- Justice Lodha committee, that was inquiring into the IPL spot-fixing mess, has delivered its verdict
- Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals franchises have been suspended for two years
- Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra found guilty of betting and have been banned from any activities related to cricket matches
- The verdict is a victory for cricket fans. It is aimed at restoring fans\' trust
- Cricket rose even after the Hansie Cronje match-fixing scandal. It will rise even after this controversy
The futures of two Indian Premier League teams have been put in doubt today. The future of the IPL itself is under a cloud. Two men who played key roles in the functioning of those IPL teams are banned from ever involving themselves in the game. The futures of players contracted with those teams and their livelihoods are in the dark.
But I am over the moon. Am I crazy? Has my bloodlust got the better of me? Do I not have an iota of sympathy, or even empathy, for the players and the millions of loyal fans of these two franchises?
The fans' trust
The Justice RM Lodha committee's verdict on the punishments in the IPL-6 betting and fixing scandal is based on the issue of the fans' trust.
In handing out life bans to Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra and two-year suspensions to the owners of the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals franchises, Justice Lodha time and again brought up the loss of trust and the damage to the reputation of the game, the BCCI and the IPL.
I can count myself among the lucky ones to have covered the IPL for five seasons. I have seen, at close quarters, the kind of passion the league and its high-octane action generates among the fans.
Forget the brand value, the big bucks and the razzmatazz on the periphery, the IPL is a cricket tournament first and foremost. And it has produced some great moments of on-field brilliance. All the dressing in the world could not have made the fans lap it up the way they did without there being a tasty dish underneath.
Notes from a personal journey
I loved the IPL when it began. The underdog story of the Rajasthan Royals winning the inaugural tournament, combined with my familial ties to the state the franchise represented, made me a very happy man.
Two years later, when the IPL came back to India after a one-year exile in South Africa, I was excited to be able to cover it. Sitting in the open-air press box of the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai and hearing the crowd chanting 'Pollard... Pollard!' for the burly West Indian, was an experience.
After the spot-fixing row, every IPL match I saw had the same soundtrack playing in my head - 'is this fixed?'
All the doubts about the concept of franchise loyalty had been thrown out of the window. The fans loved every player who wore their team's shirt.
But gradually, the novelty started wearing off. The IPL was all about the money, all about the show-off, all about the close finishes. Whispers started emanating from the fans about how some of it looked contrived. Maybe the Indian fans had never been able to get over the spectre of the 2000 match-fixing scandal - they smelt a rat where there wasn't one.
As a journalist, the ultimate fence-sitter, I didn't know how to react. To be(lieve) or not to be(lieve), that became the question.
The moment of truth
On 12 May 2013, I was having dinner at a restaurant with my wife, when she threatened to dump me if I didn't stop watching the IPL match that was being broadcast on the big screen. I was mesmerised by Shane Watson's lusty hitting that enabled the Royals to beat the Super Kings in Jaipur. I saved my marriage by only casually glancing at the screen in between mouthfuls.
Months later, when it emerged that this was the match that Gurunath had been betting on, the one that was initially alleged to have been fixed, a little part of me died. As a boy growing up, I had invested my emotions in cricket, only to be betrayed by Hansie Cronje and so many others. Now, as a journalist covering sport passionately, my heart had been broken again.
When Sreesanth and two other Royals players were arrested on the night of 15 May 2013 from Mumbai for alleged spot-fixing, it was another little death.
Every subsequent match I saw or covered had the same soundtrack playing in my head - 'is this fixed? Is this fixed?' It was such a disservice to all those putting in their honest toil on the field. But things could never be the same, could they?
Today and tomorrow
So why am I happy today? The bans on Gurunath and Kundra don't matter a lot to me - the law will take care of them, I hope, and the bans imposed by the Lodha committee don't mean much since they are not players or administrators.
But the rot went much deeper. The attempts to project Gurunath as a mere 'cricket enthusiast' and 'not a team official' have proven to be nothing but hogwash. Kundra's case, while less of a problem to my mind given that his father-in-law was not the BCCI president, had to be dealt with equally harshly because the crime was the same. Fair enough.
My joy at today's judgment is because the Supreme Court-appointed committee has meted out proper justice, in the name of the cricket fan, the driving force of the game.
Yes, you may not have been directly betting on the IPL, but the face of your franchise was, and you tried to distance yourself from him. You weren't vigilant enough to keep a corrupt co-owner out of your franchise. You weren't vigilant enough to prevent three of your players from being allegedly involved in spot-fixing. You pay, for two years at least. You pay a bigger price in terms of your reputation.
I know for a fact that my feelings are the same as those of a huge number of cricket fans from around the world, who are airing their views on social media.
For us, this day brings hope of a third dawn, one we hope will not be a false one. Yes, the sun still rose after the Hansie Cronje scandal. Yes, the sun still rose after the arrests of Sreesanth, Gurunath, and many others. But maybe today, the BCCI will finally realise the importance of preserving the faith of the fans.
Not every official will be able to resist the lure of corruption and making a quick buck. We are pragmatists, not hopeless romantics. Okay, hopeless romantics too, but we can try to be pragmatic.
All we ask for is that there is an immediate recognition and redressal whenever a problem crops up. Never again should we be made to believe that the powers-that-be don't care about what we feel. We just don't want to hear another 'cricket enthusiast' excuse.
Messrs Jagmohan Dalmiya, Anurag Thakur and Rajeev Shukla - we drive your game. It's our money that fills up the BCCI coffers. We don't mind, as long as you treat us with respect, and don't try to take us for a ride, like N Srinivasan & Co. did.