x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

IPL: Thrilling event is now in a tight spot thanks to scandal

For the vast majority of the Rajasthan squad the actions of the three currently in police custody were the ultimate betrayal, writes Dileep Premachandran

For five weeks, this was shaping up to be the best Indian Premier League since the first one in 2008.

Then, the spot-fixing scandal happened.

The matches since have been played in front of full crowds, but the atmosphere has been tinged with both cynicism and disbelief. Every unorthodox bowling change, no-ball or careless stroke is scrutinised. Often, people add two and two and come up with six.

After Rajasthan Royals - it was three of their players that fell foul of the Delhi Police investigation - kept their campaign alive with a victory over Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Eliminator, Rahul Dravid spoke candidly of the impact on his side.

"I'll not lie, it was very tough," he said. "It was a blow to the team. I've never experienced anything like it. It's like bereavement in some ways. You feel sadness, disappointment, anger. Everyone was in a daze, really."

Rajasthan's celebrations after they clinched the win with four balls to spare were extraordinary. For a team expected to make up the numbers, with nothing like the financial muscle of others, winning 10 games and making it to the play-offs was achievement enough.

For the vast majority of the squad, who had consistently performed better than expected, the actions of the three currently in police custody were the ultimate betrayal.

Dravid was an integral part of the Indian cricket team that had to rebuild its reputation after the match-fixing scandal of 2000. This time, though, he was in a leadership position, and the sense of duplicity has been even more keenly felt.

But while Dravid spoke openly about his feelings, there has been only silence from the most prominent voices in Indian cricket.

SET Max, the official broadcaster, has made no reference to the scandal on its pre- or post-game shows. Its roster of commentators includes some of the biggest names in Indian cricket. Whether they want to or not, none of them has been asked for their views on Extra Innings, the show around the match that seems to specialise in tawdry jokes and cheerleaders dancing in the studio.

While the rest of the world debates whether the IPL can stay credible in the face of this latest setback, the broadcaster is happy enough to stick the microphone in the hands of team owners and other celebrities, and subject the viewer to another round of inanities.

The most disturbing aspect of this case is the fact that parallel investigations in Delhi and Mumbai have revealed that there's far more to it than three players, three dodgy games and a small bookmaking ring.

The son of India's most famous wrestler from a previous generation - a B-list actor himself - has been arrested in Mumbai, with police sources suggesting that he was a conduit between bookies and some of Indian cricket's most powerful figures.

In Delhi, the police are revealing little, but saying that more teams and players have come under the scanner after the interrogation of the three players and the bookies taken into custody.

As in 2010, when the final week of the tournament was overshadowed by the Twitter row that cost Lalit Modi his job as the league's commissioner, the finals in Kolkata this year will be played under a giant, ugly shadow.

Indian cricket should see this as an opportunity, though. For too long, the board has functioned without checks and balances.

Whatever democracy it boasts is often a sham, with politicians owing affiliation to a variety of parties uniting when it comes to the lucrative business of cricket.

Marginalising some of them, and putting proper governance structures in place, would be a good start.