Five initial and quick thoughts on the IPL 6 spot fixing scandal that just broke a few hours ago -
1. Innocent until proven guilty - This needs to be repeated time and again. Three cricketers have been detained and arrested but we do not yet know if any or all of them are guilty. This may be the tip of the iceberg or this may be about 1 wide that each of them delivered at inopportune but well-planned times. We don’t know what yet and so we have to revert back to one of the first tenets of a democracy and consider those arrested as being innocent rather than guilty.
2. The noise:signal ratio on this story will be very high for a few days - Media personalities have a clear stake in this story being alive for as many days as possible. Lecturing about the evils of big money is something the really well-paid media excels in. There will be accusations aplenty, insinuations aplenty and blame for everyone from N Srinivasan to Sachin Tendulkar to the entire country of Pakistan. It will be very important to focus entirely on the news portions of reports from reputed outlets like Cricinfo to avoid the cacophony of a controversial story from overwhelming the truth.
3. The format and money are not to blame – The easiest thing to do here is to blame the IPL’s riches for this. But that is incorrect in so many ways. If anything, the IPL is safer from match fixing than the median ODI that takes place. One of the countless India vs. Sri Lanka matches that fill days in the monsoon months is a much bigger candidate for match fixing purely because of the much smaller audience and attention involved. At the end of the day, the IPL is a rich guy/girl trying to get talented laborers to help him/her win on the field. I am not saying the IPL is not a candidate for fixing. All I am saying is that with the attention, egos and money involved the IPL is a harder place to fix situations and matches than most ICC approved tests and ODIs.
4. Spot fixing is different from match fixing – All news reports out indicate that the three players detained have been detained so for possible spot fixing. It is important to remember that this is different from fixing a match. While any amount of unethical player behavior is worse than none, spot fixing is still significantly milder than match fixing. Nuance and scales of behavior matter and if the outcome of all this is that a few wides were pre-planned, the IPL is still in better shape than leagues like the NBA and MLB were in 2007 (Tim Donaghy) and 1919 (Black Sox) respectively. I did some research and Ankit Chavan and Ajit Chandilia did not bowl a single no-ball all season. Sreesanth bowled just three in all. While spot fixing could mean that the accusations are about a poorly bowled delivery down the leg or a wide and every ball affects the outcome, the scale of crime would still be milder than most other sports fixing scandals.
5. The sport and league will survive – Many a blogger, journalist and ex-cricketer will call this the day that broke cricket’s back and that the sport cannot survive. They will be wrong. Cricket has withstood wars, apartheid, monopolies, match fixing scandals and Chetan Sharma. It will surely survive whatever this and suck us in again very soon. A week after the Hansie Cronje scandal of 2000, fans were out watching South Africa beat Australia 2-1 in an ODI series on the back of some tense and shaky run chases. Ajay Jadeja and Mohammed Azharuddin came out of the worst crimes possible to the sport with lucrative careers that any of us would kill for.
Corruption will happen for as long as humans exist and money exists. While the erosion of trust is hard to overcome instantly, the IPL is only a Tendulkar 50 or Gayle 100 away from becoming most of what it can be for the viewing public. Authorities, leagues and players should all be held accountable and we should be skeptical and cynical of all of them at all times. That is the nature of the fourth estate. But none of that equates with catastrophizing and no amount of scandal can discourage the beautiful game or participants in the beautiful game of cricket forever. Cricket will survive. The league too will survive…..