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IPL can't duck the F-word

Penalising players is not enough; it's time to pull up and rein in the franchises

Sharda Ugra

May 17, 2012

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Mohnish Mishra is overjoyed after securing Pune's win, Pune Warriors v Kochi Tuskers Kerala, IPL 2011, Navi Mumbai, April 13, 2011
If Ravi Sawani discovers that the black money being talked of casually by the suspended five was actually paid out, will any of the teams be punished? © Associated Press
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On Wednesday night, Lalit Modi complained about how the TV channel that showed the sting operation and put certain information "in the public domain" was "totally misleading". He felt for the viewers, the fans and the sporting fraternity, he said, because the sting had no proof.

Quite the contrary. What India TV's "Operation IPL" proved beyond doubt was that India's young domestic cricketers, those who drift away from centrestage, are quite happy to pocket any extra cash that the delusional or foolish may want to shell out.

If caught they will either be reprimanded - like Ravindra Jadeja or Manish Pandey - or be consigned to the some outer darkness like the suspended five players will possibly be. And that will be that.

What the India TV programme did not prove on camera was that any of the players stung on tape had either willingly accepted cash on camera and then bowled a no-ball, or "spot-fixed" as promised. That is not to say that does not happen - it just didn't show up on tape.

The IPL, set up to imitate the franchise model of American sport, is actually a very cosy family business. The owners are, for the majority, in this largely for individual and corporate mileage. They owe their original loyalty to the BCCI, which continues to play patriarch. It is why they are protected and if players are caught being invited to break rules, they are the ones who get punished. This is not to say that players are poor lambs being seduced by cash but everyone knows the difference between being the guy receiving the pay cheque and the guy actually signing it.

In leagues where rules matter, teams are punished - however powerful they may be. In 2006, Juventus of Turin, historically one of the richest and most powerful football clubs in Europe, were found guilty of rigging games with four other teams and stripped of back-to-back Serie A titles, relegated to Serie B, booted out of the UEFA Champions League and forced to play three home matches without any fans.

The National Rugby League in Australia has fined four teams more than US$165,000 for breaching the salary cap in 2012. A fifth team has just lost an appeal over a US$185,000 salary cap fine from 2010.

Sometimes it's not what the club itself does; earlier this month, football clubs AC Milan and Inter Milan had to pay 20,000 euros and 10,000 euros for insulting banners seen among their fans during a local derby as well as one that racially abused a player.

During a 2011 NFL lockout, three teams including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers received six figure fines - $250,000 was found to be the Buccaneers' fine - for breaking the rule that no players could be contacted during the lockout period. By this yardstick, Mumbai Indians should have been fined along with Jadeja but weren't. Over the last few years the players get flung the rule-books and the franchises offering extra frills are treated with respect.

If Ravi Sawani discovers that the black money being talked of casually by the suspended five was actually paid out, will any of the teams be punished? A sports law expert, Vidushpat Singhania, has said that for any code or investigation to actually matter, it had to be completely spelt out and it needed to have teeth. That is how the partnership between the ICC and Interpol is said to work. It is how the US anti-doping agency was able to ensure that Balco went to court and Marion Jones went to jail. If the BCCI is serious about its anti-corruption code, it must have the government, the cops and the courts on its side. The first problem with this, though, is that the BCCI has long avoided public scrutiny.

Modi, in that interview, spoke warmly of his "close", "great" and "best friends" who had "supported" his league in its early days, buying up franchises, and with whom he said was always "impartial".

Everyone involved with the league knows there are some franchises who can be a bit bendy with the rules because they are allowed to be, and there is another that is not required to bend rules because it cannot be argued with.

 
 
Rules have been changed as the IPL has gone along: without warning, the retention clause was brought in, as opposed to all players going back into a public auction
 

It is why the addition of two teams in 2010 became so problematic - the new entrants came from outside the circle of friends and the flexibility of the IPL's rules was not about to be explained to them.

Rules have been changed as the IPL has gone along: without warning, the retention clause was brought in, as opposed to all players going back into a public auction. This helped some of the key "icons" stay with teams that could offer them rich pickings.

Then came the "secret" bid to help solve dead-heat tie-breaks during an auction. The most public secret of that new rule was the fact that whoever had the most cash would get the player they wanted and anything beyond $2m would remain unmentioned and be given to the BCCI as a bit of a sweetener.

Franchises will always talk about what it actually costs to get the best domestic talent into their side. There are many stories about offers that players couldn't refuse: extra cash or "jobs" as euphemistic extras, cars, owners criss-crossing the country in chartered planes to speak to the most desirable domestic players …

The Rs 30 lakh salary cap for non-India players began with noble intentions. It was the BCCI's attempt to try to keep domestic cricketers interested in playing all formats, to ensure that Twenty20 cricket does not become what it has - the one form of cricket that every kid wants to play - and the IPL contract the one legal but still flexible document everyone wants to grab.

Now Rs 30 lakhs in India is a more than decent income in itself - and more so for someone in his 20s. It puts the player in the top 1% of the Indian salary bracket, alongside the Ambani brothers, Sonia Gandhi and Shah Rukh Khan. According to the National Council of Applied Economic Research, any household earning an annual income of Rs 12.5 lakh (1% or less than 1% of the population) are India's "affluent or rich."

Yet the figure is a victim of its environment - and of the messages cricketers get. Some franchises are willing to offer more to ensure that they have at least four half-good domestic players once they have filled their quota of four foreigners and local "stars" in the playing XI.

The IPL's ecosystem grumbles that 'market forces' should come into play over salary caps. It will imply that market forces will put in more cash with the overseas buys and less with the Indian players, which would be fine if this were not an event that required teams have seven Indians in their playing XI.

The India TV sting operation will end up being misleading only if the IPL allows it to be. What the sting operation has revealed again is that some of the IPL's most influential stakeholders are willing to go the extra mile to get players they believe they need. The players, who cannot understand what the word 'enough' means, are just willing to bargain long and hard.

If the franchises are not pulled up or reined in, another sting operation in a few years' time will just offer up another round of suspensions.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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