January 28, 2003

Azharuddin eyes reprieve after Jadeja's ban overturned

NEW DELHI, Jan 28 AFP - Banned former Indian captain Mohammad Azharuddin saw a ray of hope today after teammate Ajay Jadeja was absolved of any wrong-doing in the match-fixing scandal.

The Delhi High Court on Monday overturned a five-year ban imposed on Jadeja by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), saying there was no proof he was guilty.

Azharuddin, who was given a life ban following the match-fixing inquiry by the federal Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), voiced confidence that he too would be absolved by another court where he had challenged the ban.

"He (Azhar) was confident that justice will be meted out to him too," the former captain's lawyer Arun Bharadwaj said.

"The BCCI ban is both illegal and against the principle of natural justice and we will now examine the Delhi High Court order on Jadeja and use it to substantiate our argument in Azharuddin's case."

Azharuddin had filed his appeal in a court in his home town of Hyderabad soon after he, along with Jadeja, Manoj Prabhakar and Ajay Sharma, was suspended in December 2000 by the BCCI.

The CBI in its report claimed that while Jadeja and Prabhakar hobnobbed with alleged bookmakers, there was sufficient proof to nail Azharuddin and Sharma to match-fixing.

Azharuddin's lawyer Bharadwaj expressed the hope that his client would soon be absolved.

"The cases (of Jadeja and Azharuddin) are very similar in nature, the allegations are similar and the BCCI's evidence in both cases is similar and based more on hearsay than anything else," he said.

Azharuddin, India's most successful Test captain and a stylish batsman, had played 99 Tests before he was banned.

Jadeja, meanwhile, said he was delighted at being allowed to do what he did best - playing cricket - after two years.

"Cricket is my life and has given me a lot," said the flamboyant player who turns 32 on Saturday.

"I will play on and hopefully represent India again some day."

Kapil Dev, the legendary all-rounder, said Jadeja still had a few years of cricket left in him.

"In fact, I would say that if the court's decision had come a few months earlier, Jadeja may well have been playing in the World Cup."

The 14-nation tournament is scheduled to begin in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya on February 8.

Regarded as one of India's finest limited-overs cricketers, Jadeja played 196 one-dayers in which he scored 5,359 runs with six centuries and 30 half-centuries.

Jadeja also played 15 Tests, scoring 576 runs averaging 26.18.

His last international engagement was the Asia Cup match against Pakistan in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka in June 2000.

The BCCI, which has the option to appeal against the ruling in the Supreme Court, said it will study the High Court's verdict before taking any decision.