The curious case of Mohammad Azharuddin

mohammad-azharuddin-reuters-600-400Ayan Acharya
NSoJ Bureau
Former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin’s nomination for Hyderabad Cricket Association president’s post was rejected on January 14 after he failed to clarify whether the BCCI life ban on him had been lifted. While Azharuddin is planning on moving to High Court over rejection, his application may have opened a can of worms for the Lodha committee.
On Tuesday, January 10, Azhar had decided to throw in his hat to contest for HCA president’s post. However, the election, which is due later this week, has already raised eyebrows within the country’s cricket fraternity.
Indian cricket is in a greater state of flux than it has ever known in a generation. The apex court in its landmark judgment on January 2, sacked BCCI president Anurag Thakur and secretary Ajay Shirke for non-compliance with the Supreme Court appointed Lodha panel. The vacuum created by the sudden ouster of such high-level office bearers has thrown the administration into rancor.
That said, chaos is the price the board has to pay to ensure a squeaky clean image. The mission to usher transparency and accountability within a board, which has for long operated behind iron bars, may have reached its denouement. As the earlier color fades, and the world’s wealthiest and most efficiently run cricket board gets a face-lift, there are certain dark spots, the fresh coat of paint may have missed inadvertently.
While Lodha committee’s ‘purification’ drive gathers steam, Azhar’s call to enter administration appears to be counter-intuitive at best. For those not up to speed, Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and some team-mates were banned by the BCCI at the turn of the century for their involvement in match-fixing. Since then, Azharuddin had steered clear of all cricket-related matters and became a politician in 2009.
But in 2003, when Ajay Jadeja, got a semi-reprieve, Azharuddin fancied his chances at a let off from the lifetime ban and decided to challenge it in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh.
Fortunately for Azhar, destiny smiled on him and a division bench comprising Justices Ashutosh Mohunta and G Krishna Mohan Reddy deemed illegal the ban for lack of credible evidence. With the BCCI not challenging the court’s decision within the mandatory three-month window, the ban stood lifted.
The salient point here was the judgment itself which did not acquit Azhar of match-fixing but merely set aside the ban. Azhar conveniently construed the verdict as clemency and even celebrated his vindication with a poorly conceived biopic on the silver screen.
However, behind this veil of conviction and acquittal is the real story- there was no match-fixing law in 2000, and 17 years later, there is still no law. As a matter of fact, four years ago, when news broke about spot-fixing in the IPL, Sreesanth, and several others were booked under the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA) and sections 419 and 420 of the Indian Penal Code.
But MCOCA is invoked to charge those involved in organized crime or terrorism, and unless we woke up in some faraway, milky-way galaxy, spot-fixing/match-fixing and terrorism are not the same thing.
In an exclusive interview with NSoJ, Gopal Sankaranarayan, secretary of the Lodha committee, said: “There is no law in the Parliament or the state legislature governing match-fixing. But the present legal regime could be extended to cover such acts. The public buys a ticket in the hope that it will be treated to a fair game. If it was defrauded in that, the members of the public become victims of these fraudulent acts and they can drag the perpetrators to court.”
In a nation that has to tend to long queues, frustrating jams, and an apathetic government, it is perhaps imprudent to expect a layman to spearhead the crusade against ill in the sport. What good is the law then, anyway?
Azhar, in his prime, was a delight to watch as those rubber wrists carved the ball towards the fence. But he sullied his whites by playing down the wrong line and he will probably have to toil very hard to earn back the credibility and goodwill of his fans.
There are plenty of gray areas here that can’t be addressed immediately for one, the possibility of Azhar using his HCA post as a ticket to greener pastures within the BCCI and then, the ICC. In the meantime, the Lodha committee has slammed the poor governance skills of the board, weeding out ‘inept’ administrators while behind their back, a former Indian captain, then a star with the bat, now a tainted individual, is padding up for yet another innings.
It is premature to predict if Azhar’s involvement with the game will risk its image yet again, but two years, several hearings, and multiple mud-slinging sessions later, will the Lodha committee bring us back to right where we had started?
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