Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo
Sreesanth, the one-time India fast bowler, can finally breathe a little easy after the BCCI ombudsman Justice (retd) DK Jain reduced his IPL 2013 spot-fixing ban to seven years, the sanction period now ending on September 13, 2020. This comes five months after the Supreme Court of India "set aside" the BCCI ban - originally for life - and asked the board to "reconsider" and "revisit" the length of any fresh ban, preferably within three months.
The sanction has been imposed retrospectively from September 13, 2013, when Sreesanth was slapped with the life ban by the BCCI's disciplinary committee. He was then found guilty of breaching the code of conduct for his alleged role in the IPL corruption and spot-fixing scandal that year.
The BCCI's decision had followed the arrest of Sreesanth and two other Rajasthan Royals players by Delhi Police for alleged promises made to bookmakers during the 2013 IPL. The charges against Sreesanth pertained to the match against Kings XI Punjab, played on May 9 in Mohali, that Royals won by eight wickets. The disciplinary committee charged Sreesanth guilty of corruption, betting, bringing the game into disrepute and not informing the board's anti-corruption unit of being approached by bookies.
However, the Supreme Court pointed out the three-member disciplinary committee - comprising then BCCI president N Srinivasan and two vice-presidents Arun Jaitley and Niranjan Shah - had not considered the relevant provisions of the code before arriving at the length of the ban which ranges from a minimum of five years to a maximum of a life ban. The court said the BCCI disciplinary committee did not "advert to the aggravating and mitigating factors" listed under its code.
Consequently, the court asked the BCCI to set aside the life ban and review the "quantum of punishment/sanction" to be imposed on Sreesanth. That decision was left to the BCCI's ombudsman in the absence of a disciplinary committee which can only be formed post the board's elections.
Before arriving at his decision, Justice Jain heard both Sreesanth and BCCI, both of whom were represented by their lawyers. Sreesanth's legal counsel, Krishna Mohan K Menon, said that his client's conduct was fair throughout the inquiry conducted by then BCCI Anti-Corruption Unit head Ravi Sawani with the bowler not contesting any offence alleged against him and cooperating fully.
Menon said Sreesanth, who was 30 in 2013, had no knowledge of the "bookie nexus operating behind the scenes" during the IPL. Menon also said the alleged incident did not have any impact on the result of the IPL match which Royals, Sreesanth's team, won "comfortably". Menon added the spot-fixing scandal itself had no material or commercial impact on the tournament in 2013. According to him, Sreesanth had "maintained good conduct" throughout his playing career and was a committed family man and a philanthropist.
Menon also told the BCCI ombudsman that while determining the sanctions, he ought not to consider Sreesanth's "biological life" but his "sport life". Menon explained that Sreesanth, who is currently 36, has "only 3 years of active sporting life" and hence the ombudsman should consider all these factors.
"It was thus, pleaded by the Ld. Counsel that having regard to all these factors, Mr. Sreesanth has already suffered sufficient punishment for the alleged offences and therefore, he does not deserve further sanctions," Justice Jain noted in his order.
In response, the BCCI argued that a life ban was just for Sreesanth for the various aggravating factors. Among those listed were: the player showed no "remorse" at any point during the investigation process, that he had been "infamous for his uncontrolled presentation of negative temperament in the form of anger, frustration and scuffles on field" with other players, that he was mature enough to understand the consequences of his offence, that there was material evidence he had received a sum of INR 10 lakh "in lieu of the offence committed".
"The award of sentence, less than a life ban in a clear case of match fixing, can clearly impact public confidence in the game of cricket," the BCCI is credited as saying in the order.
The board argued that the disciplinary committee was "merely" required to determine, after considering all the relevant factors, whether they aggravated or mitigated the offence. The quantum of punishment, the BCCI said, was a matter of discretion of the panel.
Justice Jain agreed with the BCCI's zero-tolerance approach towards corruption and any offence committed under its code could not be "ignored" and "dealt with leniently." However, he pointed out that the zero-tolerance approach "cannot dilute consideration of the relevant factors" while imposing sanctions.
Justice Jain concluded that he had found a "few mitigating circumstances" under the BCCI's code as pointed out by Sreesanth. "Although the BCCI has referred to his erratic behaviour, both on and off the field, with fellow players, but nothing has been brought on record by the BCCI to show that any sanction was imposed on him in the past. On the contrary, he was regularly participating in the national and international matches. In the report of the Commissioner there is no allegation that Mr. Sreesanth did not co-operate in the Inquiry.
"Additionally, the BCCI has not been able to controvert the specific plea of Mr. Sreesanth that the offences allegedly committed by him did not substantially damage the commercial value of the IPL matches, or even the final result of the subject match. I am, therefore, convinced that mitigating circumstances are attracted in the instant case."
According to Justice Jain, Sreesanth's "prime years," especially as a fast bowler, were nearly over. He had already served six years of the ban, which has barred him from playing any form of cricket both in India and overseas.
"Bearing in mind, all these factors, I am of the view that banning Mr. Sreesanth from participating in any kind of commercial Cricket or from associating with any activities of the BCCI or its affiliates, for a period of seven years with effect from 13.09.2013, i.e. the date from which, the period of ban imposed by the Disciplinary Committee had commenced, will meet the ends of justice."