By Veturi Srivatsa
Shane Warne and Rahul Dravid, the two men who moulded Rajasthan Royals (RR) into a champion side in the Indian Premier League (IPL), will surely be feeling cheated after the Supreme Court-appointed Justice Rajendra Mal Lodha Committee handed out the team a two-year suspension.
Three other RR stars Australians Shane Watson, Steven Smith and James Faulkner, will also be feeling let down by one of their rich, glamorous owners Shilpa Shetty and Raj Kundra and might find it shocking to know that the latter was betting at their back on their own performance.
Kundra, who has been banned for life from all cricket activities of the Indian cricket board, has already threatened to challenge the Justice Lodha’s order and so will CSK management for banning the franchise, questioning why it should pay for the shenanigans of a team principal, part-owner or whatever you may call Gurunath Meiyappan, the son-in-law of Narayanaswamy Srinivasan, who was the chairman of CKS promoter, corporate house India Cements.
The reaction of the top players, who made Chennai Super Kings (CSK) – the other franchise to be banned for two years – under Mahendra Singh Dhoni the true exponents of Twenty20 format, will be: What is the crime of the two teams, their players and ardent fans who honestly felt and worked to get to the top? The former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, while delivering the first part of a comprehensive exercise that is expected to make cricket more enjoyable, answered in simple terms. He has made it abundantly clear that IPL and, more so, Indian cricket cannot be run the way it is being done.
The Justice Lodha committee’s decisions were well received as most people believe that these will go a long way in putting the fear of God in all stake holders of the game who were shocked by the corruption scandal in the 2013 IPL edition.
Justice Lodha’s punishment of the erring owners has gone beyond the general expectation of asking them to cough up a few crores of rupees as fine and not what he said an “exemplary punishment to restore the faith of the people in the IPL and cricket.” That was the easiest way to save world cricket’s hottest property.
After the initial excitement, slowly the fans as well as the guilty have started to evaluate the repercussions of Justice Lodha’s report. If Srinivasan is worried about saving his chairmanship of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the players are waiting to see what will be their fate in the changed circumstances. And the fans are already enraged at both their franchise owners and the cricket board.
One thing for sure, this is not the end of the story. There could be a spate of PILs from various stake holders, too. They all would like their teams to represent their cities and protect interests as their fans.
Though nobody can call it judicial overreach, players of the two suspended franchises numbering around 50 and another fifty support staff will be wondering where their next job opportunity is going to come from. Some moneybags must be seeing it as an ideal situation to jump into to start a rebel league.
Officials of the cricket board have always closed their ranks whenever their very existence became an issue. The influential among them have already got around Srinivasan to save his as well as their positions. For years the courts were also indulgent in letting them off with mild warning or rapping them on knuckles, but this time the public opinion against board’s working forced it to get into a clean-up exercise.
Though he has to submit the more explosive part of his report on reforming the board, it has dropped enough hints of it by the way it questioned the silence of the cricket authorities, worse attempts to cover-up.
Justice Lodha’s observation that he had not invoked any articles of the Indian Penal Code but picked board’s own rule governing the IPL to arrive at his decisions is a slap on the board and its IPL governing council’s face. If only the board had strictly gone by its own rule book, things would not have come to this pass.
He has questioned how the board should have taken action against the two erring owners and addressed the issues of conflict of interest, ownership rules, betting, match-fixing, spot-fixing in the cash-rich IPL.
The board will now have to call a special general body meeting to address all the issues Justice Lodha raised now and will raise in the more comprehensive final report which will deal with the institutional faults of the board.
It can no longer behave like an old boys association by backslapping each other. It can only hope for government intervention with its powerful cricket officials to bail it out once the courts are done with.