A sad day in the annals of Indian cricket, says Muthiah

Partab Ramchand

December 5, 2000

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Better late than never, goes the adage. Perhaps taking it seriously, the Board of Control for Cricket in India finally acted decisively on the match fixing issue by slapping life bans on former Indian captain Mohd Azharuddin and former Indian player Ajay Sharma and by imposing bans for five years on another former Indian captain Ajay Jadeja, former Indian player Manoj Prabhakar and team physio Ali Irani. At the same time, wicketkeeper Nayan Mongia and Ram Adhar, the head groundsman at the Feroz Shah Kotla, have been exonerated.

Making these momentous announcements at a press conference in Chennai today, the BCCI president AC Muthiah said that the disciplinary committee, which had been authorised by the board to take the final decision on the issue, deliberated long before arriving at their conclusions. The three man disciplinary committee was reduced to two as Kamal Morarka, who is also the vice president of the BCCI, did not attend citing `pressing commitments.' The onus of taking the decisions were left to the two other members of the committee Muthiah and KN Ramprasad.

When Muthiah started the press conference by saying `this is a sad day in the annals of Indian cricket' one knew what was coming. Sure enough, in sombre tones, he pronounced the judgement on the cricketers, one by one.

Muthiah said that the meeting resolved that Azharuddin be debarred from playing any matches conducted or authorised by the ICC/BCCI or affiliated associations and also debarred from holding any position in the ICC/BCCI or any of its affiliated associations for life commencing from December 5, 2000. Muthiah added that the 37-year-old former Indian captain would also not be eligible for any benefit matches allotted/conducted by the BCCI or its affiliated members and the BCCI's contribution to his Benevolent Fund accrued as of today would be forfeited with effect from December 5, 2000. The same punishment has been slapped on Ajay Sharma.

As regards Jadeja and Prabhakar, Muthiah said the two will be debarred from playing any matches conducted or authorised by the ICC/BCCI or affiliated associations and debarred from holding any position in the ICC/BCCI or any of its affiliated associations for a period of five years, commencing from December 5, 2000. In their case too they will not be eligible for any benefit matches allotted/conducted by the BCCI or its affiliated members and BCCI's contribution to his Benevolent Fund accrued as of today would be forfeited with effect from December 5, 2000.

As regards Ali Irani, Muthiah said he would be debarred from acting as a physiotherapist in any matches conducted or authorised by the ICC/BCCI or affiliated associations and debarred from holding any position in the ICC/BCCI or any of its affiliated associations for a period of five years commencing from December 5, 2000. In his case too, he will not be eligible for any benefit matches allotted/conducted by the BCCI or its affiliated members and BCCI's contribution to his Benevolent Fund accrued as of today will be forfeited with effected from December 5, 2000.

Giving the background, Muthiah said the disciplinary committee had given due consideration to the CBI report, Madhavan's report, the response of the players and the mood of the house at the special general meeting of the BCCI held in Calcutta on November 29. "Considering the importance of the issue, we took the matter in its entirety and found the players guilty as they conducted themselves in a manner prejudiced to the game." The committee, he said, also gave due weightage to the contributions made by the players and the interests of the future of Indian cricket before arriving at their decision. "The players' explanations were unacceptable to us," Muthiah said.

The board president said he was sorry to make these announcements. But the decision had been taken after a lot of thought and after due consideration of all aspects. He admitted that there had been enough delay and a decision on the matter had been postponed twice and the players' suspensions could not go on forever.

Answering a question, Muthiah said the players were free to appeal to the BCCI or any court of law but he expressed confidence that the board was on a good wicket. "I have taken legal opinion from some of the leading luminaries in the legal business and I am absolutely sure of our stand." He said that the decision was taken in accordance with the Board's Code of Conduct which forbade things like match fixing or having nexus with bookies. "These rules were violated by the players," he said.

Queried as to whether there was any truth in reports that said there was political pressure on the BCCI, Muthiah said perhaps the board's delay in arriving at a decision led to such speculative reports. "About the only pressure on us was to arrive at a decision quickly both from the general body and the Sports Minister Uma Bharti. The mood of the house at the Calcutta meeting was that there should be no more delay in taking the strongest and strictest action possible," he said.

Asked whether he felt that with the decision to slap the bans on the players, the dust had finally settled down, Muthiah said, "I think so. I am sure it will have some impact and will act as a deterrent. As I said, we took the decision also keeping in mind the interests of the future of Indian cricket."

Detailing the punishments, he said Azharuddin and Ajay Sharma were categorised separately as they had been found guilty of match fixing while in the case of Prabhakar, Jadeja and Ali Irani they were found guilty of having nexus with bookies or being conduits.

About Kamal Morarka's recent outbursts, Muthiah reiterated that the comments were made by the board vice president in his personal capacity. "It is not a statement made by the BCCI," he said.

As regards Nikhil Chopra's selection to the Indian team, Muthiah said he was named in the CBI report but he was not indicted. However he was suspended and not yet cleared. The selectors had picked Chopra by mistake and that would be rectified, he said.

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