Rajasthan's love affair with cricket turns sour

Last Updated: Sat, May 18, 2013 12:23 hrs

For the first 70 years of its existence, the Rajasthan cricket team (including its earlier avatar as Rajputana) was just another state team in India. Historically it never won the Ranji Trophy and it never used to produce cricketers to the Indian cricket team the way say Mumbai and Karnataka did with great regularity.

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Rajasthan’s journey from the backwaters of Indian cricket probably began in 2004-05. From 1972-2004, only one family by and large controlled cricket in Rajasthan. Detractors pointed to stagnation due to that and then the Vasundhara Raje state government promulgated a legislation that led to an election to the Rajasthan Cricket Association.

There was a lot of forward movement after that. Rising star Lalit Modi won the election of 2005 to become its President. That got him a better foothold into the BCCI and after that Modi and Rajasthan came to the forefront of India’s cricket politics.

In fact, when the Indian Premier League was formed with great fanfare in 2008, it is inconceivable that Rajasthan would ever get a chance of becoming one of the original 8 franchisees.

But Modi was the absolute king of IPL in those days and the Rajasthan Royals was formed all the same. It was a sort of coup when Lachlan, eldest son of media moghul Rupert Murdoch became one of the owners. Later Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty joined the bandwagon to add to the glamour quotient.

Rajasthan Royals defied all odds and scripted a fairy tale beginning as they won the inaugural season of IPL.

Aussie cricketer Shane Warne finally realized his dream of winning a major tournament as captain. Explosive batsman Yusuf Pathan was man of the match in the final where they outwitted MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings in a cliffhanger.

Their bowler Sohail Tanvir got the purple cap and Rajasthan Royals completely dominated the tournament as Shane Watson was the man of the series.

Cricket had arrived in a big way in Rajasthan and one could almost say that it came by fluke. For Modi was born in New Delhi and studied in Shimla. In fact it was due to that that Modi first joined the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association.

It was only when he was ousted from Himachal unceremoniously that he eyed a virgin territory like Rajasthan.

However, fortunes plummeted after that as Modi was ousted from the IPL following a very ugly public spat. Modi is yet to recover from that blow. The Rajasthan Royals failed to win any of the four subsequent tournaments and even the Champions League.

In another major controversy, Rajasthan Royals were expelled from the IPL in 2010. They took the BCCI to court and managed to come back into the fold in the nick of time to participate in that particular season.

The fortunes of the Rajasthan first class team went up after the exit of Modi. Senior IAS officer Sanjay Dixit is credited with Rajasthan winning the Ranji Trophy in 2010 for the first time since the tournament debuted in 1934. Rajasthan showed it was no flash in the pan when it won again in 2011.

An IPL trophy and a Ranji win in the span of three years was something that the old Rajasthan couldn’t even dream of.

In 2013, the Rajasthan Royals began on a positive note, with veteran Rahul Dravid leading the campaign. Dravid brought solid strategy and leadership and the team qualified for the final four without much trouble.

However Rajasthan was brought back into the limelight with the current spot-fixing scandal. Three players have been caught and more names are doing the rounds. In a way this is the biggest match-fixing controversy since the days of Mohammed Azharuddin in the 1990s.

All the other controversies involved foreign players and those who were not part of the Indian cricket team. Sreesanth was part of both the 2007 T20 and 2011 ODI WC finals and yet could have been a regular member of the Indian Test team.

Sree is the most high-profile Indian to have been involved in ages and now people are wondering how many more are involved from other teams. The current investigation also hints at fishy business in IPL5.

One way or the other, Rajasthan continues to be in the news ever since a person called Lalit Modi touched it in 2004!

The author is a Bengaluru-based journalist and blogger.

He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/

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