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Milking the cricket cow - Outside View by Sidharth Bhatia

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Milking the cricket cow
Jan 15, 2011

My heart goes out to the die-hard fan of Saurav Ganguly who has remained "unsold" in the just concluded auction of IPL for season 4. Where he should have been an iconic player, above the fray of the rabble and working out discreet and lucrative deals with his owners, he has been left on the shelf with no one, including his erstwhile team bothering to bid for him. It shows how transient fame can be and how cruel fate is.

His pal and team boss Shah Rukh Khan, who must have taken the final decision not to bid for Ganguly is now making conciliatory statements of the "I love him and cannot imagine KKR without him" but everyone knows that the die has been cast. At best they will find some sort of mentorís role for him, a sinecure with no real decision making powers and that will also depend on the extent on the outrage against his removal. If the protests, which were small to begin with and fizzled out fast, do not continue, then Ganguly might as well stay at home and watch the matches on television. What a sad turn of events for the most successful captain (till Dhoni and we donít know what will happen in the long run) India has produced. So Saurav fans may mope and scream but nothing will bring back their dada.

But I would invite these fans, and all other cricket devotees to seriously think about how the cricket bosses of this country (and not only connected to IPL) have continuously taken them for a ride. How they have made their fame and fortune on the backs of emotional fanatics who will stick by their heroes no matter what. How their devotion to the game that has become a glitzy and obscene tamasha has been exploited at every turn for the benefit of a few oligarchs.

After the match-fixing scandals of the 1990s, when heroes too were shown to have feet of clay and where closure was achieved by slamming the lid shut rather than digging deep into the whole issue, one thought that the cricket fan had finally seen through it all. For a while, cricketers and administrators were both objects of ridicule. Sachin Tendulkar has recently said that he was depressed during the Australia series in 1999 because the team was viewed with suspicion, and frankly who could blame the fan?

What has happened since then? A few players were turfed out, but the game has grown bigger and richer. Backed by seriously big money and industrialists who see in it the perfect mix of money-making, glamour, power and branding possibilities, cricket has now morphed into a round-the-clock industry in which the game itself has ceased to matter. The myth of national honour and cricketing beauty is still kept afloat so that the fan does not run away, but for the most part it is about filthy lucre.

Nothing wrong with that per se, but have a look at the cricket calendar. Our boys are continuously playing. The world cup begins in February and no sooner will it end then IPL will start, in scorching heat. As professionals they cannot complain, especially given their pay packets, but this is bound to impact on the quality of their own performance and on the game itself. Various players, current and past have pointed this out but no one cares a hoot.

More serious than that is the odour of sleaze and malfeasance associated with not only the IPL but cricket in general. Last year, after Shashi Tharoor quit and Lalit Modi came under scrutiny for all kinds of alleged shady deals, it appeared that the IPL was in mortal danger. The tournament was shown to be a cosy internal arrangement between cricket bosses, with benami ownerships and opaque transactions. Where are we now? Modi is sitting in London, far away from the law (and his own peers) while franchise owners are grumbling about conflict of interest on the part of N Srinivasan who is on the board and also owns a team. In short, nothing has changed.

This brazenness would not be possible but for the conviction among cricket bosses that no matter what they do, the fan will never desert them. Lalit Modi had the gumption to take on the government of India because he knew that the fan was more interested in cricket than in voting in the elections that clashed with the tournament. By now the astute fan has worked out that IPL is no different from televised wrestling, which is not the real thing but is great fun. Yet, the pundits will go gaga over brilliant shots, the statisticians will dissect each run and ball and the fanatics will go the stadium to spend hard earned money to see the spectacle.

One is tempted to say that the devotee of this fake religion and the false gods and priests who run it deserves what he gets. If he is willing to be seduced and cheated by the smoke and the mirrors, then why should anyone complain? I f everyone involved - bosses, commentators, the media and the cricketers themselves - are happy to go along with the scam, so be it. But there is a twinge of regret at the brutal way in which a beautiful game has been reduced to an obscene circus-how else to describe the vulgar auction of cricketers that was shown live on television. So to all those countless millions who still care, enjoy the cricket. I for one will be curling up with a good book.

This article is written by Sidharth Bhatia. Sidharth is a senior Indian journalist who has worked in print, broadcast and online media. He is a columnist and regular commentator on current affairs for several leading publications and on national television. This article was first posted on Personalfn.

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