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S/FIX!

Caught in a spot

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The average Indian cricketer wants more. He is dissatisfied with what he is getting, and as it is emerging with each passing day in the current match and spot-fixing scandal, he can stoop to any level to get it. This greed is widespread in the cricket system. Not quite satisfied with their dynastic riches, shockingly enough, team owners are also allegedly involved in shady deals with small-time movie actors and bookies.

Gurunath Meiyappan, team principal of Chennai Super Kings, was summoned by investigators for alleged links with bookies, and now, how far-reaching this malaise is, is anyone's guess. However, the bit players in this sordid saga are the small-time cricketers - those who orbit around the high and mighty of the sport in the hope of amking it big. Often, it is the failure to make that crossover from the marginal act to the match-winning one and the struggle to hold on to the flashy lifestlye that drives them to corruption. With the nature of the tournament ripe for such corruption, from the sidelines and the middle, many feel that these nefarious activities can go undetected in the IPL's din and glare. There is an underlying message in the scandals that hit the league this season, with a similar pattern emerging in last year's scandal too. It is simple but pertinent: despite the financial windfall that the league has brought in ever since its inception in 2008, the average Indian cricketer, it can be argued, felt shortchanged. Check out the names of the cricketers who have been caught in both the spot fixing scandals related to the league and you will not find a 'foreigner' there. If you leave out the case of maverick pacer S Sreesanth, who has always been controversy's favourite child, you will only find little-known players who have slogged for years on the fields of domestic cricket before they were swayed away by the lure of the lucre in the league.

T Sudheendra, Shalabh Shrivastav Amit Yadav, Mohnish Mishra, Abhinav Bali (last year), Ankeet Chavan, Ajit Chandila and Amit Singh (this year) are not names that the average cricket fan in India is familiar with. All of them succumbed to the trap of spot fixing or bragging about shady dealings. While all of them are guilty of greed, it is important to find out what made them yearn for the extra buck.

The answer to that, to an extent, lies in a BCCI ruling back in 2011 that changed the whole ballgame altogether when it came to how much the Indian domestic player could earn from the league. Somewhere, someone concluded that because of the big money in the league, players wouldn't hunger after the India cap. It was said that if the Indian player could rake in a bagfull of moolah in the T20 league while playing for his franchise, why would he strive to play for India? An uncapped player, therefore, could earn a maximum of Rs 30 lakhs, and that too if he had played domestic cricket for five years. The idea was noble and appreciable, but in the light of whatever has transpired since it was executed, questions about its feasibility are bound to be asked. Did it destroy the 'socialist fabric' of the league? Every domestic cricketer was supposed to earn money based on his skill and experience, but here you had the India cap deciding who earns how much. A player's perceived value would shoot up even if he had played just one game for India. So, while the likes of Saurabh Tiwary (bought for $1. 6m by the Royal Challengers Bangalore), Wriddhiman Saha (bought by the Chennai Super Kings for $100, 000) and Abhishek Nayar (bought by the Pune Warriors India for $675, 000) went to the auction and raked in crores of rupees, their 'poor cousins' like Manish Pandey and Ambati Rayudu (both match-winning T20 players but without an India cap) were left to console themselves with a few lakhs. Compared with what their colleagues were earning, this was small change. Even the average foreign player, who was yet to play for his country, or may have played for his national team only once or twice before fading away, was laughing all the way to the bank. And mind you, on several occasions, that foreign player had nothing to do but sit on the sidelines, due to a four-foreign player ceiling in the XI rule!

This stark disparity was bound to give birth to unrest, and subsequently, corrupt practices. There are rumours that most teams are paying uncapped domestic players extra cash under the table to retain or attract them. Most of the franchise officials, former cricketers, coaches and marketing experts agreed that this disparity should be corrected.

"Somebody like a Jaidev Unadkat was earning Rs 8 lakh when he was picked up by the Kolkata Knight Riders back in 2009. Next year, he went to South Africa, played just one Test match, and then he was bought for Rs 1. 8 crore in the next auction by Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). His price shot up only because he had played a Test match for India. It was a complete farce, " says a domestic player on condition of anonymity, while adding: "A Rayudu, who misses out on crores due to this ruling despite being such a fabulous T20 player, must be cursing his luck, even as someone like Nayar, despite little performance to show, makes ten times more booty. "

"We received only Rs 30, 000 to play in a World Cup in our time. It took us a lifetime to build a house for ourselves. But today's generation wants it all soon. So we have to devise ways to stop corrupt practices, " says a former India cricketer, who is now part of the support staff of a team in the league. According to him, one of the ways to restore parity is to raise the salary cap of domestic players to Rs 40 lakh (for five years experience) and Rs 50 lakh (for 10 years experience).

"A lot of players are getting money under the table due to this salary cap. I mean, why would a Manish Pandey move from RCB to PWI when he is any case, not supposed to be paid more than Rs 30 lakh? RCB is his home team and Bangalore is his own city. Obviously, he has been promised a handsome undisclosed sum, " says a former cricketer who was a manager with an IPL team in the first edition. Amending this rule, he feels should be the first step, followed by a couple others. "Make such acts non-negotiable, and mentor the kids at the U-15 and U-18 levels, " he recommends.

There are a few top former cricketers and coaches, however, who feel that this is a case of individual greed gone haywire. "Cap or no cap, it is up to an individual player what he wants to do in life, " says a former coach of an IPL team. "What the domestic player should look to gain in the league is the experience of rubbing shoulders with and against top international players. Money isn't everything, " says another coach, who was with a team for three seasons. "There are people who have short vision, who aren't proud of playing in the world's biggest league. Greed gets the better of them. It is part and parcel of the game. No matter what the system, they will compromise their values, " says a team official.

The BCCI itself promised to do away with the rule last year following the India TV 'sting scandal' but backtracked later. "The BCCI already is taking a re-look at this rule, and it may not exist by the time the auction is held next year. Ultimately, everyone should be paid on ability and everything should be transparent, " says a league official. The sooner this 'salary cap' is lifted, the better. Confusing the India cap with a player's worth in the league won't help anybody. Except the bookies, maybe!

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