When the Twenty20 Indian Premier League (IPL) was inaugurated in India in 2008 amid fanfare including scantily-clad cheer girls, it was promoted as “cricket with more sixes than maidens”. It has been embroiled in various controversies including alleged match-fixing, spot-fixing, bribery, booze-soaked parties, sexual charges, assault -- climaxed by a mega movie star and owner of a franchise barred from entering Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium.
IPL was the brainchild of Lalit Modi, the first IPL Commissioner. But he was sacked by the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) in 2010 over ‘alleged financial improprieties’ and has been living in self-imposed exile in London ever since.
First, the good points of IPL:
* The spectators see the best players from yesterday, today and tomorrow in action.
* Old ‘foes’ like Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds played side by side for the same team Mumbai Indians, their misunderstandings sorted out.
* Youngsters have a chance to play with and against cricketing legends.
* It provides entertainment for the masses with towering sixes and cliff-hanging finishes.
Now the minus points:
*Who cares as to who wins? Those cash-laden franchises are neither National nor State teams. They are teams made up of auctioned cricketers who play for money. Bill O’Reilly had described Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in late 1970s as a circus with clowns (players wearing colour clothing). But in a way most of them were playing for their countries... Worst of all, these get-rich-quick IPL matches have been riddled with malpractices galore. “Not cricket” just about sums up this mutant sport.
IPL-5, the 2012 edition of IPL, brought out many hidden issues in the open. A secret operation by an Indian TV channel led to the suspension of five cricketers for allegedly accepting bribes. Hindustan Times, India, stated that just as spectators and journalists were raving about a number of close and exciting finishes came a TV sting operation that showed that some IPL players were agreeing to spot-fixing, which raised doubts about those last-over finishes being possibly contrived.
On May 14, 2012, an Indian news channel, India TV, aired a sting operation which deceptively caught a person committing some secretive negotiation on television. It caught five players discussing terms and conditions where they would be willing to do spot-fixing. BCCI and the IPL President Rajiv Shukla reacted to the TV news by immediately suspending those five uncapped Indian players: TP Sudhindra from the franchise Deccan Chargers, Mohnish Mishra (Pune Warriors), Amit Yadav and Shalabh Srivastava (Kings XI Punjab) as also Abhinav Bali from Delhi.
Mishra admitted to having said that franchises pay black money in a sting operation. He was caught on tape saying that franchises paid them black money and that he had received Rs 1.5 crore (about US$300,000) from the later, among which Rs1.2 crore (US$240,000) was black money. Soon after, there was a nasty verbal fight (fist fight) between India’s mega movie star and owner of IPL franchise Kolkata Knight Riders, Shah Rukh Khan, and officials of the Mumbai Cricket Association. He was later banned from entering the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. This would be equivalent to Hollywood star Brad Pitt or Nicole Kidman getting banned from an Oscar Night. The reaction was huge in India and some politicians demanded that the IPL which has been drawing big crowds and TV audiences be scrapped.
Luke over the top
But there is more! An IPL player, Luke Pomersbach from Western Australia and playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore in Delhi, got in deep trouble in the 2012 IPL. No stranger to rowdy behaviour, he was suspended for drinking before a crucial match for Western Australia against South Australia in 2007. And in 2009 he was involved in two hit-and-run incidents when driving a car over the limit.
In Delhi in 2012 his cricket career was placed on hold for allegedly molesting an American woman of Indian origin and for assaulting her fiancé in a five-star hotel. He appeared in a Delhi court, where he was granted interim bail. He was also suspended by his IPL franchise for the rest of this tournament.
Sharda Ugra wrote in Cricinfo, ‘The IPL is not the only sports league in the world offering insane salaries and party lifestyles. European football, the NFL and the NBA, to name a few, are full of stories of the kind the IPL has produced this week [May 2012]. These leagues are decades old but the IPL, into its fifth year, is just beginning to identify its conflict zones. It is what happens when money, power, alcohol and entertainment meet entitlement.’
Shane Warne had also received a warning for using expletives in IPL-4. His franchise Rajasthan Royals decided to take disciplinary action against him. After an internal probe his team found the legendary Australian guilty of publicly insulting Sanjay Dixit, the secretary of his franchise. Its CEO, Sean Morris, said: ‘The player [Warne] has accepted the action that we have taken and he apologised for any distress caused. We have told all our players that we will not tolerate colourful language towards anyone and in particular not a senior officer.’
Two Pune Warriors players, Rahul Sharma and South African Wayne Parnell, were also in trouble for allegedly attending a party that was busted for drugs. Their blood and urine samples were taken along with those of over 80 others after police allegedly found cocaine at the rave party.
There were also scandals involving women which have rocked IPL. The most striking was the role of Sunanda Pushkar, a businesswoman and an Indian celebrity. She was at the centre of a saga that ended with the dismissal of two men from their positions of power. In 2010, then IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi had claimed that Shashi Tharoor, a Cabinet Minister at the time, had gifted Sunanda a stake in Rendezvous Sports World, a co-owner of the Kochi franchise. There were allegations that Pushkar’s stake was a proxy for Tharoor.
Modi further alleged that Tharoor had instructed him not to reveal identities of the stakeholders of Kochi IPL franchisee. Tharoor denied these allegations.
The two kept going hammer and tongs at each other. This disharmony was the ideal opportunity for Modi and Tharoor’s detractors to unseat both of them.
During IPL-5 in 2012, Preity Zinta, an actress and the co-owner of the Kings XI Punjab franchise, allegedly tangled with umpires over the controversial dismissal of her team’s batsman Shaun Marsh.
The incident took place in Mohali after Marsh was dismissed in a controversial manner.
He edged a Brett Lee delivery to Kolkata Knight Riders wicketkeeper Manvinder Bisla, who claimed a clean catch, even though TV replays suggested otherwise. Kings XI Punjab captain Adam Gilchrist’s had to apparently calm actress Zinta down after she had rushed onto the ground during the strategic time-out and reportedly clashed with the match officials. As we go to press, the Mumbai police have reportedly confirmed that Indian leg-spinner Rahul Sharma and the South African fast bowler Wayne Parnell tested positive for recreational drugs. This was after a raid on a party in Mumbai in May 2012. Both had played for Pune Warriors in IPL 2012.
Despite all these hoo-ha, IPL will not go away. It is a gloss and glam entertainment wrapped within a business which mints money.
The players are tempted because of easy dollars and the crowds lap it up because of the instant gratification. But is it good for cricket? For example, have a look at what it did to Indian cricketers. They were the lauded and applauded World Cup champions on April 2, 2011. IPL-4 started a week later and the momentum was lost; some got injured and others lost their focus. It would be too simplistic to blame IPL alone for India’s pathetic performances in the Test series in England in 2011 and in Australia in 2011-12. Surely there were other reasons, but if one does not have fierce focus on the game, the results are disastrous. Quick money-spinners like IPL snap one’s concentration, the will to succeed and the determination to win. There is much more about IPL that needs looking into. It sizzled in its formative years but appears to be fizzling out. The plot thickens.