Like other trades and professions, cricket in India too required a direct scrutiny by the Supreme Court in order to spot its bad guys. The Supreme Court-appointed committee headed by former chief justice of India R M Lodha, which examined evidence relating to the IPL betting scam, ordered suspension of two teams, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, for two years from the IPL. The committee suspended Gurunath Meiyappan, a former Team Principal of India Cements Ltd (ICL)-owned franchise CSK and Raj Kundra, co-owner of Jaipur IPL that runs Rajasthan Royals, for life from any matches conducted by BCCI. The IPL betting scam of 2013 dented cricket’s image as ‘gentleman’s sport’. The evidence against Meiyappan and Kundra and teams was so clear and overwhelming that the Supreme Court had no difficulty pinning down the guilty. It appointed the three-member Lodha committee to determine the quantum of punishments to them. The punishments will definitely send a strong message to the players, captains and team owners.
The tragedy is that even those players of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals who might not have had anything to do with betting are in the woods. The two banned teams have a number of good players. The fans are going to miss watching legends like M S Dhoni and match-winners like Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Brendon McCullum, Steve Smith, Ajinkya Rahane and Shane Watson for the next two seasons. We may have to wait and watch how the players respond to the two-season ban. Will they just sit on the sidelines for the next two seasons? Or will they find some way, with the assistance of the BCCI, to jump out of their contract with the teams and join one or other of the remaining six franchises? They may have to sell themselves at cheaper bids, no doubt, because of the law of supply and demand, but that could be a better option than just remaining stuck with the banned teams for two seasons and getting rusted.
One of the most interesting players to watch in this regard would be Dhoni. The problem is that if he decides to stay on with Chennai Super Kings till the ban is lifted he might be over the hill. He is 34 and will be 36 by then, the age to retire from cricket. Gavaskar has lamented that IPL would be poorer without Dhoni. He has been the face of CSK, the team he has kept on the top in IPL. Of course, our appreciation for his good leadership and cricketing skills should not blind us to think that he had no idea of the wrongdoings of the top official of the team he played for. There is no taint on Dhoni, but when the team’s top officer gets his hands too deep into betting that he gets suspended for life and when the team itself gets suspended for two seasons, the mud cannot but splash on his face.
It would be in Dhoni’s interest to get out of CSK and join another franchise. He has just a couple of years of big cricket in him. Ever since he relinquished captaincy in the Test format he has been losing his clout. The Bangladesh episode dented his image as Captain Cool. The Lodha committee punishments bring more darkness than light. It would also be in the interest of the country’s cricket to see Dhoni out of CSK sit-down incarceration. His fans in India and abroad would not like to see him retire as the idle captain of condemned team. They would like to see him in action on the field. Of course, it is not just Dhoni. Players like Suresh Raina too must be given an honourable escape route. They are not banned from playing for India, of course, but it is absolutely necessary for them to come out of the banned teams in order to look clean and credible. It is also necessary for them to regain their confidence. In any case, the BCCI will have to step in to handle Dhoni’s case as he will be leading India in the upcoming World T20.
As for IPL, it will have to be played with six teams, which means there will be less number of matches. IPL would not be a month-long affair, depriving local fans in several places that much less fun. That would also mean less revenue for the BCCI. Could the BCCI try getting new franchises or getting some older ones back which were rapped and kept in wilderness? The case in hand is Kochi Tuskers that has been waiting for five years. Of course, more important than adding franchises to IPL is the cause of cleansing cricket. The Supreme Court has laid the ground for a clean beginning. There is still a lot of unknown amount of muck, but the job to clear the system has started and by the time 2016 IPL is played, maybe we can hope to have a cleaner environment.