Amid all the frenzy on Thursday over the arrests for alleged spot-fixing, one image stood out - players being produced at a Delhi court with their faces covered.
Beyond the shrill talk about crime and punishment, that photograph provided a sobering moment - the fall of players belonging to a tribe seen as youth icons of the country with S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan, charged by the police with cheating and conspiracy, facing long jail terms.
While they face the prospect of becoming the first cricketers in India to be imprisoned for fixing, there is need not be too downcast. They only need to look back to see how bigger players punished for match-fixing in the past, live a comfortable life, with no social, sporting or official stigma. Not to talk of the money that was already in the bank when they were punished.
Fall from grace
Mohammad Azharuddin heads the list. The fall from grace for the former India skipper was complete when he was among the star players named in a Central Bureau of Investigation probe report in 2000 that rocked the game to its foundations. The BCCI held an internal investigation on the basis of the CBI report and slapped life bans on Azhar and Delhi's Ajay Sharma - he played one Test - and banned all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar and Ajay Jadeja for five years each.
In fact, while confessing that he was involved in match-fixing on South Africa's tour of India in 2000, Hansie Cronje had said it was Azhar who introduced him to the bookie, in Kanpur during a previous tour.
If the life ban was a big stigma, it did not stick. While still serving the ban, Azhar joined politics in 2009 and is currently the Congress MP from Moradabad. In November last year, the Andhra Pradesh high court struck down the ban as unsustainable. The BCCI then did not pursue the case, after it deferred a decision on whether to appeal the verdict.
Jadeja was 29 and in his prime when his India career came to a shuddering halt, but he challenged the ban. In 2004, the Delhi high court dismissed his plea that he should be considered for international selection but a subsequent decision by a larger bench paved the way for his rehabilitation as a player after allowing his Ranji comeback. In fact, he is an expert commentator in the official TV channel of the Indian Twenty20 League.
Prabhakar too eased back into the system, coaching both the Rajasthan and Delhi Ranji teams. Sacked from the Delhi job in November, 2011 for making controversial comments about the team, he has not taken up any official assignment since then.
Ajay Sharma, whom the CBI report had described as having played a pivotal role in the fixing saga, is still banned but that has not affected his job with the Public Sector Undertaking, Central Warehousing Corporation.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.