India news February 19, 2009

Azhar joins Congress party

Cricinfo staff

Mohammad Azharuddin at the Congress party headquarters in New Delhi © AFP

Mohammad Azharuddin, the former India captain who ended his international career in disgrace after being implicated in the match-fixing scandal, has joined the Congress party. The Congress, which is part of the incumbent national government, is yet to confirm whether Azhar will contest the parliamentary elections in April-May.

"I have known him for 25 years," Veerappa Moily, a party spokesman, said. "And when he expressed a wish to join the Congress I took up this matter with the party president [Sonia Gandhi], who has agreed to admit him."

Moily said the issue of his standing for elections would be discussed later. Azhar, from Hyderabad, could play a key role in campaigning in his home state of Andhra Pradesh, which will elect members of its state legislative assembly in polls to be conducted simultaneously with the parliamentary elections.

"I am not the captain here, just a player, and will do anything the party asks me to do," Azhar said. "The Congress has done so much for the country since the freedom movement. I wanted to give something back to the nation and the best way was to serve the people. I know I am capable of helping the party and the nation. I will do my best."

Azhar was handed a life ban by the BCCI in 2000 following the match-fixing inquiry by India's Central Bureau of Investigation. He had appealed against the ban in the courts but no verdict has been delivered in the case yet. He captained India in three World Cups during the 1990s and played 99 Tests and 334 ODIs during a 16-year international career.

Moily said the Congress was not worried about Azharuddin's tainted past. "There is no criminal case against Azhar," he said. "If there is a case at all, then it is between the BCCI and him, which has been filed by Azhar himself against the ban. He served Indian cricket for 16 years with distinction and was one of the best captains."