What was Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) trying to prove when they got Mohammed Azharuddin to ring the bell to mark the start of the first T20I against West Indies at the Eden Gardens?
The gesture certainly got the goat of former India cricketer Gautam Gambhir, who made a scathing comment against BCCI, CoA and CAB for permitting it. "Looks like the No Tolerance Policy against Corrupt takes a leave on Sundays!" he tweeted. And he was not the only one peeved by the goings-on at CAB.
The BCCI had slapped a life ban on Azharuddin 18 years ago. He was barred from playing cricket matches conducted or authorised by the ICC or BCCI and from holding any position in the two organisations or any of their affiliates. This order came after a BCCI-appointed commissioner went into the alleged match-fixing charges following a CBI investigation into the same.
Azharuddin, who played 99 Tests during 1980s and 1990s and even led India in Tests and ODIs, at home as well as overseas, was one of several big names identified by CBI in a report.
Following this, BCCI appointed a former CBI joint director, K Madhavan, as inquiry commissioner. He found Azharuddin guilty of fixing, after which BCCI banned him and a few others for life.
Azharuddin filed a civil petition in the City Civil Court, Hyderabad, asking for the ban to be overturned. However the court upheld BCCI‘s order. The banned cricketer then filed an appeal against the Civil Court order in the Andhra Pradesh High Court.
The High Court ruled that BCCI appointing a commissioner exceeded the authority granted by rules. It ruled in Azharudin’s favour purely on procedural grounds and not on guilt or otherwise (see SportsLaw dissection of the same).
Sports Law’s conclusion of the case is apt: "In the examination of the issues, the Court expressly concerned itself with the conduct of the enquiry by the BCCI and not the matter of determining whether Azharuddin engaged in the match-fixing or not. This distinction is important as the Court overturned the decision of the BCCI to debar Azharuddin for life on the ground that the Commissioner’s appointment and enquiry undertaken was illegal by reason of being excessive of the powers of the BCCI and failing to respect principles of natural justice and fairness respectively, and has not offered an opinion on the merits of the allegations of match fixing."
This — "not offering an opinion on the merits of the allegations of match fixing" — being the case, why is CAB, BCCI and CoA in such a tearing hurry to rehabilitate the man. Those who lived through those painful days of late 1990s and early 2000s might be justified in asking if justice was done at all.
Why, not so long ago, a well-known former cricketer refused to share TV studio space with one of those accused (and later exonerated) of match fixing. The ex-cricketer simply walked out of the show.
This apart, there are some who believe that BCCI, must be even handed. One keen cricket commentator, who wished to remain anonymous, refused to accept the two wrongs do not make a right analogy.
“When others have got away, why should Azharuddin alone be punished,” he asked. He drew attention to the many names in the CBI report and their current cosy position within Indian cricket set-up these days and asked what was fair about it.
Probably there are others who think on similar lines and want the rehabilitation to be complete.
Azharuddin in fact almost made it to the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) elections before his candidature was struck down on some technicality. Nevertheless, he has been seen in many events in Mumbai and other places of late. In Kolkata, couple of days before he rang the bell, he was part of a panel discussion celebrating the silver jubilee of the 1993 Hero Cup. The panel included Ganguly, Brian Lara, Carl Hooper and Graeme Smith.
Thus, it looks like there is a gradual move to rehabilitate him into the Indian cricketing system.
What this would mean for the image of Indian cricket or impact on young, aspiring cricketers can only be a matter of conjecture. The moot point is, Azharuddin, the high profile cricketer, is a lot more accepted within the BCCI fold these days than he was 10 years ago.
Whether that is a good thing or not is for those controlling the destiny of Indian cricket to decide.
Logically, one would expect the CoA and BCCI to get the 13 names Justice Mudgal had given in a sealed envelope to the Supreme Court, form a committee as per rules of BCCI and conduct an enquiry into Azharuddin, rest of the names in CBI report and the 13 names. But would they do that? Your guess is as good as mine.