Sleaze, slush, slime, muck and cricket

For all the sleaze and slush and slime that I have encountered over the years as a political journalist, I must admit that last week’s relentless exposes vis-à-vis the Indian Premier League really took my breath away. There were times when I almost stopped breathing as names of people I count as friends began to be linked to all the muck oozing out from the scandal.

I have discovered old-time friends in the Kochi IPL franchise, too, and I have been in long conversations with them over the week – sworn to secrecy, in the old-fashioned school-girl way: cross my heart or else I die.

So I cannot put anything on the record, as it were. But if what these friends have told me is true, I am really stunned and speechless and find it difficult to put pen to paper, as it were.

According to these friends, Lalit Modi would have had nothing against the Kochi IPL had it not been for Shashi Tharoor’s insistence that Sunanda Pushkar be involved with the franchise.

“We asked him many times if he wanted anything for his mentoring of the Kochi franchise and he always said `no’. But we weren’t too keen on involving Sunanda. There were so many industrialists from Kerala who were so fascinated by Tharoor and wanted to help him in his goals. He could have involved any of them but he turned them down and insisted on Sunanda.’’

Now I do not know why Tharoor’s heart was playing such a dominant role over his head. As a career diplomat who spent 30 years with the United Nations I would have thought he would have had more sense and an ability to see how awful this would look to even his own friends (as it did — and eventually cost him his job).

Had it not been for this personal liaison, I am told, Tharoor would have emerged a hero by breaking the backs of people who have brought in funny money into the IPL from foreign shores, allegedly laundered near about Rs 15,000 to Rs 30,000 crore each IPL season and been allegedly involved in match fixing and betting rackets amounting to Rs 400-500 crore every season.

My Kochi friend said, “We are the only IPL franchise which has Indian money in the consortium. Every paisa has come from Indian banks, so no one could have raked up any muck against us. But Shashi’s moral issue came in handy to Lalit Modi to trip up the Kochi franchise.’’

There was more: how a certain other Modi threatened one of the members of the Kochi consortium with business interests in Gujarat with dire consequences if they did not abandon their bid in favour of Ahmedabad, how they almost did and how they were then rescued and persuaded to go back to Kochi again.

I used to laugh when readers used to write in letters with the word `phew’ in response to shenanigans of politicians but at the end of those conversations all I could say was a breathless, “Phew!’’

I am not much of a cricket aficionado but I feel sad that the hard-earned rupees of cricket fans in India were used for all such slushy purposes – including, as my friends told me, for drugs. And I hate to think that all the beautiful people of this country were in the middle of all that muck.

But, as a cop investigating the match fixing scandals in the Nineties had told me then, “You would be surprised if we tell you the names of all the people involved in the match-fixing scam. Many of them are national icons.’’

But he also cautioned me against condemning any of the cricketers named in the scam outright. “You are looking at it the wrong way up. Do not blame the cricketers; they cannot get away with anything like throwing a match without their coach, their physio and their manager coming to know about it instantly. So if a match is fixed, there are a lot more people involved than just the cricketers.’’

The entire cricket administration has changed since then but what that cop told me at the time is true even today: these things cannot happen without people at the top making millions off such scams. “What you get to see and what comes lower down (in this instance, the cricketers) is just a few crumbs.’’

In the cricket teams of the years when the match-fixing scam was at its peak, the policeman, armed with tapes and notes of his investigation based on phone conversations of various individuals, had said, “Today, there are only two cricketers who play for their country rather than for themselves: Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. They have a curled nose kind of contempt for those who don’t and so they get treated badly by the others.’’

In subsequent years these two guys became captains for the team and despite my lack of enthusiasm for cricket I could not help noticing that India did better, winning more matches under these two cricketers than they had under their predecessors.

But it is also true that there was a simultaneous transition to a new cricket administration, the men at the top as it were. It is sad that a few of the bad apples remained and some of the new ones went rotten alongside. And the muck in cricket got only bigger and slushier.

As the French saying goes, then: le plus ca changes, le plus c’est le meme chose (the more things change, the more they remain the same). So, despite thegovernment investigation into IPL, I wonder if we will be able to clean up cricket at all !

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