Politicising Sreesanth ban further harms Indian cricket

The trend of regional voices masquerading as defenders of their state’s identity and their pride by poking their nose in affairs cricketing is disturbing. They are becoming shrill and loud after Sreesanth and two other cricketers were held not guilty of any criminal offence by a lower court in Delhi.

It may be understandable that those who feel victimized by a very insensitive system will always feel aggrieved even if justice is being meted out to them. And when it comes to cricket, fans will always be more sympathetic towards the players as they are the ones because of whose skills we watch a match. Since a nation state is a conglomerate of various regions, though, it gets subsumed by the larger national identity, it is natural that Bengalis will take greater pride in a Sourav Ganguly and Mumbaikars in a Sachin Tendulkar. Remember when Ganguly was removed as captain of the Indian team and subsequently dropped, Bengalis protested the most.

There are many similar examples across the country, when a region/state has felt that their players are being ignored because of the Board politics, where the ruling dispensation favours players of their own state.

When N Srinivasan was Board president, there were allegations that players from the south were getting greater representation in the Indian team. Now that Anurag Thakur is at the helm, one may suddenly find that more players from the north are finding their way into the Indian team.

It is this perception among the fans that politicians of various hues exploit, even when there may be no justified reason to feel so. The case in point is that of Sreesanth, who, as has been written earlier as well, may not be guilty in criminal law, but is extremely suspect in the ethical framework of sport. His links with bookies have been well established by the police investigation and there is a record of his conversation with a bookmaker where he is heard finalizing a ‘spot-fixing’ deal in exchange for money. These are sufficient grounds for severe punishment within the International Cricket Council as well as the Indian Board’s code of conduct.

This is something that players as well as sports fans probably understand well. The problem, as has happened in Sreesanth’s context, is that politicians will exploit this regional identity sentiment without going into the merit of the case and how deeply it can harm the cause of sport.

Cricket is going through an extremely turbulent phase, with officials and players getting tainted with charges of corruption of a serious nature. For the first time in India’s history a serious attempt is being made to cleanse the rot, under the supervision of the Supreme Court.

That is why it is unsettling to see a Chief Minister of a state raising his voice to defend a player. The intentions of politicians from Kerala may have been good when they said that the ban on Sreesanth should be lifted, but he should realize that his utterances could harm the very health of the sport which is suffering from a serious disease.

Politicians have already done enough harm to cricket administration and they would be well advised to keep their own council and not interfere with a process set in motion by an overwhelming public opinion which wants its sports to be as clean as a whistle.