The real battle for Azhar is to change public perception

If Mohammad Azharuddin thought he would be completely relieved after the Andhra Pradesh High Court ruled that BCCI's life ban on him was 'unsustainable', then he was wrong.

While there is no doubt that a huge burden has been lifted off him, the ruling has just given way to more questions — questions which were buried since a few years and have resurfaced, questions over the BCCI, their decision and their anticipated reaction and questions over whether an Indian cricket fan will ever be able to forgive the former captain.

Cricket expert Ayaz Memon joined us on Sports Talk and he is of the view that whatever may be the case, one thing that Azhar deserves is acknowledgement for his resilience.

"Azharuddin's resilience needs to be acknowledged because he has fought his case for so many years. He has never been cowed down by the pressure from public opinion or fighting the BCCI or the legal system—which could be very punishing. This resilience needs to perhaps be admired."

Azharuddin manages a smile after the HC decision. AP

A dozen years is certainly a long time and Ayaz feels that in spite of sports investigation becoming robust, there needs to be a quicker reaction: "Even though investigations are more focused but even then this case has taken 11 years. If Azhar was 24 or 25-years-old, then his career's gone.  So in sport, cases should be fast tracked as soon as possible.

Technically, one cannot deny the fact that Azharuddin has been cleared. One might still believe that he was part of the match-fixing ring (Hansie Cronje alleged that Azhar was the man to introduce him to a bookie). The general consensus seems to be that people cannot quite forgive the former skipper. Will this ever change?

"It's a difficult position to be in. The perception is so hard and has been hardened over the years and it's hard to dissolve or break this down. One thing which people know is that match-fixing in that era happened. As a lay person, listening to other players, I'll say, 'Oh see even Azhar knew a bookie!' and then it's a connect-the-dots situation. Legally maybe the case is untenable, but perception-wise, that's the battle for Azhar."

That may be the public perception, but having seen and been associated with cricket for such a long time, we asked Ayaz whether his views on Azhar had changed after Thursday's events.

"I was always perplexed with Azhar's situation. First I could never believe it. For me personally, it was the most disorienting phase of cricket. Whatever happens with the case now, my view is that fight against corruption in cricket cannot be relaxed. This should not be seen as a blow. How you fight corruption now is the real challenge."

However hard it may be to believe Azhar or not, Ayaz says that there are enough instances in sport where people who were accused of things and have later been proved innocent: "With law, you cannot be sweeping and say that he was certainly guilty. Ultimately, what is the method to find out?"

Azharuddin was pretty vocal about his wish to contribute to Indian cricket if the BCCI were to allow him, but it all depends on how they react. As of now, the Board hasn't reacted and even if they decide not to, then it will be interesting to see how they bring Azhar back into the fold.