It was a big relief for Sreesanth when Justice A. Muhamed Mustaque of the Kerala high court pronounced his verdict on August 7, 2017, quashing and setting aside the life ban and other punishment imposed on him pursuant to the disciplinary proceedings. But his relief did not last long. Exactly 70 days later, a division bench of the Chief Justice Navniti Prasad Singh restored the life ban imposed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for his alleged role in the Indian Premier League (IPL) spot fixing case of 2013, allowing the appeal filed by its CEO Rahul Johri. The division bench ruled that the court could not conduct a judicial review of the disciplinary action taken by the BCCI, and hence, upheld the appeal.
The BCCI’s ban, which virtually shuts Sreesanth from any sort of engagement with the game of cricket, could effectively be the end of the road for the 34-year-old capricious pace bowler. After the single bench’s order, Sreesanth was very optimistic about bowling again for his state team in the Ranji trophy. But the BCCI had other plans which were clear when his application, after the exoneration by the Delhi trial court, was turned down.
The special court of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999 (MCOCA) in Delhi, while acquitting Sreesanth in July 2015, had come to the following conclusion which might have given him an entire world of relief and confidence:
‘The entire evidence as placed against Jiju Janardhan, Sreesanth and Abhishek Shukla only shows that Sreesanth was approached by Jiju Janardhan to play a fixed over at the behest of Chandresh Patel but the same did not happen and Sreesanth had also refused to play the fixed over. No evidence whatsoever is placed on record to show that they were in communication with or associated with organized crime syndicate and were the abettors of the crimes allegedly being committed by the syndicate’.
At this juncture with the BCCI standing obdurate, Sreesanth tried his luck in some unofficial cricketing activity by taking up the job of a bowling coach of the team Telugu Warriors – a team coached by former national captain Dilip Vengsarkar – in the Celebrity Cricket League, played by film stars. Just before the start of a match in Bengaluru, he was asked by the Karnataka Cricket Association (KCA) officials to clear off from the Chinnaswamy stadium and was not even allowed sit there as a spectator. The incident made him approach the court against the board again, challenging the life ban. Besides, he had an offer to play for the Scottish club Glenrothes this summer, which also needed the nod from the BCCI.
The court had examined several cases from the past relating to sporting events, including that of former India captain Ajay Jadeja against the BCCI, before answering in affirmative the question whether his writ petition was amenable or not. The court, while allowing his writ petition to quash the ban order by the BCCI, had observed that there were no materials or evidence before the disciplinary committee to conclude that Sreesanth was guilty of violating the anti-corruption code formulated by the BCCI. “The disciplinary committee relied on circumstantial evidence. The BCCI ought to have found that there was no circumstantial evidence to indicate that Sreesanth had agreed to sport fixing,” the order said.
The board did not pay heed to the court order but challenged it in the division bench which eventually set aside the order. The BCCI argued that it cannot revoke the disciplinary action against Sreesanth only because he was exonerated by the MCOCA court. The board maintained that the standard and the quality of proof required in a disciplinary proceeding is lesser than that required in any court of law.
The division bench, in its order, said that even the single bench which allowed the writ petition had held Sreesanth guilty as its order read:
“Complacency in the matter on the part of Sreesanth is really condemnable. To uphold the dignity of the game he should have publicly disapproved the conduct of Jiju Janardhanan, especially when his name was dragged into controversy. Anyhow, having suffered ban now almost for four years, nothing further is required in this matter”.
Now, Sreesanth is left with only one option: approaching the Supreme Court. He is desperate and that clearly shows in his responses. His tweets, immediately after the court ordering against him, were furious bouncers directed at the BCCI, in which he even demanded the disclosure of all the 13 names involved in the scandal. He has made it clear that he would not give up the fight and may even think of playing for other countries. Even his Bharatiya Janata Party state committee membership does not prevent him from contemplating this idea. That was quintessential S. Sreesanth for you.
This is the worst decision ever..special rule for me?what about real culprits?What about chennai super kings ? And what about Rajasthan ?
— Sreesanth (@sreesanth36) October 17, 2017
And what about the accused 13 names in Lodha report?? No one wants to know about it?i will keep fighting for my right..God is great 🇮🇳✌🏻💒
— Sreesanth (@sreesanth36) October 17, 2017
The BCCI, on the other hand, is adamant that the life ban imposed on him will stay. It is clear from the appeal that the board will go any lengths for it. There would not be many takers for the theory that the BCCI is hell-bent towards curbing corruption in cricket and is on a mission of cleaning up the game, given that their reputation of defending the incumbency of board rulers is out in open. Their resistance towards any change in status-quo was evident when the Mudgal report and Lodha panel report came before the Supreme Court. Until the intervention of the Supreme Court after the IPL controversy, many of the courts often accepted the board’s defence-by-default that it is not a public body but merely a private society to which normal course of public law is inapplicable. The single bench of Mustaque had considered the issue of jurisdiction to a great extent, referring a string of similar judgments and academic works. It had come to the following conclusion:
“What is important to determine is whether functions discharged by a private body have any impact on the liberty of a human as a commune or such action has any public element, either good or bad. The public element is also identifiable with reference to the source of legislative power under the constitution. If the constitution obliges the state to make law, and the state allows the private body to act as a substitute, the court would be justified in its approach of conceiving a public element in respect of an action to preserve public interest or for the collective benefit of the public.”
It should be noted that even though the BCCI was compelled to take action against two of the franchisees of the IPL, it went rather soft on certain players who have been named by the inquiry committees. They still remain inside a sealed cover, which Sreesanth wants to be open and made public. He cannot be found at fault for believing that there are different sets of rules for different players and for being furious on his twitter.
For the last 12 years, Sreesanth has been living a reel life which had all the ingredients for a wash-board weeper with all its implied political incorrectness. Sound, fury, melodrama, tears, family, love, crime, punishment, politics and what not? He was as loud as a trumpet and never knew the word subtlety.
He announced his arrival, sledging one of the most revered faces of international cricket, none other than Sachin Tendulkar in the 2005 NKP Salve challenger trophy, where he was adjudged the player of the series. Even though he was hit for a boundary in the very next ball after having bad mouthing the ‘God of cricket’ himself, he eventually had the last laugh trapping Tendulkar in front of the wicket, and ‘making’ his way to the national team.
Where ever he went, drama, coupled with a tinge of controversy, followed him. During the South African tour in 2006, he, as a batsman, had a run-in with fast bowler André Nel. Sreesanth did a fervent dance on the pitch to mock the bowler after he hit a straight six. Nel had bowled several body-line fast deliveries just before that. In the same series, he was fined for ‘showing a lack of respect’ towards Hashim Amla after his dismissal. It repeated in England next year, this time when he shoulder butted the English captain Michael Vaughan. In 2007, it was sledging in Australia where he confronted Andrew Symonds. Then came the slap-gate incident when he got one on the face by Harbhajan Singh and was seen crying on the field.Sreesanth has never missed any opportunity to perform, be it a dance number with super stars or being a show stopper on the ramp.
But everything fell apart when he, along with two other players – Ajith Chandila and Ankeet Chawan of his team Rajasthan Royals – were arrested in 2013 for alleged charges of spot-fixing in the IPL tournament. Sreesanth spent 27 days in the Tihar jail before getting bail.
Drama refused to evade him even after the arrest when his fiancée, Bhuvaneswari – whom he married later – hit the headlines for her vow to sleep on the floor of the kitchen till he was let off from jail.
After the acquittal, he joined the BJP and contested Kerala assembly elections from Trivandrum constituency where he polled a record 34,764 votes for the saffron party. He has been inducted into the party’s state committee. Sreesanth, as a performer, did not stop there. He participated in television reality shows and even acted in a couple of movies, without creating much impact.
According to an interview with the Times of India, he concentrated on politics and movies because cricket was taken away from him. But he likes to be remembered as a cricketer who gave his everything on the field.
Even if he manages to get a favourable order from the Supreme Court, the maximum he can dream about is a recall to the Kerala Ranji team. Anything beyond that would be a big ask, given the bench strength the present Indian contingent has and the level of hostility the board has towards him. Age is not on his side either.
Anyhow, it is Decision Review System (DRS) time for Sreesanth, yet a ‘not-out’ call seems highly unlikely to happen.
Rajeev Ramachandran is an independent journalist based in Kochi.