

Cricket is bleeding. Dealt a deadly blow by the latest spot-fixing allegations, the Indian Premier League, a tournament rich in cash if not cricketing glory, stands battered following the arrest of three players — ironically, all belonging to a team that has won all of its home matches this season.

One has always heard whispers of fixing at various levels in the domestic circuit, often tenuous for lack of evidence. Then, the world of cricket found itself in a state of turmoil like never before in 2000 when Hansie Cronje admitted to his involvement in, and the prevalence of, match-fixing at the international level.

However, the game seemed to survive that, and actually thrive. When the IPL was launched in 2008, it offered mind-blowing financial returns, not just to the stars but even unheralded youngsters. The format caught the imagination of the public.

On the flip side, it also exposed impressionable young players and newcomers to the big time to the dangers of corruption.

In a manner reminiscent of how TV mogul Kerry Packer hit upon the idea of what was then dismissed as 'pajama cricket' to take on the more staid, establishment-backed version of the game, the IPL has emerged a well-organised mix of money, glitz and glamour.

It is an entertainment package with cricket thrown in, adequately supported by icons of the sport. The glamour came in the form of the active involvement of Bollywood stars.

The format of the IPL creates the space and avenues for spot fixing. The bowlers fall prey because it is convenient to concede a boundary than hit one. The bowler facilitates by delivering full-tosses and half volleys which even an average batsman can be backed to hit boundaries off.

The probability of spot-fixing is the highest during the death overs; the bowlers bowling full-tosses in search of 'yorkers' and getting hit all over the park is all too common an occurrence.

Everyone is too involved in the outcome of the match to be aware of the possibility of spot-fixing. It is easy to lure the players to spot-fixing. Action is fast and public memory short. Blink-and-you-miss-it action dominates several matches. The tournament format too, being long and protracted, allows room for manipulation. Laying the blame on the players for getting involved in spot-fixing, former India skipper Sourav Ganguly recommends that cricketers found guilty be banned for life. Ganguly would know the pain of this scandal since it was his leadership that steered the Indian team to safe shores when it was rocked by match fixing.

The fact that a few Pakistan cricketers were caught for indulging in spot-fixing while playing a Test match and sentenced to jail terms should have served as a warning to susceptible players.

Closer home, the fact that some Indian domestic players were caught and punished during the last season of the IPL for indulging in spot fixing should have been warning enough.
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