In what has come as a relief to former India fast bowler Sreesanth, the Supreme Court has "set aside" the life ban imposed on him by the BCCI for his alleged role in the 2013 IPL corruption and spot-fixing scandal. The apex court of the country has asked the BCCI to "reconsider" and "revisit" the length of any fresh ban, "preferably" within three months.
Under the BCCI's new constitution (registered in August 2018), all the duties earlier discharged by the disciplinary committee, made up of BCCI officials, will be performed by the ombudsman going forward. Therefore, Sreesanth's fate will now be decided by Justice (retd) DK Jain, recently appointed for the job.
Welcoming the court judgement, Sreesanth said he was positive about returning to the game. "The Supreme Court has given me a lifeline and it has helped me restore my dignity," he said after the court delivered the verdict on Friday. "It's a great opportunity for me to get back on the field."
The case dates back to 2013, when the BCCI disciplinary committee had penalised several players including Sreesanth on the basis of an internal probe conducted by Ravi Sawani, then head of the board's anti-corruption unit. Along with Sreesanth, then with Rajasthan Royals, two of his team-mates - Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila - also received life bans for their alleged role in the spot-fixing scandal.
The BCCI action followed the arrest of Sreesanth and the others 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 the Friday judgment, the court was told that in "exchange" for the sum of INR 10 lakh, Sreesanth had "agreed to concede 14 or more runs in the second over" of his spell. And in order to "confirm the fix", he was "required to place a hand towel in his visible pocket while ensuring there was no such towel during the first over".
That information was extracted from a taped conversation between Jiju Janardhan, Sreesanth's close friend and team-mate at an Ernakulam club, and alleged bookie Chandresh Patel by Delhi Police on May 6, 2013, three days before the match.
Sawani, a former joint director of India's Central Bureau of Investigation, had prepared two reports - a preliminary one (based on the taped conversations mentioned above), and a supplementary one, which was prepared after questioning Sreesanth in person and taking a written undertaking from the player.
Based on Sawani's findings, the BCCI disciplinary panel, comprising then president N Srinivasan along with the two vice-presidents, Arun Jaitley and Niranjan Shah, held Sreesanth guilty of "match-fixing and non-reporting of offences" under the BCCI' anti-corruption code.
The Supreme Court was hearing the matter because earlier this year, Sreesanth had challenged last August's order of the division bench of the Kerala High Court, which had negated a judgment issued by the same court asking the board to lift the ban. The two-judge division bench had ruled that the BCCI ban could not be overturned or reduced.
Sreesanth's lawyer Salman Khurshid, a former Indian minister of external affairs, plead his case in the latest instance, and said that the BCCI had not followed the laws of natural justice while determining the sanction, and pointed out that a life ban was "excessive and maximum". Khurshid argued that Sreesanth should have been penalised with a five-year ban at the most for not reporting the approach made by bookies, an offence under the BCCI's code of conduct.
In its judgement, the court concluded that BCCI had "not violated" any principles of natural justice while determining the sanction. However, the court did point out an anomaly in the BCCI verdict, that the disciplinary committee did not "advert to the aggravating and mitigating factors" as listed under its code.
"Without considering the relevant provisions of Anti-Corruption Code, the disciplinary committee has imposed a lifetime ban on the appellant [Sreesanth] which sanction cannot be held to be in accordance with the Anti-Corruption Code itself," the court said in the 73-page judgement. "When range of ineligibility which is minimum five years, maximum life time ban is provided for, the discretion to which, either minimum or maximum or in between has to be exercised on relevant facts and circumstances."
The court also said that Sreesanth had conducted himself with dignity by not immediately challenging the original ban. Keeping that in mind, the court said the BCCI ought to review its original sanction on the player.
"The order dated 13.09.2013 of the disciplinary committee only to the extent of imposing sanction of lifetime ban is set aside. The disciplinary committee of the BCCI may reconsider the quantum of punishment/sanction which may be imposed on the appellant as per Article 6 of the Anti-Corruption Code. The appellant may be given one opportunity to have his say on the question of quantum of punishment/sanction."
Nagraj Gollapudi is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo