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A time for sadness and fear

The spot-fixing controversy teaches us about the pitfalls of insecurity and of the desire to keep up with the Joneses

Harsha Bhogle

May 24, 2013

Comments: 34 | Text size: A | A

Brad Hodge drills through the off side, Pune Warriors v Rajasthan Royals, IPL, Pune, April 11, 2013
Brad Hodge led Royals to a stirring win but the tournament's backdrop continues to depress © BCCI

I am writing this soon after watching Rajasthan Royals, rocked by intrigue but glued together by commitment, make a heart-warming entry into the final eliminator of what has, from a purely cricketing point of view, been an outstanding IPL. Royals have had to deal with drama, largely unwanted, and as a result have demanded newer skills of their players - the ability to play under the shadow of false media allegations, for example. But while the action, even the emotion, was riveting, the backdrop, sombre and depressing, was impossible to ignore. This hasn't been just another week in Indian cricket. And this wasn't just another tournament.

And so I find myself in an emotional cauldron; in a sport I love, in a tournament whose cricket I genuinely believe in, but in an atmosphere, even if created by a few, tinged with moral decay and danger. I feel sadness and fear. I am angry very often, but from time to time expectation wells up within: that my sport might emerge stronger, that out of pain a better sport will evolve.

I am partly in denial; I want my sport to embody everything I have experienced within it: beauty, bravery and flair, everything that brings a smile. I want to be happy, I want to shout out that good vastly overwhelms bad. But another part of me is hoping that whatever has to tumble out does, that cricket finds its deepest caverns so those conspiring there can be exposed; that cricket feels so much pain that it will do what it takes to ensure it doesn't happen again. Neither emotion is viable, for I know cricket will continue to exist, like everything else, with the nicest and the bravest alongside the cowardly and the machiavellian.

One thing we must accept, though. The events upon us now are not only about cricket and cricketers, they are about insecurity, temptation, and a desire to keep up with the Joneses. Let us look at each.

Cricket, like all sport, offers glory to few and a lifetime of it to even fewer. For the investment it demands it offers short careers that end when people in other professions are starting to flourish. In that limited time a player must achieve all he can on the field of play and earn as much as he can on and off it. But not everyone can earn enough to sustain themselves for the rest of their lives. That is why insecurity resides in very close proximity to most sportspeople. If they don't make it, they don't have too much to fall back upon.

That leads to temptation, and when it is married to the awareness that it is virtually impossible to police the sport, the mind seeks out opportunities. Admittedly temptation is not the exclusive preserve of those who earn less, but combined with insecurity, it makes for a particular vulnerability.

And then there is the third factor that no one is willing to talk about. In sports teams, apart from talk of sporting prowess and the imparting of inspirational thought, an extraordinary amount of time is spent discussing, and flaunting, material possessions. And even more so in testosterone-fuelled activities, which, thus glorified, are seen as accomplishments; why, they almost become a rite of passage. Young players will gawk at gadgets and cars and eavesdrop on conversations that centre on the company of beautiful women. Like records, this too becomes aspirational.

Young players will gawk at gadgets and cars and eavesdrop on conversations that centre on the company of beautiful women. Like records, this too becomes aspirational

And you can see why they become easy targets for those who offer what these younger, and lesser-earning, players are led to aspire for. You can educate people all you want, but just as children instinctively do what their parents do, as opposed to what their parents tell them to do, younger players get carried away by the environment they are in. They become easy targets for honey traps. That is the beginning of deeper pitfalls. And that is why, while I am all in favour of educating and mentoring people, I am aware of the limitations of that approach, especially when the desire to keep up with the Joneses is so natural and widespread.

This is not to condone what happens, this is not a boys-will-be-boys explanation, for young cricketers today know exactly what not to do. This is my hypothesis on why sportsmen all over the world are particularly easy targets. Some might argue that this is a more universal phenomenon, and they won't be wrong, but there seems to be a sense of accomplishment attached to it in sport all over the world.

But let us stay with cricket and India. Can we then educate at all? Yes we must, for to not do so will be to accept defeat. But education must be accompanied by fear, and I am increasingly convinced that fear will be a greater deterrent. And that is why I was so disappointed that the probe of 1999-2000 was never made public. By burying it, Indian cricket was let down. It cannot happen again. The scandal of 1999-2000 now exists in whispers. The 2013 episode cannot, and that is why, painful as it might be, a greater churn will produce long-term gain. It might lead to better systems, greater transparency, maybe even a law against fixing. Scams made systems more rigorous in the money markets. They could in cricket, which, I suspect, is still much cleaner than the stock markets are.

The timing of what has happened is particularly painful too, because, looked at purely from a cricketing point of view, this was the best IPL yet. Power-hitting went to a new level, legspinners won matches in a format few believed was made for them, catching was ridiculously good, some of the captaincy was exceptional, city loyalties were strengthened, and we rediscovered, to our great joy, that the richest teams need not be the best.

Hopefully by staining it, these weak-willed will end up doing cricket a favour.

Harsha Bhogle is a television presenter, writer, and a commentator on IPL and other cricket. His Twitter feed is here

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Posted by ashurgoel on (May 25, 2013, 17:53 GMT)

Harsha i dont know if you read this or not (i suspect not). There was a time when i was equally enchanted with cricket - an enchantment which grew even more when i happened to hear you commentate for the first time over radio from NZ (SRT opened for the first time i believe in that match). A decade and a half later i hardly watch cricket or whats become of it. However i do like to follow whats happening and while browsing thru your article and the comments below i could'nt help but feel that the real truth is captured not in your article but in the comment by Don Quixote - the Harsha Bhogle i see on TV and behind this article is very different from the HB i heard so long back on the radio. Even independence seems to have a price on its head. More's the tragedy.

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas_Atheist on (May 25, 2013, 17:07 GMT)

It's good that those 3 RR players were suspended due to alleged wrongdoing until the investigations are complete. Likewise, the CSK team should be suspended until the investigations are complete, as the ownership group is now alleged of wrongdoing with strong evidences. My opinion is just based on as per rules, not on emotions or bias for/against any team or player. This final shouldn't go on and anything less would be such a shame and slap on my (a fan's) face.

Posted by   on (May 25, 2013, 13:26 GMT)

When I think about IPL, first thing that comes into my mind is MONEY and not cricket. The filthy volumes of money that was being pumped in the IPL. This was sure to happen. For me IPL only means making money. making money from franchise sale, sponsorship deals, and now fixing matches....

Posted by   on (May 25, 2013, 6:50 GMT)

Cool off, it was good article...

Posted by Hammond on (May 25, 2013, 6:35 GMT)

Harsha, T20 was always wrong for our game. It's sad that this fact is (just beginning) to be realised.

Posted by caught_knott_bowled_old on (May 25, 2013, 6:29 GMT)

Harsha has got an enormous amount of following and enjoys a lot of credibility with cricket fans all over. Its therefore disappointing to see such a bland and watered-down article that purports to offer a lame cause-and-effect analysis and some airy-fairy solution to the problem. "Keeping up with the Joneses"? Really?? Is that all you could come up with? If you really care about Indian cricket, take a stand. Identify and expose the real ills that afflict the sport.The players are mere pawns! Use your credibility and following to weed out the malaise. With journalistic integrity, balance and equianimity. Remember, the pen is mightier than the sword. Use it wisely. And use it to good effect.

Posted by Nathan_R_Patrick on (May 24, 2013, 22:37 GMT)

Harsha, when I came into being, my mum taught me to steer clear of strangers. When I started going to middle school and beyond, my teachers encouraged me and my fellow school-mates to to focus on study. When I went overseas for the first time for education, I was 21 but still naive in terms of international exposure. My mum jumped in and said,"Remember, what you're there for." So first 25 yrs of my life (you and many others are not exception), we had our mum and dad or elderly relatives in the family who constantly steered us in the right direction. When we started working (for someone(, we had mentors at work. This all taught us lot of self governance when we are on our own and mum/dad, relatives, managers are not watching us. In short, we learnt the right and wrong from numerous sources and by and large everyone concurred. We need to guide these youngsters. At 19, they are on their own? I find it unreasonable. Agents are not parents. Personal mentors are imperative.

Posted by jackthelad on (May 24, 2013, 20:06 GMT)

Yes, well. Lots of moral outrage, but not an awful lot of sense. If there are scads of money to be made, there are going to be people who will prey on that. For a start, gambling must be made legal in India, which means it will police itself (the only meaningful policing); the BCCI needs to be hauled into line with every other cricketing nation, so that the ICC means something (otherwise, India should be excluded from all international cricket, as indeed it should have been some years ago); the cash sloshing about needs to be accounted for ... I fear the current revelations are only the tip of the iceberg, and cricket surely deserves better than this ...

Posted by Peter_Walters on (May 24, 2013, 19:31 GMT)

Here are some simple solutions: 1. Ban the culprits for life. 2. Imprison them for a minumum of 10 years 3. Make them pay (living expenses) for their stay in prison. 4. Penalize them with large fines. 5. Use them to mow the grass of the cricketing field, collect trash during a cricket match, clean toilets during the match, parade them before the start of the match... 6. Educate them about these consequences. That is tell them what is gonna happen if they are caught.

Posted by AnotherBindibooman on (May 24, 2013, 19:22 GMT)

Harsha, the real sadness is the fact that some eminent former players and commentators were nothing but mouthpieces of the BCCI. They were shamelessly toeing the BCCI line on everything under the sun. If some of these former players who are associated with the IPL either through the BCCI or the broadcaster had raised important and obvious questions about the way the IPL is run, who knows, may be things would have been different. That is what the spot-fixing controversy teaches us.

Posted by myselfmk on (May 24, 2013, 18:00 GMT)

Sadness,anger,disappointment altogether for the true cricket fans..... as a true cricket lover, who loves the purity of cricket got hurt to the root.... i was bit too young to understand about it when it happened during 1999-00 but now i realise it..... shame to all of us shame to the game of cricket.... Gentlemen's game is really getting affected by monsters.... when administration goes behind money side lining the spirit of the game this is what happen.... money is not everything.... Atleast now BCCI should understand it and should hold the spirit of the truely wonderful game of cricket high....

Posted by JJkumar on (May 24, 2013, 17:04 GMT)

Harsha, Asusual your article gives joy amidst gloom. But IPL is like "The Emperor's New Cloths". It is going to have sprialling downfall. Issues are prevalant in other sports too. But in case of Indian Cricket, no damage control is being done. According to the betting bookies " This too will pass :-) ".

Posted by pitch_it_up on (May 24, 2013, 16:03 GMT)

Yet another nice niece of article from Harsha....gives hope amidst the gloom!

Posted by don_quixote on (May 24, 2013, 14:40 GMT)

Your article is well-written with suitable dollops of rationality and emotion. However you and all of the leading lights of Indian crickets have soft pedaled on the important stuff. The innate conflict in the IPL. The pure arrogance and power play of BCCI. What is sad is that no one from the Indian cricketing legends have spoken out - Gavaskar, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman, Kumble - they are all silent (except for some very watered down comments by Gavaskar and the personal "I am devastated" by Dravid. It is sad. I can't believe any of you really love cricket more than you love the salary, perks and power that BCCI and cricket puts your way... Very sad to see the corruption of such great souls... Dorian Grays all around..

Posted by HarshaFollower on (May 24, 2013, 13:40 GMT)

Great article. While I am an optimist as you are deep down, I somehow feel, like all things in India, this episode will again be allowed to die and few months later all is forgotten. I agree with your article that education of players will not solve all the issues of greed, we still need to make an honest effort. I think we need to start from the school level (likes of Giles shield and Harris shield matches in Mumbai), where the education needs to be introduced and made stronger. This means people policing and managing these have to be holding strong values themselves and meritocracy in sport is rewarded.This is the only way to ensure longer and better sport experience for all.

Posted by   on (May 24, 2013, 13:21 GMT)

Harsha ; this game of cricket took a violent turn when Bollywood became involved in it . Soon it lost its gentleman nature and became a reality show . Sad , this is the only reason among many others I lost interest in cricket .

Posted by itismenithin on (May 24, 2013, 13:11 GMT)

Once sport is run by business minded people there is always a danger of losing its purity.Quality cricket is itself entertainment, cheer girls and movie stars only serve as distractions.

Posted by deathstar01 on (May 24, 2013, 13:08 GMT)

Agreed @Romenevans. High officials of the teams are not out of it. i think.

Posted by Shazli on (May 24, 2013, 12:28 GMT)

atleast the man like Harsha should not been supported event like IPL...........

Posted by SouthPaw on (May 24, 2013, 11:26 GMT)

Hang on Harsha, let us not jump to conclusions here. The matter is under investigation, we don't know all sides of the story except for what has been released to the public by the police and whatever misinformation has been fed by the media.

Posted by   on (May 24, 2013, 11:21 GMT)

We need systemic changes to prevent, detect and punish curroption in sport. The first step is to to lobby and push the Govt. Of India to make betting legal. Most of the betting in cricket (and hence fixing) originates in India where it is illegal. There is no way of disclosure, monitoring and detecting trends in betting if it continues outside the legal framework. Leagalising it will also slowly push out the underworld and organised crime from controlling the betting industry and get more reputable (ladbrokes of the world) players.

There has to be means of detecting curroption. I cannot believe that no cricketer who is honest does not know something. There has to be whistle blowers clauses introduced that can provide anonymous tips that can be followed up. I am sure that there can be much more done in this area if experts get together

Finaly punishment if caught should be swift and exmplarary. This probably needs new sections in IPC or at least expanding existing sections

Posted by   on (May 24, 2013, 11:12 GMT)

While I have been saddened by what has been reported in the news for the past couple of weeks, the reaction of many has been over the top. The blame has been assigned in equal measure to BCCI and IPL. I am not sure that is correct. In the past couple of years we have seen spot fixing appear in County Cricket, Test cricket and now in IPL. Spot fixing is very very difficult if not impossible to detect. I am not sure how much a probe can find out. By now many of the people involved would have worked out iron clad alibis. I am certain that a majority of criceters play the game fair and with integrity. As with any other profession and indeed the society itself there are going to be individuals who are weak minded, corrupt and dishonest. Let us refrain frompainting everybody with the same brush.

What we need to demand though is a systemic change.We need to learn from such incidents in other sports all over the world and the measures adopted. Contd...

Posted by drvats on (May 24, 2013, 11:09 GMT)

As always Harsha has written a good, sincere piece.

Posted by Romenevans on (May 24, 2013, 9:33 GMT)

@ Leggie - You saw that full house Delhi crowd that too in a neutral teams's match in last playoffs? That's the role of Cheer leaders and loud music that DJ plays after every over, so that, the crowd can yell like maniacs and make some noise. They don't care about cricket, or who's playing, who's winning, who's loosing, all they want is drama and something to yell about on the ground.

They love it when Gambhir and Kohli have a spat. Ever noticed crowd in India, majority of them cheer no matter which team is hitting sixes, fours or taking wickets, or third umpire gave it out or not out... they just yell and scream as loud as they can. That's what IPL is about. Its like WWE or some drama event. Everything is there, but no honest cricket.

Posted by anshu.s on (May 24, 2013, 9:32 GMT)

BCCI has to take more substantive and definitive action and engage an outside agency to investigate instead of inaction and sielence, however i disagree with view of certain section of media who say IPL is only indulging in these activities and saying international cricket is squeaky clean .One has to realise this is a cricket problem not an IPL problem alone, even if IPL was to be banned all these fixing scams won't vanish i am no fan of CSK but don't give up on them because of this guru bloke ,CSK players have played some fantastic and IMO clean cricket, and in same breadth don't question entire RR team remains a terriffic concept as it introduced club structure and gave local Indian players a chance under limelight , it is just it's functioning and supervision has become rotten .But like Harsha i am an optimist and believe only good will come out of this churning, it is time to be angry and hurt but not to be cynical .

Posted by Leggie on (May 24, 2013, 8:56 GMT)

IPL is fundamentally flawed. There is a BCCI chief who owns a cricket club - clearly giving two hoots to "conflict of interests". What on earth are the cheer leaders doing in a cricket field? Just because they dance when their team hits a four or a six or takes the wicket, does it make that moment any better??? Why the parties after IPL game? That too late in the night - opening a perfect avenue for young talents to go astray. Fix these three issues, and there can be atleast some hope of IPL being a better place for pure entertainment. I don't believe legalizing betting would make things any better. Let's not have a legalized thief to catch another one!

Posted by sweetspot on (May 24, 2013, 8:27 GMT)

What is there to fear Harsha? When truth is revealed, we must revel in the harshness of the bright light, no matter what darkness and whose darkness is banished by it. If this sport cannot survive the indulgences of a few thousand crooked people, is it worth keeping? Individuals allowed to take the short cut will always come and go, but those of us who love the sport can pick up bat and ball and play as pure as we like! Let us invest our minds and hearts not in people but in the joy of playing.

Posted by Meety on (May 24, 2013, 8:25 GMT)

If India are truely serious about getting rid of spot or match fixing, they should take a look at countries where sports betting is LEGAL. In these countries, more often than not, the Betting Agencies are the ones who catch the crooks (or at least give the Police quality leads). Its like the old saying - to catch a thief, you need to be a thief. A year or so ago, the Rugby League equivalent of spot fixing was alledged to have occurred when a large bet was placed on an point scoring occurence. Through the betting agency - the Police were given video footage of the person who placed the bet & within a short period of time the whole sorry saga was investigated. Regulate the betting agencies, they will police the industry themselves (better than what the BCCI could ever do), & then there is the carrot of legitimate tax revenues rather than black market profiteering!

Posted by   on (May 24, 2013, 8:22 GMT)

Wow @Vijay Chachra you have put it so bluntly & so beautifully , @Harsha sir i have got a hell of respect for you i read your 17th May Article when people where saying lods of stuff you wrote without naming any one your thoughts...what is happening i guess ppl are expecting more from you then i guess they are doing it from Dhoni or Sachin. Trust me we know both of them being legends wont speak out !! Why both no one involved with Indian Board is going to say any thing . Sachin,VVS,Anil,Rahul,Ganguly no one has said any thing till now why people are not asking them ??

Posted by Romenevans on (May 24, 2013, 7:51 GMT)

Harsha you can write as much as you want, but the reality is the game we all love so much, is rotten deep inside and real gamers behind the scene will never be exposed. Sad, but true.

Posted by Smithie on (May 24, 2013, 7:27 GMT)

Your thoughtful piece has one glaring omission - it does not direct a torch on the gross failure of leadership in Indian cricket due to potential and perceived conflict of interest. Even you are compromised in this regard having an affiliation with the BCCI. The global cricket community is longing for India to sort out this issue as its number one priority because from this correction all else becomes possible.

Posted by   on (May 24, 2013, 7:27 GMT)

We can speak and write as much as we can but reality of the moment is pretty stark and obviously simple...The game of Cricket, we adore (atleast I do), its administrators have put the game on an exponential decay curve through self serving tactics.

The old saying of...Sports don't just build the character but also reveal it...is haunting me since quite few days now...Damn how have the characters been revealed as we say Players union election results, ICC annual function venue advertising, IPL money trail which leading to the doors of the guardians of these games.

Posted by venkatesh018 on (May 24, 2013, 7:24 GMT)

Excellent viewpoints Harsha. The gadgets, girls and cars when flaunted relentlessly it take the strongest of minds to be not swayed by them.The enviornment in which the young IPL players live in during the eight weeks of the IPL every year contributes greatly to the dubious acts they succumb to. But the counter argument Harsha has made in favour of the IPL by calling IPL 6 as the best cricket-wise is highly debatable. Only the fielding has been top notch and that too has been as a result of the usual brilliance of players from the Windies and Australia. The bowling standars has been abysmal like those of the previous editions. The upcoming Champions trophy will clearly showcase to the world the gulf between the standard of the IPL bowling and bowling of International teams.

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Harsha Bhogle Harsha Bhogle is one of the world's leading cricket commentators. Starting off as a chemical engineer and going on to work in advertising before moving into television, he is also a writer, quiz host, television presenter and talk-show host, and a corporate motivational speaker. He was voted Cricinfo readers' "favourite cricket commentator" in a poll in 2008, and one of his proudest possessions is a photograph of a group of spectators in Pakistan holding a banner that said "Harsha Bhogle Fan Club". He has commentated on nearly 100 Tests and more than 400 ODIs.

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