Gautam Gambhir has criticised the Cricket Association of Bengal's decision to invite former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin to ring the bell at Eden Gardens before the start of the first T20I between India and West Indies on Sunday. Azharuddin was banned for life by BCCI in 2000 for his role in the match-fixing scandal and soon after that Sourav Ganguly, now the CAB president, was made India captain.
Azharuddin, who played 99 Test matches, has always insisted he was innocent and, in 2012, a division bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court called the BCCI life ban illegal. He attempted last year to contest elections to the Hyderabad Cricket Association, but his nomination was rejected on technical grounds.
Regardless of the controversy around him, Azharuddin has retained a place in India's cricketing fraternity and has even conducted camps for youngsters around the country. Before ringing the bell on Sunday, he was part of the Jagmohan Dalmiya Conclave, a series of programmes conducted by the CAB in memory of the former BCCI president.
Gambhir became the first player to voice opposition against Azharuddin being brought back into cricketing activities.
"India may have won today at Eden but I am sorry @bcci, CoA &CAB lost," Gambhir tweeted on Sunday night. "Looks like the No Tolerance Policy against Corrupt takes a leave on Sundays! I know he was allowed to contest HCA polls but then this is shocking….The bell is ringing, hope the powers that be are listening,"
Commentator and former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar also made an indirect reference to the issue, referring to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) report on the fixing case. "Guess the time has come for all of us to reacquaint ourselves with one of the most crucial documents on Indian cricket," Manjrekar tweeted, along with a link to the report.
Azharuddin rang the Eden Gardens bell a week after Ganguly revealed his "deep sense of fear and worry" at how Indian cricket was being run by the current administration led by the Committee of Administrators (CoA). Ganguly was part of a core group of players also including Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman that is widely seen to have helped repair Indian cricket after the fixing scandal hit it with full force in 2000. Ganguly is now seen as a future BCCI president.
Several big names were implicated in the 2000 fixing scandal, including former South Africa captain Hansie Cronje. The case was handled by India's CBI, which concluded that Azharuddin was involved in match-fixing.
In its report, the CBI said: "The evidence against Azharuddin … clearly establishes the fact that he took money from bookies/punters to fix cricket matches and also the fact that the 'underworld' had approached him to fix matches for them."
Azharuddin, in his statement to the CBI, had admitted to receiving money from the bookie Mukesh Gupta to fix some matches, but has stated that he "did" only two matches for him - an admission the CBI called "a dilution of the actual facts".
The government then forwarded those findings to the BCCI, which appointed former CBI joint director K Madhavan as the inquiry commissioner. Madhavan's inquiry found Azharuddin guilty and the BCCI banned him for life. The BCCI also imposed life bans on former Delhi and India batsman Ajay Sharma and Indian team physiotherapist Ali Irani, and five-year bans on batsman Ajay Jadeja and allrounder Manoj Prabhakar.
In his appeal to the High Court, Azharuddin challenged Madhavan's appointment, saying the BCCI rules did not have any provision for an inquiry commissioner and so any conclusion reached by the commissioner should be invalid. In 2012, the Court upheld Azharuddin's appeal on the technicality relating to the appointment of inquiry commissioner.
Azharuddin then approached the BCCI for a revocation of the life ban, but the ban has never been formally revoked. ESPNcricinfo understands that the BCCI was on the verge of challenging the court's order, but turned its focus towards the IPL corruption scandal that broke in 2013, and has since not pursued the case. The matter came before the CoA last year, but it left the decision to the BCCI's general body.
No one at CAB, neither Ganguly or the secretary Avishek Dalmiya, were available for comment in response to Gambhir's tweet. It is also understood that the CoA will not interfere in the matter, as it was the CAB that had invited Azharuddin.
Nagraj Gollapudi is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo