Decade Review 2009
Mint Lounge

From match-fixing to Modi

The last decade in Indian cricket was defined by three kinds of madness

Rahul Bhattacharya

Comments: 19 | Text size: A | A
(From left) Dean Kino, head of the Champions League governing council, Bangalore Royal Challengers owner Vijay Mallya, and Lalit Modi, Chairman of the Champions League, applaud the action
The IPL: mad money © Global Cricket Ventures-BCCI
Related Links
Players/Officials: Greg Chappell | Sourav Ganguly | Lalit Modi
Series/Tournaments: Indian Premier League
Teams: India

If you accept that cricket in India is an expression of national madness, the last decade saw three kinds of it.

At the start there was match-fixing. In April 2000, Delhi Police recorded Hansie Cronje negotiating with an Indian bookie. "So that's 75 for those three and… What can you pay me? I do not know how much you can pay me…" One after another, names and deals and transcripts tumbled out of the closet and rocked our world. Up at the front with his collar up was our Azhar.

Anger, anguish and cynicism cannot sum up the feeling of those times. A thing like that is an existential crisis for sport. Why do we play? Why do we watch? If it is mere entertainment, why are we so shaken? If it is a business, why are we shocked if there is a bit of cheating? If we have been cheated, why are we still loath to abandon it?

It is not in the nature of sports fans to linger. Sport is a cross between an addiction and a faith; and my memory of those days is how desperate we were to believe again.

That is what happened when Sourav Ganguly led the charge in Nairobi, when VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid batted all day before a packed Eden Gardens, and when in Chennai Harbhajan Singh squirted a yorker to win the finest series India ever played. It was a national move-on, and it had the mood of national participation. This was the achievement of Ganguly and John Wright's team.

And so those early years can be seen as a crisis of faith and its overcoming. They had the chaos of destruction, followed by the anarchy of creation. That is why the period 2000-2004 will go down as one of the most significant, most compelling in the annals of Indian cricket.

A different madness descended in the middle of the decade.

These were the years of the news-media explosion. It was a time of round-the-clock punditry, pop villainy and hysterical nationalism. Everybody knew cricket was pan-Indian and to be exploited. Nobody was sure quite how.

Some channels featured on-the-hour live studio discussions on a day of play. Star News instituted a show called Match ke Mujrim, where the audience, provided inflammatory banners and slogans by the network, delivered a criminal every time, regardless of India's performance. NDTV held a weekly We The People-type show called Cricket Controversies. Passing judgment were those two paragons of virtue, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Ajay Jadeja, one accused and later convicted for culpable homicide, the other a CBI suspect in the match-fixing case.

Not just news television, there was an outbreak of blogs and online forums in these years. Many intelligent voices now had a platform, but with them came handles and flame wars. Just like that you could start a hate-site, as happened to a beleaguered Ganguly. With comments enabled, an article was not so much uploaded to the internet as thrown to the reading sharks.

The defining sentiment of this era was one of polarity. Two dramas encapsulate it. The first was the clash between Ganguly and Greg Chappell, where let alone passionate fans, journalists and editors were reduced to campaign managers. Every ball was accompanied by an agenda.

What the Ganguly-Chappell confrontation did in India, the Sydney Test of January 2008, i.e. Monkeygate, did between India and Australia. It was a complex and long-simmering confrontation involving race, nationality, culture and plain testosterone. Six or eight years previously the issue might have been contained. Now the pot boiled over. It was ugly then, and if you want to see its effects, peruse the comments section of virtually any cricket article pertaining to these teams.

The middle of the decade was a time of round-the-clock punditry, pop villainy and hysterical nationalism. Everybody knew cricket was pan-Indian and to be exploited. Nobody was sure quite how

A month after the Sydney Test the third kind of madness began, in a five-star auction on the Bombay seafront.

The madness of the IPL - shorthand for the marriage of corporate India, Bollywood and compressed franchise-cricket - is, of course, best witnessed in season. Here a cricket match is as much a cricket match as it is a public sighting of celebs playing with their new toys. Catches and sixes come branded, commentators yell without pause, and everybody gives thanks and praise to Lalit Modi. Manoranjan ka Baap (The king of entertainment) it says on the tin, and indeed it supplies entertainment, even if of the item-number kind.

But the IPL's real mayhem came from its dollars. The cricket calendar, having for 130 years placed Test matches at its centre, was now under severe pressure. Fifty-nine IPL games in 2009, 94 in 2011. Six weeks today, who knows how many months tomorrow? How much of the system do you dismantle? What if audiences start cooling towards it? What if the million-dollar pay cheques are unsustainable?

Players, able to earn up to 20 times as much for six weeks of IPL as for a year of international cricket, were prepared to put franchise before country.

Meanwhile, the heat and noise of the mid-decade media gave way to corporate-compliant hype; what need to be critical when there were ad revenue and contracts to gain?

"Why are you asking me about match-fixing now when the match itself has changed?" reflected fakeiplplayer, the blogging sensation of IPL 2, and I see his point.

"We've changed cricket matches to three-hour cricket movies, with a couple of strategic time-outs in between."

The arc from match-fixing to Manoranjan ka Baap delivered by the silhouette of an anonymous blogger in an online video post: it about captures the decade of madness in Indian cricket.

Rahul Bhattacharya is the author of the cricket tour book Pundits from Pakistan. He writes a monthly column for Mint Lounge


Comments: 19 
Posted by ratnakar on (January 5, 2010, 18:11 GMT)

watson became genuine allrounder cuz of IPL?gud joke IPL is a big hit not just cuz of money but the international flavor..can we imagine delhi vs karnataka ,mumbai vs chennai etc match-ups wid solely indian players in the same t20 format attracting any crowds? somebody above said it will attract more young players-to do wat-play more t20 slam bang variety? take this for instance..shah rukh khan is a huge hit in india with all the movies behind if he has a show in DUbai or London it will draw huge crowds but he can not afford to forget that he is a hit not cuz of the show but cuz of the movies..movies are ur test cricket and dance shows ur t20..more of dance shows are good for promotion but not for the acting or emoting skills..t20 is here to stay but dont gulp it down the throats jus to make making is gud..agreed ..indina corporates are gaining..agreed..but the very soul is cricket and it is Test Cricket that produces a Sachin or a Lara or a Kumble not t20 stuff.

Posted by ethan on (January 5, 2010, 17:59 GMT)

our team is a loser at twenty20,we have a retired pensioning international cricketers domestic league and a rich ass board and 1.1 billion people but we cant figure out 11 players for twenty20 international cricket...

Posted by Baiju on (January 4, 2010, 18:53 GMT)

Take a look at this... Prem Chopra, Kader Khan, Amrish Puri and Paresh Rawal were famed Bollywood villains in their prime... now people know them more for their comic roles... !! this transition of cricket from a religion to disbelief to a household daily soap can be compared to the instance above... !! when i was a child, I used to bunk classes to watch Sachin batting... it used to be divine... his batting, square cuts, straight punches and down-the-track sixes... How can u forget Shane Warne crying... !!! Now everybody does that... who needs Sachin ?? IPL has made a long lasting, never ending Saas-bahu serial out of cricket... while the true essence of the gentleman's game is deteriorating... ! while the Kerry Packers, Subhash Chandras and the Lalit modis can be called the turning points, I believe its the nation's own greed that has brought about this transformation... Things have to be realized before the very gentleman-ness of cricket is lost into a world of greedy administrators.

Posted by venkatesh on (January 4, 2010, 18:17 GMT)

i reckon that cricket as a game has evolved through years and thats the reason being popular in india.its the taste of the game rather than the national spirit that makes indians fanatic .if its for the sport's sake its BETTER loved than any other sport,why not india command in the world arena in the name of IPL?india has a point to prove internationally by means of cricket.moving on from IPL the BCCI could even set about launching 4 big calender events like the tennis grand slams that would lessen the over-dosing that IPL imparts(already champions league has come)in a single, the decade has clearly seen india changing the face of cricket on its own accord.the '07 WC cup win has brought a lot of youngsters into the test as well as the ODI.this can lead to more competitive domestic levels,better infrastructure and why not a brand new "ministry for cricket" !

Posted by V on (January 3, 2010, 20:30 GMT)

An IPL-like league was inevitable if all the people who make the game of cricket thrive are for it; certainly players, fans, corporations are all in support of the concept and if it was'nt launched in India it would have been launched elsewhere. You cannot stop market forces from giving the public what it wants. The best fallouts from the IPL : 1. Cricketers everywhere in the world (not just superstars from any one part of the worlds) can aspire to a decent standard of living by choosing cricket as a career; surely this will bring in more young players into the game as prospects improve and this can only be good for the game overall. 2. Cricket has a brand to compete against the English Premier League (soccer) or NBA (basketball) franchises who have traditionally had the money to lure talent away especially in the West Indies; having the Indian economic muscle behind the IPL means it can compete effectively against any other market forces.

Don't be a snob and dismiss it as "madness"..

Posted by Dan on (January 3, 2010, 9:04 GMT)


Yes. Exactly right. Soon it'll all be boring IPL and no more tests. That would be a very dark day.

Posted by jamshed on (January 3, 2010, 5:18 GMT)

Cricket is an addiction,but it should not,must not be allowed to become a faith.It is just a game.

Posted by Warren J on (January 2, 2010, 20:41 GMT)

India is murdering cricket. Short and sweet.

Posted by Atul on (January 2, 2010, 19:34 GMT)

Rahul, sorry to say this but during this decade rview most authors have written about India's rise,BCCI, MOney etc. and this article is not different. This is mere repetition of same. There had been much more than this in this decade I guess.

For example: No one talks about minow changes, bangldesh.. zim, keneya and scotland, ireland. afganisthan did something special in there qualifiers.

real meaty story about how ICC HQ changes from one place to another in cronological order and so on..

I/We would love to see freshness in articles in cricinfo and it is sad to see same dish is bing served for all decade reviews by different authors.

Posted by Brishni on (January 2, 2010, 18:53 GMT)

Although I Love Test matches and the twists and turns they bring, I find all the scorn heaped on the IPL by our so called Indian Pundits on Cricinfo LAUGHABLE! The same method when emplyed for football in the EPL in England is termed a Hige success with it finding favour with the youth in India and China and the Far East to even the US... However if a same model is employed by a desi for cricket, the FIRST PEOPLE TO BERATE AN INDIAN IS ALWAYS ANOTHER INDIAN..... How come no one sees that were it not for the IPL, the likes of DILSHAN (who'd have continued batting at no.6 for SL), WATSON (who'd have been another bits n pieces player for Australia and not a genuine all rounder) and other Indian cricketers unable to get on cricket alone,, can now CONCENTRATE ON CRICKET as a game and a career rather than toss it away.

It has serioucly got a bit Tedious with cricinfo seeming to underpine INDIA AND IPL EVERY SINGLE TIME.... How about an article for a change that shows its benefits

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Rahul BhattacharyaClose
Rahul Bhattacharya Author of Pundits from Pakistan: On Tour with India, 2003-04
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