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Seeing is deceiving?

Gaurav Kalra | | Updated: October 7, 2015, 4:00 PM IST

I presume you've had a chance to sample the theme song for the Champions League T20. The supremely talented Mika invites you to groove to his beats. The slick promotion campaign urges fans to jump on the bandwagon. The embedded intelligentsia works subtly to rekindle your enthusiasm - Sachin vs Dravid on the first night for one last time, one Indian team in action at prime time on every night, sparkling talent from around the world, all the bells and all the whistles. Numb those senses my dear friends and swat your cynicism aside, just trust what you see and have fun.

As easily as we are seduced by this enchanting game, how much longer can the stench be dissipated by a cosmetic fragrance? While the 'rotten eggs' and 'bad apples' have been dealt with strongly, is their avarice simply a footnote in history? Or a pointer to just how this blatantly compromised structure operated? In a charge-sheet that runs for over 11,600 pages the Mumbai police seeks to establish a sickeningly methodical approach - play a cricket match so it produces a desired outcome.

The Mumbai police allege, based on the transcript of a phone conversation they have recorded, that on May 12 Gurunath Meiyappan, the team principal and co-owner of the Chennai Super Kings and subsequently a mere enthusiast had a conversation with Vindoo Dara Singh, small time actor and the frontman for a set of bookies. In that conversation, Meiyappan made a startling claim: "My team is going to make between 130 and 140 runs".

Now as a privilege of his position, Meiyappan could have been in a team meeting where the management came to the conclusion that a target of between 130 to 140 runs might be adequate in the prevailing conditions. To bring that up in a casual conversation with a friend is hardly a crime. But Meiyappan and Vindoo were not friends. They were business partners. Vindoo promptly relayed this bit of crucial insider information to the bookies he worked for. Once the game begins, Meiyappan informs Vindoo the team he is in-charge of will lose. Ethical boundaries were being breached with impunity already not to speak of gross violations of the code of conduct a team owner is expected to follow.

With the benefit of hindsight, the police charge acquires a terrifying menace if you examine the scorecard from that game in Jaipur on May 12. For the first half of the Chennai Super Kings innings after they are asked to bat on losing the toss, Meiyappan's prediction appears way off the mark. At the end of 10 overs, the Super Kings have 75 runs on the board. Openers Murali Vijay and Mike Hussey have laid the platform for their strong middle order. Surely over the next 10 overs with wickets in hand, the Super Kings can set of target anything between 170 to 180 runs.

The innings though starts to lose impetus with the exit of Hussey in the 12th over. Two wickets fall in the 13th over. First Raina and then Dhoni depart for single digit scores. Suddenly caution is called for and a repair job of sorts is needed. The 14th over produces 5 runs. 15th over- 6 runs. 16th over- 6 runs. 17th over- 8 runs. 18th over- 3 runs and a wicket. Suddenly, with two overs left in the innings, the Super Kings are stumbling at 116 for 4. The penultimate over is taken for 14 runs. The final over begins with the Super Kings at 130/4. The first five balls produce 7 runs. Dwayne Bravo finds the boundary off the last ball to take his team to 141/4 at the end of the innings. Chillingly, just ONE run more than the upper limit his team owner assured Vindoo of on the phone. In 51 balls since their first wicket fell, the Super Kings scored 58 runs for a further loss of just three more wickets. No collapse, just a sudden drop in momentum. Also as predicted by their team owner, they go on to lose the game.

Now if you have seen cricket over a period of time, this sequence of play can be explained as a cricketing occurrence. The loss of three wickets in the space of eight balls requires a course correction. At times the attempt to resurrect the innings doesn't succeed and the expected sprint to the finish becomes a limp stagger. The bowling unit finds renewed discipline and the batsmen struggle to find the fence. And so it is. But if a team owner assures a man placing a bet on his behalf that his boys will score 'between 130-140 runs', and that outcome does indeed take place, the implications are terrifying.

Transcripts of other conversations between Meiyappan and Vindoo suggest not just a friendly bonhomie between the two but a clearly defined business relationship. Vindoo admonishes Meiyappan once for 'wasting time' instead of 'mixing with the players'. Ahead of a game on May 14, Meiyappan assures Vindoo his team would 'win the toss 100%' and that 'there were no other changes in the team'. A pattern of trade isn't hard to spot here- crucial insider information was on offer to place 'informed bets'. The bond flowers between an influential official, the middleman and the last link on this food chain- the bookies.

As the Champions League seeks our attention, Indian cricket cannot simply brush these revelations away. There is enough in the public domain now for seeds of suspicion to germinate again in the minds and hearts of followers. Already stunned at the alleged betrayal of a double world cup winner, they wonder just how institutionalised this culture was? Was Meiyappan the only team owner betting on the outcome of games? Was he a run of the mill punter or a man who exercised the influence of his position? Was that influence restricted to sharing information or was more deep rooted? Did he build relationships that functioned only during an IPL or a Champions League or extended beyond?

For those invested in the game, its purity is non-negotiable. If scripted, the contest loses its reason to exist. Cricket's function is not merely to entertain. It is to invite its followers to a real, no holds barred world of combat where even the vanquished relishes the bloodied lip. The central question now is this: Is what we see at cricket grounds and on TV screens deserving of our unqualified devotion? Or has it succumbed to a bunch of greedy locusts, who have inverted the reason to play the game itself? Maybe Mika knows...
First Published: September 22, 2013, 11:19 AM IST

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