Can Shashank Manohar return our golden days?

— By Sunil J. Kamat | Free Press Journal, Oct 5, 2015, Sports page.
Cricket is a treasure. A treasure of joy. A forbidden one. “… Chandrasekhar running in to bowl to Bobby Simpson …” The mesmerizing words I used to cling on to as a child still ring in the ears. The victory in the Bombay Test was a climax. No matter how soundly we were beaten in the first Test in the 1964 series against the Australians, it was real. The defeat was real. The victory was real.

Later Gavaskar, SardesShashankManohar-297x220ai, Wadekar, Farokh Engineer and Chandrasekhar proved to us that we too can win Test series. Tendulkar ’s masterly performance raised our ecstasy to a crescendo.

Then appeared a small news-item, on the first page of a leading national newspaper. A police inspector, who enjoyed listening to the 4 a.m. commentary of the India-New Zealand Test match, had debriefed a criminal arrested for some offence. One of the criminal’s achievements was to forge a deal with the captain on behalf of the racket. He called the captain, the cop listening, and offered him Rs. 20 lacs to lose the next match. The skipper agreed and to multiply his earnings asked him to stake his remuneration so earned on the bet that India would lose. The sleuth never got up at four in the morning again.

India and Pakistan were the founding members of the fixing club and pioneered ingenious methods of changing the course of a game to fox the betters. In recent times, though, they tended to be monotonous, predictable and repetitive: roller coaster patterns, a team collapsing from 281 for two to 325 for eight in a ODI World Cup climaxing in a tie match, team A scoring massive wins in two matches and then being pulverized by team B in the third, a team entering semifinals after losing the first 5 consecutive matches and repeating the same ridiculous pattern next year, this time winning the IPL, sprinkling a few non-fixed segments, matches and series to confute the sceptics’ view. In the nascent stage, when only a couple of players took up the challenge, they would get out early, drop catches and, if one is daring and ambitious, run out others. Soon they lured in the West Indians and the Sri Lankans. The Australians, English and New Zealanders would not budge until Bob Woolmer, the Pakistani coach, died in Jamaica during a World Cup Tournament in mysterious circumstances. Australia, securing the third straight ODI World Cup title in the West Indies just four months earlier, lost consecutively in the 2007 Twenty20 to Pakistan and India in the group and the semifinal matches respectively, paving way for the India – Pakistan final, which was always hyped as a dream final by the media.

Tendulkar, perhaps, was the only untouched player because of his stature and supreme integrity. Others, who resisted, fell by the wayside and had to give in ultimately to reap the benefits they deserved because of their talent. Players like Laxman, Sahwag, Gambhir and Nehra had to pay dearly for their non-cooperation. The widening of the net made scripting and execution straightforward, but the greenhorns displaying artificial disgust after getting out was a dead giveaway. All stakeholders except the fans – the board, players, commentators and reporters, benefited, and indulged in hyping every match to sustain the interest of the viewers. Whenever the TRPs waned because of an exposure of a scandal, thumping Indian victories brought them back on track.

I avoided cricket channels and whenever a news channel aired the dreary analysis of such matches, would change the channel instantly, believing that a boycott by fans might force authorities to purify the game. Five years ago, I called my brother to point out the anomalies in the IPL games, when he was readying himself for a fresh barn burner on his hands. “Don’t ruin my fun,” he fumed. “I like what I see. We enjoy movies in spite of knowing it’s a story.”

All prospects of enjoying a genuine game in our lifetimes had evanesced until the news of Shashank Manohar being the consensus candidate flashed. The gust of court actions that routed Srinivasan and brought Manohar to the forefront swirled up our hopes, which had been smoldering for years, into a blaze of optimism.

Shashank Manohar, BCCI President until 2017, is principled, tough, ruthless, fearless and fanatic. A man of few words, he ruled with blunt utterances and an iron hand, shunned the cameras, emphasized fiscal discipline and eliminated Lalit Modi during his earlier tenure as the BCCI President. Not only did he fight the mighty Srinivasan fiercely but insisted on the CBI investigating all the IPL 2014 matches to clean up and restore public confidence.

Have we begun smacking our lips at the thought of the return of the golden days, the surge of the unalloyed adrenaline and the unveiling of the eulogised players? In the midst of fake victories and defeats, invariably at the hands of Bangladesh, Pakistan being more courteous in this respect, will Manohar enable us to savour the thrill, as we are sure that all the 22 players and the three umpires have put in their best efforts, of a hard fought genuine defeat? Let us keep our fingers crossed. Actually, the abovementioned stakeholders, who might feign fair play, operating with the constraints of the systems that Manohar would set in to prevent corruption, are the same manipulators who ignored the sentiments of the fans in spite of earning crores of rupees from the IPL bosses; they are the same because their beliefs have not been transformed; the hearts inside them still beat to the jingle of coins; and now the odour of the new order would suffocate them. The task is beyond the scope of the BCCI and the Supreme Court. The government, with its police power, aided by the BCCI’s intent, should enact stringent laws and weed out the wrong elements. The time is short, the rot deep and the enemy formidable.

Sunil J. Kamat | Free Press Journal, Oct 5, 2015, Sports page.