All’s still not well

S. Sreesanth... hoping for a return to international cricket.-THULASI KAKKAT

If the Board is convinced of the measures initiated by its disciplinary committee, the only option that the players have is to pray for a change of heart among the top mandarins, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

More than two years after S. Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila got embroiled in the spot-fixing controversy that tainted the Indian Premier League in 2013, the trio, at least legally, may have heaved a sigh of relief.

The Rajasthan Royals trio was cleared of all charges by a trial court in Delhi and just as the players seemed set to let their hopes soar about indulging in cricket all over again, the BCCI quickly stepped in with a terse press release: “Any disciplinary proceeding or decision taken by the BCCI is independent to any criminal proceeding and has no bearing. The decisions of the BCCI, based on its independent disciplinary action, shall remain unaltered.”

It may be recalled that the BCCI had banned Sreesanth and Chavan and cold-shouldered Chandila, pending enquiry by its disciplinary committee, after their alleged involvement in the spot-fixing fiasco.

If the Board is convinced of the measures initiated by its disciplinary committee, the only option that the players have is to pray for a change of heart among the top mandarins. Seeking redressal from courts to overturn the ban may be laborious and time-consuming and hence the placatory noises made by Sreesanth and company.

There have been cases in the past, most notably Ajay Jadeja, who found favour with a division bench of the Delhi High Court that allowed him to play domestic cricket, just as he was emerging from a five-year ban following match-fixing allegations that surfaced against him and Mohammad Azharuddin in 2000. Azharuddin, banned from cricket for life, too, found relief from the courts but by then his wristy days of cricket were well past him.

Ankeet Chavan (left) and Ajit Chandila... will the smiles be back?-R. V. MOORTHY

The most startling story among the three is that of Sreesanth’s. Touted as a fine talent, the Kerala speedster suffered a classic case of white-line fever. Catch him outside the ground and he was this soft-spoken individual, talking about cricket, music and even about the Sree Krishna Temple in Guruvayur. Unleash him into the ground and he was this snarling star, working up anger in both rivals and within the home side. This correspondent once saw M. S. Dhoni ticking off Sreesanth in between overs when the television audience were perhaps lapping up a soft drink commercial.

He did not have many supporters within the team but still clung on as his talent was never in doubt and a former India captain said: “He had it in him to get 300 Test wickets until he blew it up.” Sreesanth has 87 wickets from 27 matches and at 32 years of age, unless there is a dramatic change in his fortunes that will entirely hinge upon the BCCI turning a benign gaze and allowing him a comeback into domestic cricket, the prospects of him increasing that tally looks, at least for now, grim.

Sreesanth has been screaming from rooftops about his innocence but the BCCI and renowned players may have their own viewpoints. The man, who once bowled a scorching bouncer and scalped the great Jacques Kallis, is now torn between his desire to play the game or find succour as an actor or a reality-show hero. His road to redemption will hinge on many intangibles. One would be the way he is seen by his former team-mates. The tale of crossing the line off the field has had many episodes. Once in a domestic tournament in Goa, the Kerala coach wasn’t aware of Sreesanth’s availability. He has thrown tantrums in a star hotel in Bengaluru and had to relocate. There was this story of a party that went awry in an upmarket apartment in the city. Yet, all those transgressions were glossed over as he could bowl at a lively pace and could, on his day, make the ball talk. A facet that impressed Rahul Dravid and the same skipper felt let down when news about the alleged spot-fixing broke across the newswires.

Spot-fixing often slips through the legal mesh especially in India and the court’s dismissal of the cases against Sreesanth and others, were pivoted on one point — the lack of enough substantive and incriminating evidence. However, the BCCI is free to stress upon the probability of these players erring on the wrong side of greed and becoming pawns in spot-fixing. The court may have gone by the cold details of facts or the absence of it but with the Board and many members of the cricketing fraternity, Sreesanth, Chavan and Chandila need to regain their lost trust. That could be the toughest climb for all three.

If Sreesanth could bust the odds, tear apart the perception-problems that shadow him and win back the confidence from his peers, he might have a faint chance of donning cricketing whites. But for now, the path still remains dark and he remains a cautionary tale for aspiring cricketers. When faith is torn asunder, the return is arduous even if the courts clear a few decks!