Hyderabad/New Delhi, Nov 8 (IANS) Twelve years after the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) imposed a life-time ban on former India captain Mohammed Azharuddin on charges of match-fixing, the Andhra Pradesh High Court Thursday struck it down the punishment as "illegal".
In a major relief to the cricketer-turned-politician, a division bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court set aside the order of a lower court which had upheld the ban.
"It is a happy day, I have waited for this for long. I had full faith in the judiciary and court has given its verdict. I don't regret anything about my cricketing career, I played the game hard for India for 17 years. I don't want to dwell on the past, who stood with me or otherwise," said the cricketer-Congress MP at his official residence in New Delhi.
As soon as the news broke out, Congress party workers and fans burst crackers at his residence near Lodhi Garden. Amidst the huge media presence, Congress workers and friends came with bouquets to congratulate him. It was certainly early Diwali at C-1/12, Lodhi Garden.
But despite the celebrations, Azharuddin remembered his younger son Ayazuddin, who died last year in a road accident.
"The last year has been very tough. Today I want to be happy with my elder son Abbas. I wish the judgment had come a bit early," he said.
Asked who all from the cricketing fraternity supported him during the last 12 years, Azharuddin said: "I always got support from Raj Singh Dungarpur, Kapil paaji and Kamal Morarka."
Azharuddin said he was never hurt with the BCCI's action. "I was never hurt with their action. That was their line of thinking. I can't blame them for that," he said.
Asked if he felt that the BCCI would not pursue the case any longer after Pakistan also came soft on Salim Malik, a former captain who too was banned for life, Azharuddin said: "It is tough to say. But I think it has been a good move to bring back the banned cricketers in the normal fold of life."
Malik's name also figured in the inquiry conducted by India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that led to life bans on Azharuddin and Delhi cricketer Ajay Sharma. The BCCI also imposed a five-year ban on Ajay Jadeja and Manoj Prabhakar.
Asked if he regrets not having completed 100 Test matches, Azharuddin said: "I think I was probably destined to play 99 Test matches, hence played that many. I believe what has to happen, will happen."
Azharuddin, however, does regret not having more than 22 Test centuries to his credit.
"I have 22 centuries. I think the way I started with three consecutive centuries, I should have got around 27-28 centuries. But I have no regrets. I led the team for nine years with success. That is how life is," he said.
The former India captain also thanked the Congress party for its support.
"I am grateful to the party for the support. Three years ago when I decided to join politics, they always believed in me. I didn't know abc of elections but the party stood by me during the tough time," he said.
It was on Dec 5, 2000, that the BCCI banned Azharuddin from playing professional cricket for the rest of his life after he was found guilty of match-fixing charges.
The Hyderabadi had challenged the Indian cricket board's decision in the city civil court, which upheld the ban. He then moved the high court against the lower court's order, his lawyers arguing that BCCI imposed the ban without any evidence.
The 49-year-old entered politics a few months before 2009 elections by joining the Congress party and was elected member of the Lok Sabha from the Moradabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh.
Reacting to the Thursday's verdict, BCCI senior official Rajiv Shukla, who is also union minister of state for parliamentary affairs, said: "Our legal team will go through the judgment and accordingly the next step will be decided."
Azharuddin, one of India's most successful captains and prolific batsmen, played 99 Tests and scored 6,215 runs during his career. He also played 334 One-Day Internationals scoring 9,378 runs in his 15-year international career.
The wristy batsman had taken the world of cricket by storm in 1984-85 with a world record of three consecutive centuries in three Tests on his debut against England.