A nation in awe of cricket, and scams

India is cricket crazy,” everyone says. Obviously that includes newspaper editors too. Now here’s the irony: the massive popularity of the game is generally seen as detrimental to the growth of other sports, and sports
editors and sports journalists often decry the lopsidedness of it all. And then what happens? The Indian Premier League (IPL) scandal unravels, and it’s on the first page, day after day. In fact, the country’s leading newspaper has made the subject of the BCCI president’s ouster a matter of banner headlines every single day.
Did the resignation drama of the railway minister in an employment scam receive the same treatment? No, it did not. Did the resignation drama of the law minister in the Central Bureau of Investigation impropriety allegation receive the same treatment? No, it did not. In other words, the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India is more important than the Cabinet ministers of the railways and law. At least our newspapers and their editors and TV channels’ voluble anchors think so (Luckily, there are some honourable exceptions, but let’s look at the general picture).
That’s not all. The new Chinese Prime Minister must have felt he timed his visit to India badly. Here he was, an important representative of the new guard in control of our massive neighbour, paying a visit soon after taking over, a rare honour. From all accounts, he was not just new to the job but brought a new approach to it, speaking far more openly and engagingly to suggest a new era of rapprochement between the two countries. The consequences of his talks in Delhi might be far-reaching for India’s future. But… it was the IPL scandal which rocked our newspapers’ front pages.
Then came the visit of our Prime Minister to Japan. The talks here weren’t just normal diplomatic talks: there was agreement on an Indo-Japan front as a hedge against possible Chinese ambitions — a new, bold position for both countries. Then there were the tangible goodies: massive credits for Mumbai’s Metro project, and, another first — Japanese suppliers entering our defence equipment market. But did this make it to the front pages? Not in most papers: they were still preoccupied with the IPL and the BCCI president’s non-resignation.
Some editors might claim that country-to-country talks do not grab readers’ attention. What about terrorism and multiple killings? That should attract even the most flighty reader. Yet, when prominent Congressmen, including a former chief minister, Cabinet minister and the like, were gunned down by Naxalites, killing as many as 28 people, did they displace Mr Srinivasan’s tika from the front page? Not on your life. What are 28 less people in India? Yet, when one single British soldier was killed in London, and one French soldier was stabbed (but not killed) in Paris, that’s what they talked about.
The wrongdoings of cricketers in the IPL should disturb us. The lack of ethical standards shown by the BCCI president should be condemned by all. The playing fields of India must be cleaned of cheating, fixing and all that besmirches the fair name of a wonderful game. But — and this is an important but — while doing this the media should not lose its balance.
It has now reached a stage where the media seems to be on a witch-hunt. Television cameras hound N. Srinivasan, even “capturing” him in shorts after a morning walk or “catching” him talking on a cellphone (making even that ordinary action look suspicious). Even worse, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is probed and prodded to say something about the spot-fixing, and when he
doesn’t, it’s made to appear as if the Indian captain is some kind of Srinivasan stooge. This merciless pursuit follows Dhoni to England where he is leading the Indian team for the ICC Championship Trophy, and where his and the team’s attention should be on cricket, not the scandal.
What should the poor man do? Ask
Mr Srinivasan to resign? Is that a fair demand to make of the Indian captain? Does the media also want Dhoni to resign as captain of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK)? Why should he? Should the team be under a cloud just because one of its owners indulged in illegal betting? Is that the fault of the players, who did their best to win the trophy, and lost only at the last hurdle?
The media, of course, isn’t alone in this continuous blood-letting. Politicians, who probably don’t know what a pitch is, are demanding the scrapping of the CSK. A magistrate hearing the case against the tainted bowlers of Rajasthan Royals asks the police to investigate the batsmen who scored the runs!
Stand back and think of all this, and you will get a sense of a nation that’s gone completely berserk, stark raving mad. We need to bring into the national consciousness a word with the same number of characters as the members of a cricket team. That word is “perspective”.

The writer is a senior journalist

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