The cricket fraternity is divided over the selection of former Test all-rounder Ravi Shastri and ex-Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court Jai Narain Patel in a three-man panel that the Board of Control for Cricket in India is set to propose to the Supreme Court on Tuesday. The court had last week directed the Board to recommend a committee that could independently investigate the 2013 Indian Premier League spot-fixing and betting scandal. Thirteen names, including that of suspended BCCI president N. Srinivasan, figure in an inquiry committee report submitted to the apex court.
Under pressure from a section of the Board, the BCCI held an emergency working committee meeting in Mumbai on Sunday afternoon. The fact that it took almost three hours to decide three names indicates that the proceedings were quite acrimonious. Apart from Shastri and Justice Patel, former Central Bureau of Investigation head RK Raghavan's name also figures on the list. Interestingly, the BCCI did not officially disclose the list, saying its lawyers will present it to the apex court on Tuesday.
BCCI's list has already run into heavy weather with two former BCCI presidents slamming the choice of the panelists. Former BCCI president Shashank Manohar opposed Shastri's inclusion, saying he was a paid employee of the Board and was on more than two important IPL committees. Shastri, who is commentating in the ongoing IPL in UAE, is known to be close to Srinivasan. Manohar, who represented Vidarbha Cricket Association, said the former Test all-rounder's choice was thus a clear case of conflict of interest.
Shastri himself is surprised that his name was considered. In an interview to Mid-day.com, Shastri said: "I really don't know what my exact role will be. I am surprised that the learned BCCI members proposed my name. I really don't know who will ask me not to do commentary. That's why I need to talk to the BCCI in order to make my future plans."
Former Indian Test players Venkatesh Prasad and Ajit Agarkar told NDTV that Shastri was good enough to be on the BCCI panel. "Ravi (Shastri) is sincere and outspoken. There should not be any issue in having him probe the IPL scam," said Prasad. Former Aussie Test star Dean Jones told NDTV: "Ravi is a honest, hardworking guy. There is no conflict in interest. The Supreme Court has got what it wanted. Now let's wait and see."
Board insiders say Manohar proposed the name of former CPM MP and noted lawyer Somnath Chatterjee. It was shot down. Manohar and BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel had a slanging match over Shastri but Patel prevailed because Manohar was badly outnumbered. Manohar objected to Raghavan's name as well but the former CBI boss 'won' on votes. Raghavan, who headed the CBI during the match-fixing inquiry in 2000, was one of the 52 people who deposed before the Justice Mukul Mudgal committee.
On Monday evening, former BCCI president Sharad Pawar echoed Manohar's sentiments and went a step further. Pawar objected to Justice Patel's selection saying he had family relationship with Board vice-president and currently, interim BCCI joint-head, Shivlal Yadav. It was yet another case of conflict of interest, said Pawar.
"Somebody rang me up from Andhra Pradesh this morning, saying the BCCI's interim president Shivlal Yadav and Patel are close relatives. Brother-in-law or something like that. I don't know. If the news is correct, then the people will judge. Generally, I have seen many times (that) a judge, if there is some lawyer who is close to him is there, will immediately recuse himself from the case," Pawar said.
There will be pressure on the Supreme Court from the petitioner's counsel to order a CBI or NIA probe into the IPL scam. Whether the two-judge bench of Justice AK Patnaik and Ibrahim Kalifullah will be impressed with BCCI's panel is anybody's guess. Last week, the Supreme Court indicated that it wanted to protect the BCCI's "autonomy" by ordering an independent probe. But at the same time the judges added: "If compelled, they may even hand it over to the CBI."
This is clearly turning out to be a humdinger.