Slapped by Harbhajan Singh, married to a Jaipur princess, tested political waters on a BJP ticket, man of the match in an overseas Test, banned for spot-fixing, reprieved by courts; singer, dancer, actor, politician and pace bowler, among other things, Kerala’s man for all reasons, S Sreesanth has literally gone through the vicissitudes of life.
When his cricket career came to an abrupt end, Sreesanth seemed to be going the way of others banned for their alleged role in match or spot-fixing — Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Ajay Sharma et al. Like them, he too succeeded in getting the BCCI-imposed ban overturned by courts.
In Sreesanth’s case, the Kerala High Court said that "when evidence is in the nature of circumstantial evidence, that evidence ought to have been appreciated as a whole. And when that is done it can be concluded that Sreesanth had no direct link to betting or match-fixing".
The BCCI had pointed to two sets of evidence gathered by the police: Audio recordings of a conversation between Sreesanth’s friend Jiju Janardhanan and a bookie and a confession allegedly made by Sreesanth.
The court rubbished the value of the said confession as the cricketer had stated that it was forced out of him. It added that the purported audio recording did not indicate Sreesanth’s direct role in the fixing. Even assuming he knew about the betting, the four-year ban already suffered was punishment enough, the court held.
The ruling was an indictment of the BCCI. It showed that despite its battery of lawyers and mountains of finances it has still not been able to come up with a foolproof method to identify culprits, gather verifiable evidence, build a water-tight case and punish the guilty.
The fact that courts have picked so many loopholes in the various allegations of match or spot-fixing shows that there is something seriously amiss about the BCCI’s understanding and tackling of the entire process, whether in identifying the guilty or in delivering punishment.
The Kerala Cricket Association, beleaguered by the BCCI-commissioned Deloitte audit report, said that it would support its player. It can scarcely afford to open another battlefront and instead chose the path of least resistance. After all, with a number of locals supporting their hero, the last things that KCA wanted to achieve was being seen as an anti-locals body.
It has its issues with buying wetlands for promoting cricket stadium activities to utilising ecologically-fragile land to alleged irregularities in usage of funds. The Deloitte audit report is said to have been extremely unfavourable to KCA. Thus the office bearers would not have wanted to risk alienating their support in Kerala. They safely said they would request BCCI to rehabilitate Sreesanth as soon as possible.
Indeed time is not what the former pacer has in hand. It was not that he was a regular in the Indian team. He had played his last T20 international in 2008, his last ODI in 2011and even his last Test in 2011.
And so, when he was banned in 2013, he had already been sidelined from the national team for two years. Now in his 35th year, he is past his prime and with a new crop of exciting fast bowlers emerging, it is unlikely that he could have made a comeback, even if the ban had not been in force.
Even before the ban, he had issues with his franchise and was released before the conclusion of the 2013 IPL season. The charges of spot-fixing, alleged confession that revealed how a hand towel was used as a signal to bookies, his arrest, his release on bail etc followed.
Sreesanth, the cricketer, seemed to have bowled his last delivery. He was not given an NOC to play in the Scotland Cricket League, was banned from all BCCI tournaments and affiliated units’ grounds and could not even get worthwhile nets in which to practice.
In Bengaluru, a city where he did his schooling and learnt cricket, he was not allowed into the cricket stadium when he came as coach of the Telugu film stars team that took part in the Celebrity Cricket League. He was not even allowed into the stadium as a spectator.
The court in its wisdom believes that he has been punished enough. Naturally, the BCCI will be concerned with the message this could send to others tempted by lucre.
The BCCI’s line of argument that disciplinary proceedings do not require the standard of proof demanded of criminal proceedings did not cut ice in court.
Even otherwise, the BCCI needs to engage the right professionals to ensure that there are solid checks and balances in place. The reprieve to Sreesanth might be just the wake-up call it needs to ring-fence the game and those playing it.
It will be interesting to see how the Committee of Administrators proceeds on this one.