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IPL: A dark hole of scandals
Routine, repetition, mediocrity make IPL memory-proof , an event to be consumed and forgotten instantaneously.
It is incredibly hypocritical of us to howl in horror and dismay at the charges of spot-fixing levelled against S Sreesanth, Ajit Chadila and Ankeet Chavan. All of us - the TV anchor, the sportswriter, the cricketer-turnedcommentator and the spectator - have connived in creating a conspiracy of silence around the Indian Premier League (IPL), adamantly refusing to accept that the very design of its structure could fan the flames of corruption into consuming cricket.
For the moment, forget the factor of morality, of players and owners alike, and focus on the essence of IPL's design. The tournament is decidedly anti-memory, undermining the very process through which we sift and slot happenings for remembering them in the future. In fact, the spectator best suited for the IPL is one who watches a match and forgets it instantaneously. Nostalgia is an emotion the IPL consciously shuns.
No doubt, IPL is memory-proof, partially because of the flurry of Twenty20. Speed is anathema to memory, requiring as it does a degree of slowness, a lingering over on a piece of sublime, thrilling action. It is also true that we linger over those moments which are special and unique, in contrast to the relative ordinariness of other frames constituting a match, whether soccer or cricket.
However, T20, to a great degree, aborts the process that creates memory. Its speed, unlike that of a soccer match, is artificial, manufactured through a mutilating abbreviation of the sport and invention of new rules. It consequently corrodes the base on which the historical memory of the sport is erected, quite unlike, say, soccer, where the rapidity of the game depends on the skills of contending teams.
Worse, the rules of T20 encourage repetition - for instance, field restrictions induce players to score runs in typically the same manner. Even improvisations of some become routine - the other enemy of the unique - as others imitate and perfect such skills over time. A special moment therefore becomes rare, and even an extraordinary innings comprises strokes similar to each other, as was Chris Gayle's recent hurricane knock. We delighted in his innings not because of the variety of the strokes he played, but that he could hit sixes repeatedly, over a stretch of time.
The IPL has only aggravated the problems arising from the routine and repetitive aspects of Twenty20. For one, the rule restricting a team from fielding more than four foreigners brings into play several domestic-level players who are mostly mediocre. At the time the IPL was designed, this rule was hailed for encouraging indigenous talent. Over the years, though, we have all become wiser - we know the domestic players are the lambs marked for the slaughter, for feeding the skilful with juicy half-volleys at a friendly pace. It entertains the neo-cricket crowds, whose sense of cricket history is dim, but it also turns a prolonged strokeplay repetitive and routine - and, therefore, anti-memory.
More significantly, IPL is a tournament in which two matches are played almost daily, over two long months, turning the cricket on display into a blur and a whirl, both potent antidotes to remembering. And what is not conducive to remembering is doomed to be forgotten. Routine, repetition and mediocrity together constitute cricket's dark hole, into which IPL matches disappear. The tournament requires the dark hole because it needs audiences, both before TV and on the ground, for another two matches the following day.
The IPL's quality of inducing instantaneous forgetting has turned it into a breeding ground for players willing to sell their souls. Breeding ground? Isn't it a hyperbole considering only three players have been nabbed for spot-fixing ? Not really, for the air in the IPL season has always been thick with rumours about deals being cut. A format dependent on risks taken - in the strokes played, cheeky singles run and inexplicable bowling changes - provides a dubious dismissal or a shockingly poor over a justifiable context. A no-ball deliberately delivered or a poor bowling performance can always be redeemed in another match the day after or next week.
IPL's overkill lies at the roots of its corruption. Nobody cares about a poor evening out, for the match is forgotten as soon as the floodlights are switched off. No time for introspection, no time for scrutinizing suspicious performances, more so as these games lack the emotional charge involving national teams. In a long drawn out league, you know well that a loss here and there doesn't matter. (In hindsight, it is easy to understand why the phenomenon of match-fixing coincided with the proliferation of international matches. )
Add to this the fact that we were never expected to take IPL seriously, billed as it had always been as 'cricketainment. ' Persistent rumours about fixing in the IPL had been treated, till this week, as item numbers, those raunchy, titillating song-and-dance sequences in Hindi films considered necessary to sell them. Truly, spot-fixing is an addition to other IPL props such as cheerleaders, filmactors, women commentators who don't know the C of cricket, lascivious behaviour of cricketers off the ground, use of drugs, et al.
It is apposite that the IPL should have spawned a scandal at the time the nation's political class is reeling under corruption charges. Cricketers don't live outside the social system. It was inevitable the bug of corruption would bite the players, more so as owners of IPL teams are no paragon of virtues. The Rajasthan Royals, to which the three players belong, has been served six notices for violations of the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA).
But this isn't all. Even as Pune Warriors skidded down the IPL league table, its owner Subrata Roy has had the judiciary hounding him. Last year, the Supreme Court ordered two of his companies to pay Rs 24, 000 crore to Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), an amount equivalent to what had been raised from three crore investors. SEBI was asked to distribute the amount to the investors. However, it has been found that a large percentage of these investors exist only on paper, suggesting the two companies were routing black money, presumably secured from different sources, into their businesses.
Then you have Vijay Mallya, owner of Royal Challengers Bangalore, whose flashy lifestyle seemed to define what an IPL owner ought to be. His financial profligacy has led to the grounding of his Kingfisher Airline and the creditors are baying to have his assets liquidated for recovering their money. Waywardness constitutes the default of the surreal world of IPL.
The ultimate prize for hypocrisy, though, should go to the media. There was always the whiff of corruption arising from the IPL but we blithely ignored it, celebrating the crowds it drew and branding it a success without examining whether the owners could reap profits from their investments. The media had hoped a percentage of lavish expenditure on the IPL would come their way as advertisement revenue. Now, courtesy Delhi Police - which had been hammered for mishandling several popular protests - we have been shown a mirror to the mire called IPL.
Obviously, we will holler against the trio accused of fixing. We will talk of supervising the game stringently, but never will we probe the structural flaws of IPL. Ah, we know too well that IPL is a dark hole into which scandals, as cricket strokes, disappear, forever wiping clean the slate of memory. Tomorrow will herald a new beginning for the IPL, as if it never had a past, let alone one with taints. (
The author is a Delhi-based journalist and can be reached at ashrafajaz3@gmail. com)
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