Time to clean up Indian cricket?
In its third season, the Indian Premier League is a smash hit on the field. Off the field, the credibility of this tournament is taking a drubbing.
The ongoing row between high-profile minister, Shashi Tharoor, and the brash and flamboyant chief of the IPL, Lalit Modi, is threatening to open a can of worms and give a bad name to the way cricket is run in India.
The row could now represent Indian cricket's darkest moment since the match-fixing scandal in the 1990s. It's a dismal drama with allegations of bribery, intimidation, shadowy dealings, opaque financial disclosures, and alleged favours to a businesswoman, well-known to the minister. The cast has now extended to include a whole bunch of obscure IPL team owners, a senior federal minister and a controversial chief minister. All sides have denied the charges flung at them.
Do cricket fans really care about this unsavoury row? It is difficult to say - as the third IPL season draws to a close, the grounds remain full and the cricket also remains largely crowd-pleasing. But then Indians don't lose their faith in cricket so easily. Remember the match-fixing scandal which led to the banning of several senior cricketers, including a former captain? The crowds returned to the grounds quickly to worship their gods, and Indian cricket, under a new captain, actually emerged cleaner and stronger after the crisis. The game is resilient, and the fans will stand by it.
But the latest controversy once again puts a spotlight on how cricket is run in India. Outlook magazine editor and cricket lover Vinod Mehta says that the IPL row smacks of a "culture of sleaze that the event has spawned". His magazine broke the match-fixing story.
The bigger question is one of transparency and probity. A tournament which is India's showcase to the world cannot be allowed to sink under allegations of corruption and grimy business dealings. Indian cricket runs world cricket - 70% of the world's cricket revenues are from here. IPL was initiated by the Indian cricket board. This controversy raises questions about the governance of cricket in India - and the way the game is being controlled by politicians who have wrested control of its state cricket boards and their links with businessmen.
"If IPL turns out to be a bag of sleaze, it will be a big blow to India's image," says sports journalist Mihir Bose. I couldn't agree more. Sure, wounded fans will return to the grounds, but the damage to India's image will be grievous. Many commentators agree that Indian cricket needs more transparency and a strong, independent regulator. The way to start is at the top and make the cricket board's books and dealings open to the public. The same applies to the ownership of the IPL teams. This will prove to the world that not only do we play and love cricket intensely, but we can run it well too.