The week that went by saw a sudden downswing in the fortunes of the Indian cricket team, which lost three successive one-dayers to Australia and lost the five-match series 2-3. Even as one was coming to terms with this development came the glad tidings from the verdict of Supreme Court lifting the life ban imposed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on S Sreesanth. Though the apex court has directed the BCCI to reconsider the case against him and decide appropriate punishment within a span of three months, the fact that the Damocles sword of life ban has been removed should provide the Kerala fast bowler considerable solace. While he cannot start playing the game from immediately, the judgement gives Sreesanth hope that he might be able to return to the playing field in the not too distant future.
Let us again consider the case against Sreesanth. He was arrested by the Delhi Police from Mumbai where he had gone to take part in an Indian Premier League (IPL) match on the allegation that he had taken part in an attempt at spot-fixing and received money for the same. The information revealed by the investigating agency stated that he had entered into a criminal conspiracy with his friend Jiju Janardanan and agreed to concede a specific amount of runs in a particular over in the match played between his side (Rajasthan Royals) and Kings XI Punjab. Sreesanth was to indicate a signal based on which the syndicate involved would know that he was starting a “fixed over”, so that they could proceed with their activities. Police busted this racket with the help of telephone call intercepts and nabbed Sreesanth and two other cricketers then taking part in the IPL.
The BCCI conducted its internal inquiry against Sreesanth after the news of arrests broke out. This was conducted by the head of anti-corruption unit of the the BCCI, under whose watch the whole episode had taken place. Based on the report submitted by the inquiry officer, the disciplinary committee of the BCCI slapped a life ban on Sreesanth in September, 2013. The chargesheet filed by Delhi Police was quashed by the trial court, thus exonerating him. Delhi Police have filed an appeal against this verdict which is pending before the High Court.
Sreesanth requested the BCCI for lifting the life ban in the aftermath of the verdict of trial court, but this was turned down. He approached the Kerala High Court against this decision. Though the single bench of the High Court ordered lifting of ban, the appeal filed by the BCCI met with success before the division bench, following which Sreesanth moved Supreme Court. The verdict of the Apex Court now puts the ball back in the BCCI’s court with the condition that the cricket body cannot impose a life ban on the pacer.
However, it should be noted that while passing this judgement, Supreme Court has accepted the stand of the BCCI that internal proceedings of an organisation can be decided based on the principle of “preponderance of probability”, where evidence required is less stringent than the standards mandated in proceedings before a trial court. Thus, the verdict is not exactly in favour of Sreesanth as made out to be since the Court has left the decisions regarding the gravity of offence and its punishment in the hands of the BCCI. The only rider so far as the BCCI is concerned is that it is barred from imposing a life ban on the player.
What are the options before the BCCI at this juncture? Vinod Rai, heading the Committee of Administrators (CoA), has already announced that they would consider the matter during their next meeting. This would indicate that the process would commence soon so as to meet the three month deadline placed by the Apex Court. Sreesanth would also get an opportunity to present his case in person before the BCCI and seek a lenient view in this matter.
The million dollar question is whether BCCI would let bygones be bygones and decide that Sreesanth has suffered enough for his indiscretions? Common sense and practical considerations would mandate that it consider the nearly six years spent by the cricketer cooling his heels outside the game as sufficient punishment for the transgressions committed by him.
Till date, the BCCI had shown a streak of vengefulness while dealing with Sreesanth. This might be on account of the fact that the BCCI earnestly believes that he had committed the grave sin of being involved in spot-fixing. But after the exoneration of the cricketer by the trial court, the popular impression is that the reason behind the intense ire of BCCI mandarins is the shake up of the organisation which took place after the spot-fixing scandal surfaced, when many of the top honchos were forced out from the body. The fact that the BCCI chose to rehabilitate Mohammad Azharuddin, after the life ban against him was struck down on technical grounds by Andhra High Court, lends credence to the second school of thought.
In this situation, Sreesanth will find comfort from the fact that this matter would henceforth be dealt with by the CoA, whose members are not burdened by the baggages of the turmoil that shook up the BCCI post 2013. The CoA members have been appointed by the Supreme Court based on their administrative acumen and love for the game. They also bring with them rich experience of handling disciplinary proceedings and deciding on penalties. Hence the committee can be expected to handle the proceedings in a fair, objective, unbiased and transparent manner.
As Sreesanth himself stated, this verdict of the apex court has come as a lifeline for him. At 36, he is no spring chicken and would be knowing that the chances of getting back to representative cricket at the national level are slim. Six years away from the game would also put question marks over his match fitness. A favourable decision from CoA would allow him to start playing cricket again, which in addition to giving him tremendous joy and satisfaction would also allow him to make a living out of it.
The life ban imposed by the BCCI had denied Sreesanth the opportunity to pursue the sole means of livelihood known to him. It was sad to see him take on roles in reality shows on television and sadder still to see him being trolled mercilessly. Sreesanth deserves better; he had brought so much happiness and pride by his achievements, which included being part of two World Cup-winning sides. He demonstrated to the world that a cricketer from Kerala, a virtual cricketing backwater when he started playing, could force his way to national side and make an impact at the international level. His brilliant achievements on the field should not be forgotten on accounts of the various infractions - real and imaginary- attributed to him.
It is the fervent hope of this author that Sreesanth would be allowed to resume playing cricket again. This alone would bring down the curtains on this sordid saga that has wrecked havoc on the life and career of this cricketer, who, it must be admitted was more sinned against than sinning.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)