July 14, 2015

A day for cricket to rejoice

The Lodha committee report is a long-overdue opportunity to restore public faith in Indian cricket

The judges had the task of administering punishment, but they also had the worthier job of restoring the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans © AFP

For every right-thinking cricket fan - Indian or otherwise - this is a day to rejoice. However severe it may seem, and whatever immediate chaos and confusion it may cause, by punishing the owners of the IPL teams for the misconduct of two of their own, the Lodha committee has delivered a game changer. At one level, they have done nothing more than simply apply the law. But that the law has actually been applied in this instance, against an organisation that has, in the recent past, been run to the oligarchic tune of its masters, is by itself a triumph.

The judges have simply delivered the justice that the BCCI should have imposed on its own long ago, and those worst affected by it can blame no one but themselves. Had they - specifically N Srinivasan, considered not so long ago the most powerful man in cricket - offered even a token nod to justice, the situation might have been contained. Instead, a red rag was waved.

Describing Gurunath Meiyappan, Srinivasan's son-in-law and the man who effectively ran Chennai Super Kings, as an "enthusiast" after he was found to be betting on IPL matches, including those involving his own team, was not merely pulling wool over the eyes of the law but openly mocking the very notion of it.

The owners of Rajasthan Royals - one of whom offered the ludicrous excuse, after being caught betting, of not knowing Indian laws in the matter - were fortunate to escape punitive action because they were found sailing alongside the mighty; now they find themselves condemned on the same table. There can be sadness for the players, the support staff and the fans, but there can't be much room for complaint. The game, as the judges have reminded us, is above individuals. And the law, it must be added, is the above the game.

Sport occupies a special place in our hearts; it is linked to heroism and fair play, and cricket in India is the stuff of a million dreams. Those who bring it into disrepute and those who do nothing to stop its descent deserve condemnation and punishment

It is a withering pronouncement. The facts of the case - that Meiyappan was more than an enthusiast, and that Kundra was a complicit adult - were already established in the Supreme Court, which appointed the committee to do the job that the BCCI had failed to do - or, as established by the eyewash of an inquiry commission and a hurried acquittal, chosen not to do. But there was no haste. The judges went about their task meticulously, re-examining the evidence, interviewing more people, and then applying the law laid out by the BCCI.

A reading of the judgement leaves no doubt about their guiding principles. The words "purity", "trust", "image", "reputation" and "the spirit of the game" make frequent appearances. At the basic level, the judges had the task of administering punishment within the framework of the constitutions of the BCCI and the IPL, but they also had the worthier, and more abstract, job of restoring the credibility of the game in the eyes of its primary, but much-neglected, constituency: the fans.

That the punishment turned out to be sterner than the anticipated steep fine puts it in the category of exemplary punishment. A marker has been laid down, a precedent has been set, and the strongest possible message has been delivered. Sport occupies a special place in our hearts; it is linked to heroism and fair play, and cricket in India is the stuff of a million dreams. Those who bring it into disrepute and those who do nothing to stop its descent, deserve condemnation and punishment.

Of course there will be collateral damage. The teams have been built on more than their owners' money. Super Kings is the IPL's most successful franchise, not merely because of the number of appearances it has made in tournament finals but also because of the fan base it has managed to create. Royals are not merely a subject of management studies for optimal use of resources but also have been the source of some of the most inspirational stories in the tournament. But beyond these two franchises, there are the broadcasters, the sponsors and ultimately, the fans. And above all, there is the question of the future of the tournament.

The coming days will test the leadership skills of the BCCI's new custodians. The judgement has left them with a minefield to navigate. There is uncertainty on every count: the format of the next IPL, a broadcaster whose revenues are dependent on marquee teams, the fate of nearly 50 players, and possible further legal engagement if the affected franchises go in appeal.

But this is not the time to count the costs. For far too long, too many things have been wrong about the way Indian cricket has been administered. There has been too much hubris, too much ad-hocism, too much opacity, too much subterfuge, and too little accountability. This tumult is the necessary price Indian cricket must pay for the restoration of public faith.

Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo. @sambitbal

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