IPL fixing allegations May 18, 2013

The sound of silence

Gauging from the official broadcast of the IPL you'd be hard-pressed to guess there has been a spot-fixing scandal over the past few days

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.

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 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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 21, 2013, 10:55 GMT

    Watching IPL is now like living with an unfaithful partner. The faith factor has gone for a six. The players have got themselves 'caught and bowled'. Further, there is no guarantee that such things won't happen in future. Even if strict punishment is handed to the recent culprits. It's an out-an-out money-minting business. BCCI is the big Daddy who is not yet ready to listen to anyone, even the Supreme Court!

  • Gokul on May 20, 2013, 13:23 GMT

    How different is this from what cricinfo did by disallowing comments on Sreesanth-related articles?

  • Amit on May 20, 2013, 11:20 GMT

    In a different context, media bans often remind us of dictatorial leaderships with blinkered vision that often end in dramatic and drastic fashion. IT IS A SPORT and the spirit of the game, which no pundit or spectator misses out on pointing out, should be upheld in every facet of the game on and off the field.

    I grew up looking at heroes from all eras and their heroics and wit. To imagine even some of it being a fake...

    This betrayal somehow has to be personal to all those who follow the game.

  • Sri on May 20, 2013, 2:28 GMT

    BCCI knows the average Indian viewer and fan very well. Fortunately or unfortunately we are not a people stuck up on black and white notions of honesty and integrity like the west, unless it comes to the extreme - "if the match result itself changes". Aren't we used to justifying things? - see articles appearing about the lonely, insecure Malayali (Irony is that I happen to agree with it!). IPL at the moment is one of the few avenues for us to enjoy and vent out - does anyone think that the AVERAGE Indian fan really cares that much? Aussies or English or Americans would turn off the telly and do something else. This explains the silence of the BCCI. They know that by just riding out this "crisis" and letting the final IPL qualifiers and semis and finals, there is much more to gain in terms of continuity of profits - after all there is this famed forgetfulness of the average Indian that does not allow him to demand rectification and ask repeated questions of officialdom.

  • Richard on May 19, 2013, 18:43 GMT

    @Amit Bhatnagar-My sentiments entirely.

  • Tushar on May 19, 2013, 16:54 GMT

    Cricinfo didn't allow comments on related articles... Talking about ITV of UK, a nation where hardly 10-20% would genuinely praise IPL, and the rest are all not fans of it, its obvious the broadcasters would talk about it. They need to hook their audiences to the TV sets, so they will bring up the topics that people like to see and criticize... TRP's and stuff.

  • Tom on May 19, 2013, 13:55 GMT

    The issue is the need to be seen to be impartial and reasonable with respect to this type of scenario. It looks immature when not discussing a key piece of news with respect to the IPL via the main broadcaster. This is news and media outlets are staffed by journalists, whose job it is to explain what is going on in a clear and concise fashion. In some ways this is a positive story of identifying possible wrongdoing, something the cricket authorities have struggled with in the past. It is not something to be ashamed of, it is something to be addressed.

  • VENKATACHALAM on May 19, 2013, 12:18 GMT

    Won't blame Sony alone. The BCCI always chooses partners whether in television or news media who toe their line.

  • Dummy4 on May 19, 2013, 10:53 GMT

    Ah, Orwell missed out! He could have written whole volumes on the BCCI and the IPL...

  • debarata on May 19, 2013, 10:43 GMT

    IPL is India's 'in your face rest of the world' response; zealoulsly guarded by the BCCI mandarins and their lackeys. When India were being dismantled in England in 2011, Ravi Shastri launched a extraordinary tirade on how Nasir Hussain and co were jealous of India's ( read IPL ) success. It is fairly obvious the organisers will stonewall and ignore any discussion. Lack of transparency has been a BCCI trait, so why are you surprised?

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