Friday, May 17, 2013

The towel code of cricket in India

The Indian Premier League has lead to a premier allegation against three Rajasthan Royals players that they took money to fix matches. The allegation is of spot fixing whereby certain overs or balls were fixed to bring about a certain result. Gone are the days when an entire match was fixed. These are the days when bets are placed on single balls, multiple balls and overs, number of fours and sixes, instead of the entire match.

There have been allegations and counter allegations that match fixing and spot fixing have been a part of Indian cricket for a long time. Former cricketers have been punished and apart from players from different countries there was always a doubt over players from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka from where the bookies and betters also happened to be. This continues even now as the fresh charges show.

S. Sreesanth, the player with international cricket credentials along with Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan have been charged by the Delhi police of wrong doing. They also showed visual evidence of fixed matches during the press conference yesterday. The visual evidence has also lead to television channels being abuzz with how the betting gangs told the players that they had to show codes or signs that they were going to give certain runs in an over. Among the codes being talked of are a towel, tucking out the t shirt, and taking time while doing the run up to the delivery.

The study of signs and codes is called semiotics and it is a very interesting field of study in communication studies. Not everyone can understand the signs and codes. Proximity is not what matters but sharing of a culture whereby the signs and codes can be understood. Prefixed understanding of a particular code could also lead to understanding a particular sign. “Semiotics sees communication as the generation of meaning in messages- whether by the encoder or the decoder. Meaning is not an absolute, static concept to be found neatly parcelled up in the message. Meaning is an active process: semioticians use verbs like create, generate, or negotiate to refer to the process. Negotiation is perhaps the most useful in that it implies the to-and-fro, the give-and-take between person and message. Meaning is the result of the dynamic interaction between sign, interpretant, and object; it is historically located and may well change with time.”(John Fiske, Introduction to Communication Studies, Routledge: New York, 1990, p.46)

The use of codes in the IPL matches by players and bookies cannot be denied. If they did take money and bet, they might have used codes. The codes were also pre-determined and therefore likely to be understood by both parties. What does not go well with the entire episode for me is that everyone associated with the IPL is saying that they were not aware that this was happening. This, despite allegations already coming up in the previous IPL editions, and the BCCI having a special arrangement in place for this very thing. This refusal to accept that the system is flawed is the problem.

My effort may appear to be defending the three players. It could at least appear that I am trying to defend Sreesanth, since we are from the same state. My intention is neither. One can also ask other people from Kerala whether Sreesanth is actually a popular cricket player there anyway to dispel doubts that I would take this as a personal fight.

My point is the point of sign, code and meaning. The guilt of the players will be investigated and we will be informed. My questions in the mean time include aren’t any others apart from the three involved, didn’t anyone along with the team owners, BCCI officials and other players know about this or even doubt that this was happening, didn’t the audience know about this? If the three players in question and the bookies had a secret code, weren’t there other codes which owners, officials and other players understood? What do you say when an under performing player is picked for a match again? What is the rationale of giving a critical over to a player who has already gone for runs? While the bowler bowls is he in complete control of the number of runs he is going to give away. If the bowlers in question said that they would give not less than 13- 14 runs, what would happen if a batsman did not connect? How is it that this perfection of spot fixing is attained? It suggests that the code is also being understood by others including us. How many times have we felt that matches are getting too close and matches that should have been completed in the 17th over are still on in the final few balls? Could it be that entire matches are being arranged (I would not say fixed) in a particular manner to increase the entertainment quotient?

Subhash Chandra, chairman of Essel group and Zee was the pioneer of 20-20 cricket in India. His ICL was a bit more open and I would say that the league would have openly admitted that matches would be made interesting for spectators. BCCI understood the lucrative business of 20-20 and took over. What now occurs in several editions is one of the richest league competitions in the world. Players are paid huge sums and other perks are included. This is entertainment and we are all being entertained. Can we now say that we did not know that we were being entertained?

The police is well within its limits to crack down on betting. But Delhi was always in the news for violence against women and the lack of safety for women in the last six months. I would have liked to see a crack down on how women are used as mere objects in the IPL. There may even be many cases of violence and misuse of women. None of this has come out and instead betting is made to look like a grave offence that is being committed by the underworld and three cricket players!

We the audience, team owners, players and even the BCCI can say that we understood the codes and knew that something was wrong but did not say anything because we feared someone. That in all probability is true. But then what does it make the accused three? Wrestling has been popularized by the WWE. Wrestlers fight in what appears to be a pre-determined thought out fight. The audience also knows that it is so. Yet, many people watch it and enjoy it and appreciate the athleticism showed by the wrestlers. Cricket also has to play to the crowd, it has to entertain and even titillate to bring in the money. How can we now collectively say that “we didn’t know”? There has been no special code and no code has been broken. The codes were also there in front of us. Everything happened right in front of us. More than the spectators, the others involved are professionals. If anyone was underperforming it would appear so to many. The coaches, ground staff, commentators,and others who know so much about the game are likely to know if something were happening.

I would reject the headline of a “billion Indians cheated”. If anything we have cheated ourselves by ignoring all codes and signs while watching cricket matches.


Alwin Maben said...

Good one.

Fr. Jerry Kurian said...

Thanks Rev. Alwin.