Not the first time BCCI facing irate Supreme Court

The fat’s well and truly on the fire. The two-judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Justice AK Patnaik and Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla, has caught the imagination of the cricket fan by taking Board of Control for Cricket in India to task in the matter of its investigation into the IPL betting scandal.

In the span of three days, Justice Patnaik has asked such tough questions of the Board and given it the kind of directions that the Board President N Srinivasan and his advisers, legal and otherwise, would not have imagined when BCCI filed a Special Leave Petition against an order of the Bombay High Court.

From suggesting that Srinivasan step aside as Board chief to ensure a fair investigation – “It is nauseating,” Justice Patnaik said of his unwillingness to move over – to asking if the report of the Board’s own probe by Justice Jayaram Chouta and Justice R Balasubramaniam was managed, the Supreme Court has been to the point.

And what’s more, on Thursday, the Supreme Court suggested that Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals be suspended from IPL. If Srinivasan and his advisers had visualised such a turn of events, they may have accepted the Bombay High Court order and instituted another probe panel.

Barely a few months away from retirement, Justice Patnaik has already become a hero for many cricket fans. He will join the likes of former Chief Justice of India ES Venkataramiah and Justice KN Singh who reduced the BCCI to its knees back in a sensational fortnight in September 1989.

I was still in college when the then cricket establishment was so shaken by a Supreme Court that it hurriedly overturned a controversial decision by its Disciplinary Committee to punish a dozen cricketers for turning out in a three-match series with the West Indies and Pakistan in the US and Canada without the BCCI’s permission.

The Board banned India skipper Dilip Vengsarkar, Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri, Mohammed Azharuddin, Kiran More and Arun Lal banned for a year and imposed a fine of Rs 35,000 each while Sanjay Manjrekar, Robin Singh, M Venkataramana, Narendra Hirwani, Sanjeev Sharma and Ajay Sharma were fined Rs.50,000 each.

A former DelhiUniversity captain Vineet Kumar filed a PIL before the Supreme Court, challenging the Board’s decision. The Board could afford to ignore former India hockey captain Aslam Sher Khan’s comment that nobody should treat sportsmen like tawaifs (nautch girls).

But after the renowned Soli Sorabjee, appearing as Vineet Kumar’s advocate, called the ban ‘savage’, the judges, including the then Chief Justice of India, ES Venkataramiah waded into the Board, though the political sorts within BCCI tried their best to justify its decision as necessary to prevent indiscipline.

Chief Justice Venkataramiah said the Board would be doing itself harm by claiming that it was a private body. And when the Board said it had the authority to administer the game, Justice KN Singh asked that caustic question: “Who gave you that authority?”

An ultimatum from the Court to lift the ban inside a week – and the fact that the Court was poised to wade deeper into the Board’s functioning – saw BCCI beat a hasty retreat and revoke the ban. Four days before the Court resumed hearing the case, the Board called the players for lunch, kissed and made up.

Not much was heard of that case in court, thereafter.

It can only be hoped that this time around the Supreme Court will hear this case to its logical conclusion and not let it be stopped after passing an interim order on Friday. It must also be hoped that the cricketers are not made to pay a price for the self-defeating machinations of some individuals.