The relief which Mohammad Azharuddin has got from the Andhra Pradesh High Court over his life ban may perhaps be less unexpected than when he was first named in the match-fixing scandal, but is no less newsworthy.
It’s been more than 12 years since the former India captain was implicated in the case that had threatened to rip apart the very fabric of the sport he had adorned with so much grace and excellence, and there was perhaps nary a soul who thought that he had a chance to get this ban revoked.
Unless the BCCI goes in for appeal to the Supreme Court — and has more evidence than it has been able to produce yet — there may be no further twist to the story that had rocked the cricket world so sensationally in circa 2000. The AP High Court has categorically said that the Board of Control for Cricket in India was callous in banning Azharuddin, because not enough evidence was presented to prove his involvement in match-fixing.
- Andhra High Court strikes down life ban on Azharuddin
- I don't want to dwell on the past, says Azhar
- ICC should ban fixers for life, states Imran
- CAS sets date for appeals by Asif, Butt
Some will argue this is a tricky matter.
There have been several cases of the innocent being prosecuted or of the guilty being let off because of evidence being misunderstood or investigations being inadequate. The law, as Charles Dickens put it so juicily, can be an ass. Conversely, justice delayed is also justice denied.
The legal system in India, like in all democracies, is based on a presumption of innocence. All things considered, that is the best tenet to follow.
Judgments can’t be made on innuendo, rumour and ill-defined evidence.
The onus of producing proof is rightly on the prosecution.
In Azharuddin’s case, the CBI, in the report submitted to the BCCI, said he and the others had been involved in match-fixing or at least consorting with bookies, but without sufficient prosecutable evidence. The BCCI decided to ban Azharuddin based on the CBI report as well as other hearsay and circumstantial evidence, as well as pressure from the ICC and others. The late South African captain Hansie Cronje’s evidence to the King Commission was perhaps too damning to be discounted.
However, while Azharuddin has fought this legal battle assiduously and has shown resilience, the perception battle is a whole other story. He has got his hard-fought legal reprieve, he is now a Member of Parliament, so he could argue that he has got some sort of popular mandate, but the questions about his captaincy years may not — sadly for him — go away quite so easily.
It remains to be seen whether the BCCI accepts him back into its fold or not. Azhar has said he will not sue the Board for defamation. In fact, he has offered to work for the improvement of Indian cricket. If a rapprochement happens, it could help substantially in re-establishing his locus in Indian cricket.
The issue of corruption in cricket, however, does not fatigue with this case. There is little doubt in anyone’s minds that the sport was tainted by match-fixing in the 1990s.
Some cleaning up was done after the 2000 revelations by the Delhi police, but clearly not enough. Allegations of match-fixing, spot-fixing and the power of bookies have periodically emerged.
The sting operation against Pakistani players in 2010 was very damning for the guardians of the sport. The IPL and other leagues too have been awash with rumours of match-fixing and spot-fixing.
There can be little doubt that heavy betting takes place on matches. As cricket gets richer and bigger, the dangers will grow even more.
The pertinent question to be asked now is whether enough is being done to prevent corruption. All countries involved in cricket and their boards need to have more stringent controls in place to check the menace as far as possible. It took cricket a long while to recover from the debacle of 2000 and its credibility is still in doubt. While all those myths about the “gentleman’s game” are debatable, a sport must at least be credible to its followers if it is to grow successfully. Even WWE, after all, has found success on full disclosure.
Neither the BCCI, nor the International Cricket Council, nor indeed any of the other boards have collaborated meaningfully to take the menace head on.
If they had been more stringent, allegations would not swirl around quite as much as they do. As with drug-testing, the attitude of those in charge when it comes to match-fixing has to be unforgiving, and the action swift.
For those in charge of the sport, the spotlight once more falls on them.
They have to set right what is going wrong in this glorious game.
(The writer is a seasoned journalist)