IPL: The great Indian cricket fiasco

Last Updated: Thu, Apr 10, 2014 09:09 hrs

Season 7 of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is less than a fortnight away, and once again it arrives amid a whole host of controversies.

The IPL's mentor-in-chief, the once-almighty Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), is reeling from a rap on the knuckles by India's Supreme Court, one that could leave a permanent scar on the organisation's reputation as well as its pride.

Cricket until now has remained the pulse of Indian society and culture. The IPL has been a pop-culture phenomenon: the ideal blend of entertainment shaken and stirred well with a specific brand of abbreviated sport, topped by just the right amount of chaos and controversy.

And then the drop of the gavel of a clearly infuriated court altered a course that seemed preordained.

Today, trust in cricket - and in the IPL - is doubtful. The valuations of the IPL franchises remain mythical figures, with few stakes being sold at the value that had been optimistically projected. A league that was expected to add teams periodically to its roster remains at the original allotment of eight - and that too because of the benevolence of the Supreme Court.

Given this backdrop and considering how little has been done to cure what ails the IPL, the court would not have been unduly unjust if it had suspended the two franchises being probed from IPL 7 - the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals, both unfortunate carriers of the betting/spot-fixing allegation virus last season.

The division of power between the IPL and the BCCI, with interim presidents, is the Supreme Court's way of giving the BCCI one last chance to fix what is broken before it forces the BCCI to follow its directive and turn the IPL on its head.

This is hardly an example of a league that is maturing and enforcing processes through trial and error. It is, instead, floundering and self-immolating - stuck at eight teams and bereft of any focus on governance measures that could have created some sort of defence against the serious charges the IPL faces.

For reasons best known to those who matter, cricket remains an isolated nation-state, a North Korea-adjacent analogy. No laws - specific to either cricket or, for that matter, sports overall - exist, and a boycott by the International Cricket Council is virtually impossible, given the colossal importance of the Indian market.

In this hostile yet defiant setting, cricket battles validity, intent, integrity and democracy. There are definitely enough vocal naysayers around now to heckle the BCCI to make changes. Whether those changes are impactful remain questionable.

A lot could change if India wins the Twenty20 World Cup for the second time. Perhaps, in the exultant celebration, much would be forgotten - and forgiven. Cricket could rebound, the division of power within the BCCI could find a happy medium, and the IPL might lend credibility to the projected monetary might that it has come to be associated with.

But now, there's a risk. Scepticism accompanies most accomplishments in the wake of cricket's damning controversy last year. It might be viewed as too convenient if an embattled Indian team rallies behind its captain and emerges world champion.

This could be the regrettable - and unnecessary - fallout of an exceedingly controversial league that has done little to correct its obvious flaws and loopholes. If society becomes sceptical and cynical, then the integrity of the game will be the first victim.

And this will be the most egregious act of omission by the BCCI and the IPL, because nothing in the on-pitch careers of India's outstanding cricketers should ever lead to anyone questioning their accomplishments and their loyalty.

Perhaps what was once a pop-culture phenomenon has exceeded its shelf life and is petering out on mainstream society's priority list. Or sponsors and fans alike will stop caring whether the IPL is real or staged - the former are already shying away from the league.

Apathy is the biggest enemy of any sports entertainment property, and many are likely to become apathetic if the current system doesn't undergo a mini-revolution at its own behest.

The Great Indian Fiasco is faced with a difficult decision: it needs to care enough to change, before Indian society simply stops caring about it. Don't bet against the latter happening sooner rather than later.

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