This isn't the first time that corruption in cricket has been exposed. Sadly it won't be the last either. Blame me for being a cynic, but such are the times.
India TV's uncovering of the sleaze that has found its way into the country's cricket may have left romantics like me dismayed, but we're perhaps the last of a generation for whom cricket wasn't all about money. I'm compelled to believe that these days greed isn't a vice anymore, just a handy marketing tool. It is, after all, a dog-eat-dog world. The era in which the game was played solely for the love of the sport is long gone.
In fact, some might even want to believe that such an era never existed because real love can only be tested by temptation (read money). There was no money to be made from cricket till a few years ago, but now the average first-class cricketer stands to earn as much, or more, than well-placed working professionals in most fields. Why resort to deceit when one can make money playing clean?
There are other questions that an exposé like the India TV one raises, and they are often obscured by the sensationalism that is created.
The issue of black money transactions, for instance. In past years Ravindra Jadeja and Manish Pandey were suspended for one season and four matches respectively for attempting to negotiate better deals than they were entitled to. The rule clearly stated that the salary cap of an uncapped player (one who hasn't represented India) was set by the IPL governing council and was non-negotiable. Since both Jadeja and Pandey were not just regulars in their franchise teams but also key performers, the negotiation with another franchise could only have been about making an extra buck: you don't move jobs for the same pay packet and benefits. Somebody raised a stink and both were found guilty of flouting IPL rules.
The question is, they were negotiating with real customers, so why did that party go scot-free? Shouldn't franchises be penalised for indulging in such malpractices and luring cricketers? Allowing rich franchises to twist the rules will only encourage rule-breaking. They must be penalised equally for dangling the carrot.
Also: what is making cricketers negotiate? Did they get the rough end of the stick initially? In most jobs, the wage is governed by the quality of work, and the demand for and supply of talent. In a rather contentious move, the IPL governing council set the pay rates for uncapped players on the basis of their experience in first-class cricket, which had nothing to do with their skills in the T20 format. For some reason there has been no such rule for overseas players, all of whom were included in the auctions. Are unreasonable rules encouraging players to break them?
While domestic players from other countries, such as Daniel Christian and Mitchell Marsh, raked in the moolah, equally talented Indian domestic cricketers, like Ambati Rayudu and Pandey, were resigned to earning a pittance in comparison. Even so, things would have remained under control had the franchises adhered to the rules. If none of the teams was willing to pay more, players would have had no option but to like it or lump it. Clearly that hasn't been the case. The only way to deal with this menace of black money exchanging hands is to put these uncapped players on the auction list and allow them to earn what they deserve, officially.
Then there has been the problem of unregistered player agents. Before the advent of the IPL, there were only a handful of agents in India. Now the proliferation of talented players has resulted in many dubious agents coming to the fore, who target lesser-known domestic cricketers with the promise of IPL deals and more.
I speak from experience. A young player in Rajasthan was promised a minimum of Rs 1 crore a year, guaranteed, by an agent if he was allowed to manage the player's career. When the player told me about it, I thought I'd do a background check. It turned out the agent was new to the profession and had no track record of managing sporting talent. Since the money he offered was not in sync with the existing market value of a rookie, I advised caution, and thankfully the player paid heed. It's plain to see that the sports management businesses of such agents can only be a front for murky dealings. As a deterrent, the BCCI must ensure that every player agent is registered with the board, and that their backgrounds are checked and their businesses monitored.
The most important aspect is to educate players. While the sting operation supposedly showed five cricketers shaking hands with shady characters, it also showed that three cricketers refused to be bought. It was the same when Pakistan players were caught indulging in spot-fixing in 2010: only three cricketers out of a squad of 15 were involved in unlawful activities. Corruption works at an individual level, and it will always only be a few individuals who fall prey to temptation. Ideally we would like to eradicate the menace completely, but practically it is impossible. We can monitor, impose stringent rules, and hand out severe punishments, but unfortunately all that may still not be enough. Of course, that shouldn't stop us from constantly trying to set things right. The first step is to educate and mentor cricketers.
After the first edition of the IPL, the governing council announced a programme would be introduced to nurture young cricketers, which would include lessons on how to handle money, media, fame and so on. Five years down the line, that promise is yet to be fulfilled. There's an urgent need to teach players the dos and don'ts, and the repercussions of falling out of line. It may also be advisable to make it mandatory for cricketers to declare their assets.
When news of match-fixing first broke in a big way, in 2000, Pakistan, not too long after, reinstated some of those found guilty of selling the country and tarnishing the image of the game. When heinous acts like those go unpunished, the younger generation fails to understand the repercussions involved. Zero tolerance must mean that the nature of the punishment should serve as a deterrent for the next generation.