The sound of silence
Two days after the news first broke of three Indian cricketers being arrested for alleged spot-fixing in the IPL, the official response has been restricted to a press conference by the BCCI president and a few one-on-one interviews given by him to various TV channels and newspapers. N Srinivasan has been more candid than usual and the questions have been tougher than those he normally faces - tough questions for tough times.
What has been disconcerting, though, has been the deafening silence on other official fronts. The IPL chairman, Rajiv Shukla, was missing from the public eye till Saturday morning - a sharp contrast to his usual willingness to comment on any issue of national importance. Shukla is the willing and often cheerful go-to person at the time of any issue, a handy disposition given the number of hats he wears - he is also a junior minister in the federal government, an MP and a political lubricant with friends across various sections of the fractious political landscape. His usual patience and unflappable demeanour, and his long personal experience as a media professional, would have been ideal in the face of the current crisis. Yet his only presence, in those first 48 hours, was a few bytes to PTI.
Shukla's boss, Srinivasan, when asked about this on Friday evening, said he (Srinivasan) would take responsibility as president of the BCCI - a statement Shukla echoed when he finally emerged on Saturday morning. Yet surely the IPL chairman needed to be the face of the tournament at a time when it was experiencing its worst crisis since 2010? That, you will recall, was the chaotic and acrimonious fallout of Lalit Modi's sacking as IPL chairman - the fallout of which is still hanging ominously over the league. Modi had many faults but he was not one to avoid the cameras - he just ensured he controlled the message, forget about the medium.
Even more disturbing, though, is the total silence, across two match-days, over this issue on the official IPL broadcaster Max. Not once during the matches, not once during its extensive pre- and post-match shows, was the spot-fixing controversy mentioned. Not on Thursday, when the news broke of the arrests; not on Friday, when Rajasthan Royals, whose three players were in police custody, were back on the field. Only twice was the issue raised, both times during the toss on Friday. First Ramiz Raja asked Rahul Dravid, the Royals captain, about the "tough couple of days". Then, toss done and lost, Dravid is asked the same question by Alistair Campbell. Same answer - It's been tough for everyone who follows the game.
One does not expect, on the official channel, a full-fledged discussion on spot-fixing but to avoid the issue altogether is a blinkered policy that works only in societies where despotic regimes have cut off all access to the outside world. It merely confirms, for the critics, the impression that the IPL - or, at least, its coverage on the official channel - is less about the cricket and more about the entertainment. An impression further underlined by the presence, on Friday's pre-match-show, of two Bollywood actors and the subsequent discussion of topics that, to put it mildly, left the usually articulate and insightful Isa Guha a mere spectator.
It was like watching two parallel universes: one, in which the crisis was being discussed threadbare, with all its implications and interpretations, and another in which the crisis didn't exist. (There was a third universe - the spectators in the Hyderabad stadium who, as our reporter Abhishek Purohit wrote, knew the facts but didn't really care.)
Granted there is a limit to what can be discussed on air but one can mention facts without veering on the wrong side of libel. One can talk about the possible effects of such an incident on a team, a set of players who have been together for the past two-odd months. One can talk about this being the ultimate test of Dravid's captaincy and draw on past crises he has been faced with. There is no end to the scope for intelligent debate even on such a sensitive topic. Though perhaps "intelligent debate" is an oxymoronic phrase in the context of the IPL. To sweep the issue entirely under the carpet is to do the public a disservice at best.
Contrast this with ITV's coverage of the IPL in the UK; there was a frank and free discussion on Thursday, the day the story broke, with the participants - including Aakash Chopra - at liberty to discuss the story after a briefing by lawyers. Or cast your mind back to that day in August 2010, the morning after the News of the World revelations of spot-fixing. The issue would have been as damaging to Sky, the broadcasters of that series, as this is to Sony, yet that Sunday morning the commentators did not shy away from discussing the story and, if memory serves one right, even held up a copy of the newspaper in the studio.
The most charitable conclusion one can draw from all this is that those who control Indian cricket are hopelessly out of touch with living in the Information Age. Transparency is not an Indian virtue but the IPL was supposed to be the new-age global tournament, on a par with the best anywhere in the world, a gleaming, turbocharged machine running with silken smoothness. Over the past few years, though, the rust has been exposed, layer by layer, until the impression grows that this is a league hastily thrown together without much thought of the nuts and bolts, the framework, that are needed to hold it together.
Modi, when he was in charge, spoke and spun; those who have followed him have been equally damaging in their silence. Discussing the issue will not damage - or further damage - the IPL's credibility; not talking about it, though, will only encourage the suspicion that there is something rotten that needs to be covered up.
Jayaditya Gupta is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo in India