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Azhar ban illegal: Court

- Bench says action taken without credible evidence

Hyderabad, Nov. 8: Andhra Pradesh High Court today struck down as “illegal” and “unsustainable” the life ban from cricket that the Indian board had imposed 12 years ago on former national captain Mohammed Azharuddin for alleged match-fixing.

A two-judge bench ruled the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had acted unilaterally without any “credible evidence of the offence”, and set aside a Hyderabad civil court’s judgment upholding the ban in 2003.

Asked if the BCCI would appeal against the order, senior official Rajeev Shukla said the board would react only after its legal team “analyses the judgment”. However, a lenient stand is expected after Azhar — Congress MP from Moradabad since 2009 — said he did not intend to sue the board.

The game’s world governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), too should have a say on the matter.

“The ICC has noted the reports but needs some time to establish and consider the details of the court ruling and the impact it accordingly has on the ban imposed by the BCCI and recognised by ICC and all its members,” ICC head of media and communications Colin Gibson told The Telegraph.

At three months short of 50, Azhar can no longer hope to fulfil his avowed dream of playing 100 Tests — he was banned after playing 99 — but said he would be willing to work with the board for the development of cricket.

“I can’t predict how the BCCI will react but it’s totally up to them.... I am ready to work for the benefit of cricket and cricketers,” he said in New Delhi.

“I am not going to take any legal action against any authority and I don’t want to blame anybody for this. It is about destiny. Whatever had to happen has happened; I don’t have any complaints.”

Azhar, one of India’s most successful batsmen and captains, added: “My conscience was always clear as I haven’t done anything wrong. I have represented my country and played the game with the utmost honesty. I never lost faith and was never a broken man. I didn’t blame anybody and was ready to fight it out in the courts.”

Fans’ reactions were mixed, with some nostalgically recalling Azhar’s wristy strokeplay but many saying the court order wouldn’t restore his image.

“This is not going to change anything from peoples (sic) mind,” posted Jacob Lazar on the ESPNcricinfo website.

Cricmatters, another respondent to the same website, referred to Azhar’s lack of “involvement in cricket-related matters” and wrote: “I hope it stays that way. Ban or no ban.”

The board clamped the ban on December 5, 2000, after the CBI indicted Azhar for alleged match-fixing and the BCCI’s anti-corruption commissioner found him guilty.

The CBI report alleged Azhar had confessed to rigging ODIs, and a three-member panel headed by then board president A.C. Muthiah recommended the ban.

The match-fixing scandal had come to light in April 2000 after Delhi police charged then South Africa captain Hansie Cronje with fixing ODIs during a tour of India in March. Cronje, in his confession, claimed Azhar had introduced him to a bookie — a charge the Indian denied.

Both Cronje and Azhar later met with tragedy: the South African died in an air crash in June 2002 while Azhar lost his younger son Mohammed Ayazuddin, 19, in a motorbike accident last year.

“What I lost last year is a scar that will remain with me for ever.... It was Almighty Allah’s wish but certainly myself and my elder son (Mohammed Asaduddin) are relieved today,” Azhar said.

In 2006, there was some talk of lifting the ban when the BCCI invited Azhar to the inauguration of its then new headquarters in Mumbai and honoured him with 14 other former India captains. Then ICC president Percy Sonn and members of the ICC’s executive board attended the event. Eventually, the ban stayed on.

Azhar had taken the cricket world by storm during his debut in 1984-85, scoring hundreds in each of his first three Tests — a world record that still stands. He joined the Congress before the 2009 elections.

Today, he thanked his parents, former India captain Kapil Dev and late BCCI president Raj Singh Dungarpur for their support during his dark days.

“I thank the late Raj Singh Dungarpur for his constant support when he was alive. Also Kapil paaji has been very vocal in my support in all forums. So was former BCCI vice-president Kamal Morarka. I also thank all my fans who stood by me all these 12 years.”

He didn’t want to dwell on his career being cut short at 99 Tests.

“Maybe I was destined to play 99 Test matches and that’s what the Almighty wanted. I would not like to dwell on the past.... I am an MP and would like to focus on the development of my constituency, Moradabad.”

Azhar’s counsel K. Ramakant Reddy said the bench of Justices Ashutosh Mohanta and Krishna Mohan Reddy rejected the board’s contention that its actions could not be challenged in a court of law.