Capping the genie in the bottle

There is no escaping IPL. Believe me you, I have looked around for another subject to write about and failed. Even if I have largely ignored the cricket in IPL in anticipation of the ICC World Twenty20 that begins in the West Indies this week, there has been no escaping the drama featuring its Chairman and Commissioner Lalit Modi.

Or, for that matter, his bag of tricks.

At the time of writing, he has indicated that the IPL Governing Council meeting set for April 26 will have to be deferred since he had not convened it in the first place. His e-mail suggesting revealing the names of all stakeholders and Directors in each of the IPL franchises and some responses have also made their way to the media.

Trouble usually follows people who seek to grow larger than life – as Shashi Tharoor and Modi have found out in the past few days.  And, it is an ugly soap opera, indeed. It is not fun watching all the king’s men and his horses – and, I dare say, these include the Government machinery – striving to get the genie called Lalit Kumar Modi back into the bottle.

One of the key figures in this exercise is former BCCI President Sharad Pawar. I do not believe that he is just a firefighter in the crisis that has enveloped IPL in the past couple of weeks. To me, he comes across as some kind of Super Governing Council of IPL, another larger than life figure who ambitions far exceed IPL and Board of Control for Cricket in India.

For centuries, cricket teams have made plans to contain their opposition. Douglas Jardine found a way to ‘curb’ a certain Don Bradman with Bodyline tactics. Bowlers round the world have scratched their heads as they tried to figure out ways to contain the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag.

Come to think of it, there is more than just the BCCI machinery attempting to rein in the Twitter-happy Modi. Having allowed him to grow larger than life, unfettered, from the time IPL’s maiden auction for eight franchises was completed as a roaring success, BCCI mandarins now remind me of the bowlers assigned the task of stopping Sehwag and Tendulkar.

The story is twisting and turning so rapidly that by the time your eyes have fallen on this piece, a solution would have been found to the impasse. Whether it is palatable to all concerned or not will depend greatly on the kind of pressure that the Government brings to bear on BCCI and IPL to fall in line.

Talking of Government, I would like to digress a bit and talk of another genie that needs to be reined in. It is betting in India on cricket. I am told that at a conservative estimate, the betting industry, if it can be called that, around the IPL III was worth some Rs 5000 crore. And not one rupee is making its way to the Treasury. All attempts to curb the betting industry in the past decade have at best been feeble – a raid here and a raid there.

Isn’t there a good chance of the black money finding its way into activities that go against the nation? Isn’t the Government denying itself the chance to rake in some monies in the form of betting tax?  I believe it is about time Government seriously considers legalising betting on cricket in India.

A decade ago, when the curse of y2K affected Indian cricket – and world cricket – the then Minister for Sports promised a law against corruption in sport. Had such a law been in force, we may not have seen the unchecked growth of IPL. There is also reason to believe that Modi could not have emerged as the genie which now brooks no control.

I guess the cricket fan, the cornerstone of the sport in this country, will have to wait with bated breath for clarity to emerge from the messy scenario that prevails around IPL.

Indeed, there has been no escaping the IPL the past few days. Yet, IPL fans will be hoping that it will not escape them in the fourth season next year. It needs to emerge from the income tax surveys – and I will not call them raids – and prove to the public at large that the investment that came into the sport from its new benefactors is clean.

Allow me to play sooth-sayer now. IPL will be back next season – leaner and meaner. The cricket will be just as exciting. Some ageing big ticket players could be missing. Most certainly, we will have seen the last of the glitz and glamour, especially IPL Party Nights or whatever they are called. Ah, for some pristine, unadulterated contests between cricket bats and cricket balls!