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Home > Cricket > The Cup > Column > Mahesh Vijapurkar

Cricket, commerce, match fixing

April 17, 2007

It is like being in Alice's Wonderland. After the disastrous encounters with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, one thought the country would talk cricket -- how to play, how not to and how to win. But curiously, everyone is besotted with the money aspect of the game, as if to say 'Cricket be damned!'

First they found a scapegoat in Greg Chappell. Now, they have forgotten cricket, it seems.

But then, it is also time to congratulate the Board of Control for Cricket in India. It seems they have come close to unearthing a huge match fixing racket which involves players and the commercial interests of the consumer marketing entities.

Or else, why would they now ask to see the contracts between players and advertisers for endorsing products?

There is apparently enough for the BCCI to be suspicious. For, a player has to be credible enough to carry a message about how their brand of soap washes better. Or how long the sticker of a sports goods manufacturer's name is visible on screen, pasted on the bat. If he is not credible, the soap or the item wouldn't sell.

How to get that aura of credibility? One is by being at the crease longest or scoring more than the other, even if that does not jell with the team strategy for a win in an ODI or even a measly draw in a Test.

If the player goes in with willow with a predetermined strategy of staying the ground, a lot of things could happen. The other guy at the end of 22 yards may not get his opportunity to wallop the leather. Or if he tries a quick but risky, may even get run out. For a batsman may be there perhaps for someone else's cause.

If the players have to sign deliverable performance-related contracts, then it has to be with the BCCI and no one else and on a moral plane, with the country because they play for Team India. Or don't they know it?

It seems it does not matter if the team wins or loses as long as the player acquires an iconic image which translates into eyeballs for the product to be seen. So when he goes out there to the middle and takes position, is he doing that for the country, the team or himself? Oops! Cut that out -- I mean, for the advertiser? But that's a match to match perspective. But when they get booted out of the World Cup, well it is disaster all around.

Suspicions get strengthened when the BCCI put restrictions on endorsements and asked to see contracts in future. If the BCCI stays the path, it is just possible that commerce may rightly lose out to cricket. However, everyone being quoted in the media is talking about money and player's right. Oops again! I mean the advertiser's rights. After all, it is the television and print media get some money out of this too.

If what I think is true, then it does not need bookies to run betting operations with underworld support to tailor outcomes. It is obvious that commerce can do just as well, thank you, to ensure that their blue eyed boy's outcomes are defined and secured. It is just possible, if the BCCI decides to go into the past or existing contracts between the players and the entities for whom they endorse products, there may be clauses that would tell who played for whom -- the team and the country or the product they were rooting for.

So when the BCCI decided to abandon the differential rates for players and opt for parity for all -- seniors (read icons) and juniors who are just cutting their teeth, there has been no hue and cry. Most of the fattening moolah comes in from elsewhere in endorsement fees and what the BCCI offers as recompense is relatively small change. But when it came to curbs on endorsements, everyone involved realised that the pocketbook was being hit. That's where it hurts most.

However, the BCCI itself may be partly to blame for turning the gentleman's game in white flannels into a huge industry in itself, never mind BCCI President Sharad Pawar's ad lib that cricket evokes a disproportionate obsession with cricket. That does not sync with the way the BCCI itself has been determinedly chasing the cash, and I am inclined to treat is as a mere sound byte provided to voracious television crews.

But it was the BCCI, in the last 10 years realised the explosive commercial possibilities and in the bargain, became one of the richest sporting association in the world. But after the World Cup 2003, it is to their credit that they reserved 26 per cent of their gross revenue for the players. But then, the cash bug has bitten everyone and commerce took over. And cricket as a game is orphaned.

One thing is clear now. I would be inclined not to applaud when someone does exceptionally well because the suspicion would linger. Who is the player playing for while donning Indian colours?

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