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October 20, 2006
Azharuddin was banned from the game for life by the Indian board (BCCI) in 2000 after a federal inquiry found him guilty of match-fixing. He denied the charges and is awaiting judgement on a suit filed by him in a court in his home city of Hyderabad challenging the ban.
It is believed that the new BCCI leadership is convinced Azharuddin has served enough punishment and deserves to be pardoned. An indication of his possible return to favour came when it was revealed he had been invited to a function in Mumbai on November 4 to honour him and other Indian captains for their services to the game.
The ICC, which has adopted a strict zero-tolerance policy towards anyone found guilty of match-fixing, is far from happy with the news and is thought be be considering boycotting the event if Azharuddin attends.
In a statement unlikely to make him many friends in Dubai, Ratnakar Shetty, the board's chief administrative officer, said that Azharuddin "had undergone enough punishment and he should be allowed to lead his life like cricketers who had faced similar charge in other countries but are going about as if they had done no wrong."
He then said that there was a feeling among the current board that while the punishment handed out might have been correct, it "was a knee-jerk reaction". He continued: "In retrospect, they feel the board had been too harsh on its players considering the way the other boards went about protecting the guilty."
The Indian board are understood to be riled that other players who were implicated in the scandal continue to play, but Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, warned that "we need to be careful when we compare cases with cases ... it was alleged and proved that Azharuddin was actively involved in match-fixing."
But that cut no ice with Shetty. "Azhar should not be compared with those who got away with murder, people who continued to play after serving a token punishment. One is being persecuted and condemned for life while others strut about as paragons of virtues."
The ICC are taking this seriously. Yesterday, it issued a statement detailing the process for a banned player to be reinstated. But at 43, Azharuddin is not likely to make a comeback and so his rehabilitation into the cricket world does not actually need any official approval.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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