On Saturday evening, one of India's tallest champions - in every sense of the word - delivered ruthless final punches in a game that somnolent Deccan Chargers probably felt they were playing in their dream. Kumble returned figures of 4-16 to take Bangalore into their second Champions League appearance. A day later, another champion, this time a little one, braved a slow pitch, withering partnerships, split webbing, an over-expectant crowd and humidity - like he has done for twenty years - only to see his team squander it by twenty-some runs. Yet behind the scenes, the BCCI big bosses had prepared the kill and even sent the news. In a larger than life style, which the IPL Commissioner has almost made boring from his execution of the IPL over the last three years, Modi responded with a melodramatic speech. Chennai Super Kings had won. The tournament had once again seen stellar performances from youth and age alike. Yet as the dust settles on IPL-3, there is that inevitable feeling that sinks down the throat leaving in the process a sour taste in the mouth. Despite the star-studded action, one wonders if IPL-3 will be remembered for its cricket.
Whether Modi's ouster came at the right time or wrong time; whether it is intended as a purging act and warning signal for future office bearers or it is designed to protect the innermost sanctum - rumours and speculations are abuzz, expectedly - of the BCCI; whether one can even begin to think of, let alone talk about, ethics in an event such as this which is as much show biz and glitz as it is cricket; and whether the demons of the year will be exorcised, or re-closeted and brought back in some form or we will get used to it; are all besides the point. The most hurting thing about the last two weeks has been the flashes of grey images, lurid headlines exhumed from the past and the leak of private text messages and emails triggered in the wake of the Kochi IPL team controversy. Shashi Tharoor, a rare kind of man in our times - or for that matter anytime - and in this country, had to resign. And now, Lalit Modi has been shown the door too, and one feels, the exit may not be temporary unless Modi can prove his innocence to his bosses at the BCCI.
A sport should indeed have its money, its patrons, its business and entertainment industry links and the razzmittaz associated with such connections, for to fail to tap those connections is to fail to understand that we do not live anymore in times when half-sleeved white-shirted men sent down 105 overs a day in six hours and fours were hit only to break the sleep-inducing pattern of dots. As well, NBA, Soccer and to some extent tennis - even though the latter is an individual game - have all benefited immensely from the monetary aspect which in a way feeds and is fed by the demand and popularity any sport holds. So why cricket should not have, to use Modi's own words an, "enviable international league" is a difficult position to defend even for the worst detractors of such a league. Having said that the more powerful of human creations become, be they administrative bodies, computers or events, the more the lines between entertainment and gambling blur and the more monopolistic or coteried the process becomes - and everybody including those who brandished proudly the "new baby" as it were are instead left holding a ghost of Frankenstein-ian proportions!
It is easy to stand outside the boundary line as an over-enthusiastic fan and castigate a captain's moves made at the spur of the moment; Keiron Pollard, had he only come couple of overs earlier, could have given Mumbai Indians the cup they probably deserved. Yet as a certain Navjot Singh Sidhu would say, "If ifs and buts were pots and pans, there would be no tinkers!" Similarly, it may be easy to pass judgments on what might have transpired behind the scenes over the last three years in the IPL. As fans, no doubt, we do hold a(n) (emotional) stake in the game we devote much of our time to and we are perhaps convinced in questioning irregularities ruling something we consider holy and dear. But over-reaction is not going to lead anyone anywhere let alone those stuck in the muck right now.
While most things behind Tharoor-gate, or if you will Modi-gate, remain vague as on date, one thing is clear and we should probably thank the recent series of controversies to have given us the chance to see it clearly: the game, as India's most-watched sport, requires more efficient and transparent administration. It it to meet this end that the top brass in any administration should constitute not only sharp and smart minds but also those possessed with a keen sense of integrity and accountability. Often, the success of any organisation, and the generalisation carries over to sport in general and BCCI - which is as much a body corporate as any these days - in particular, depends on the enmeshing of these qualities.
On a related note, a friend of mine told me last night after the presentation ceremony that a tenth of IPL's annual budget can go a long way towards giving plenty of other money- and support-deprived sports in the country some much needed impetus. The problem owes its origins as much to partial amnesia as to the partisan treatment we mete out to cricket, its being our preferred pupil. Whenever problems of the magnitude that face IPL right now surface, we become all broad-minded and think of other sports.
Come the next edition of IPL, whether Lalit Modi returns to his saddle or not, everybody including the sports minister may well have forgotten the imbroglio of the past. While on the one hand it is imperative on the part of cricket administrators to make the game, a monolith erected by millions of heartbeats, accountable, on the other it is just as important that sustainable development plans are chalked out for other sports. One step towards achieving the former is to stop politicians - especially current, insomuch as they hold some other important designation even if only in the opposition - running the game (Sharad Pawar as ICC President-elect frankly seems like a joke to me!). As for the latter, I only hope that some important people put their heads together and find some answers, and quickly, before we become an only-cricket nation from being a cricket-mad one.