Welcome to Spodcast, the sports update on Firstpost.
IPL 2019 kicks off this weekend, and as MS Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings prepare to start the tournament with a match against traditional rivals Royal Challengers Bangalore, the CSK captain opened up about the 2013 match fixing scandal in a docudrama titled Roar of the Lion.
Terming it the most depressing phase of his life, Dhoni said, "2013 was the most difficult phase in my life, I was never depressed as much as I was then. The closest was 2007 World Cup when we lost in the group stages. But all said and done, 2007 happened because we did not play good cricket...2013, the angle was completely different. People are talking about match fixing and spot fixing. It was the most talked about thing in the country."
Speaking about the subsequent two-year ban, he said, "We did deserve the punishment but the only thing is the quantum of the punishment. Finally, we got to know that CSK would be banned for two years. There was a mixed feeling that time. Because you take a lot of things personally and, as a captain, question 'what did the team do wrong'...Yes there was mistake from our side (the franchise) but were the players involved in this? What mistake did we, as players, (make) to go through all of that?" Recalling the insinuations and allegations that flew thick and fast, Dhoni said fixing a match requires the involvement of the majority of players. He explained, "My name also came up in talks of fixing. They started showcasing in the media or social media as if the team was involved, I was involved. Is it possible (in cricket)? Yes it is possible, anyone can do spot fixing. Umpires can do that, batsmen can, bowlers can... but match-fixing needs the involvement of the majority of the players." He said he also realised that his silence may have been misconstrued. Dhoni said, "The problem when people think you are very strong, is that more often than not, nobody comes and asks: how are you doing. It was more of how I dealt with it. I did not want to talk about it to others, at the same time it was scratching me. I don't want anything to affect my cricket. For me cricket is the most important thing."
Dhoni was in the news recently for calling match fixing a bigger crime than murder. Explaining that remark, he said, "Whatever I am today, whatever I have achieved is because of cricket. So the biggest crime that I can commit personally is not murder. It's actually match fixing because it doesn't get restricted to me. If I'm involved in such a thing, it has a bigger impact. If people think a match is fixed because the outcome of a match is extraordinary, then people lose their faith in cricket. I don't think in my life I would deal with something that is tougher than this."
Speaking about Gurunath Meiyappan, Dhoni said with his usual candour, "Initially, when Guru's name came up, (we knew) he was part of the team, all said and done. But in what capacity, that is debatable. Was he the owner, the team principal, the motivator... what exactly was he? I don't know if anyone from the franchise introduced Guru to us as the owner... we all knew him as the son-in-law."
Dhoni also described his association with CSK as "a match made on matrimonial site an arranged marriage."
Australian fast bowling great Glenn McGrath said India and England are his favourites to lift the upcoming World Cup, and added that the bowling unit will hold the key for Virat Kohli's team.
McGrath also said Australia's recent limited-overs series win over India here has improved their chances of winning the World Cup, which begins on May 30 in the United Kingdom.
McGrath, who is the current director of coaching at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai, said, "The top two teams are going to be England and India. England had a tough time in West Indies and India lost to Australia. So, the competition will be tighter. Australia's chances have improved after their ODI and T20 win over India...The fact that Australia won the T20 series and the ODIs against India in India will boost their confidence. With... (Steve Smith and David Warner) coming back, the team will be strengthened and those players were missed during the Australian summer."
Interestingly, McGrath claimed he was not surprised by the "exceptional" performance of India's pacers during the Australian tour. He said, "I was not surprised ... they did exceptionally well. They bowled well as a unit and there was no weak link there. I think the pace they bowled at, the consistency and control, they really impressed me...Ishant (Sharma) is very experienced, Bhuvneshwar is your senior bowler and he needs to be bowling well. He is an intelligent cricketer and...(Mohammed) Shami is doing well. I was particularly impressed with Bumrah, he was exceptional. The way he bowls his yorkers and if there is some reverse swing, he is going to be dangerous...the pace he bowls the yorkers makes him really unique. So, the bowlers have to perform if India is to win (the World Cup)."
In football news, European fans have appealed to UEFA for stricter ticketing rules after Barcelona and Manchester United raised ticket prices for their Champions League quarterfinal matches.
Barcelona set ticket prices at 118 euros for visiting Manchester United fans, and the English club duly retaliated with an equivalent 102-pound price for away fans at Old Trafford. Manchester United said 27 pounds from each ticket sold to Barcelona fans would subsidize tickets at Camp Nou for its own fans who were "again being subjected to increased/excessive prices."
Football Supporters Europe, a group representing European soccer fans, criticized the "exorbitant pricing" imposed on visiting fans by two of the world's wealthiest clubs.
The fan group said in a statement, "Yet again, this is proof that the current regulations for UEFA competitions are not sufficient...We expect UEFA to change the regulations to state that ticket prices for away fans should be the same as the cheapest tickets available for home fans."
The Germany-based group, described by UEFA as a "key stakeholder," also said Manchester United's "reciprocal pricing is part of the problem." They said, "Barcelona fans should not be forced to pay for the sins of their club. Indeed, just because elite level football is awash with money does not mean that fans are " quite the opposite. It is incumbent upon clubs to recognize this fact and act accordingly."
Champions League safety rules currently state that away fan tickets "must not exceed the price paid for tickets of a comparable category" for home fans. UEFA's current rules prohibit two-tier pricing. English clubs have long complained to UEFA about opposing clubs, typically in Spain, raising prices for their traveling fans. However, Spanish club Barcelona discounts prices for season ticket-holders and members, because of which most Barcelona fans avoid paying the full price charged to visitors.
Ironically, a strict interpretation of UEFA rules could see Manchester United more likely to face a disciplinary case, despite seeking to help its own fans financially by raising prices for Barcelona's visit on April 10.
Danish badminton star and former World No 6 Joachim Persson has been banned for 18 months in connection with offences related to betting and match fixing, the Badminton World Federation said on Thursday.
36-year-old Persson was found guilty of "four violations of the code of conduct in relation to betting, wagering and irregular match results." The violations include failing to disclose details of an approach and not cooperating fully with investigations conducted by the BWF. In addition to the long ban, he has been ordered to pay a penalty of $4,500.
Last May, two Malaysian badminton players received career-ending bans of 20 and 15 years respectively after being found guilty of corruption and match fixing.