When the Supreme Court named one of the game's greatest opening batsmen Sunil Gavaskar as interim head of the Indian cricket board we wondered why it did not think of Justice Mukul Mudgal, who presided over the three-member committee that probed alleged betting and spot-fixing in the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) last year.
With Mudgal as its stop-gap head, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) could have easily constituted a panel to further investigate the role of sidelined board chief Narayanaswamy Srinivasan and 12 cricketers whose names cropped up in the report submitted to the apex court after an initial inquiry.
Now that the Supreme Court has gone back to Mudgal, ignoring the three-member committee set up by the board, it is going to be another long drawn-out battle before Srinivasan's fate is decided.
One thing is for sure, by the time the probe is completed, Srinivasan's tenure as board president would have come to an end in September and unless he gets a clean chit, his dream of perpetuating inter alia his control over the world's richest cricket body and his coronation as chairman of the International Cricket Council will be shattered.
When the court takes up the matter on Tuesday, it has to decide on the shape of the Mudgal committee, importantly whether to retain Niloy Roy, who is a member of the board's finance committee from Assam and who had submitted his report separately to the court, not wanting to be part of the majority report of Mudgal and Additional Solicitor General Lavu Nageswara Rao.
The empowered Mudgal Committee can commandeer the services of personnel from central and state investigative agencies to widen the probe to get to the bottom of the unverified charges against Srinivasan and the cricketers whose names it submitted in a separate envelope to the Supreme Court.
The committee will now have the legal sanction to go into all the issues raised by former presidents of the board, whom Srinivasan called inimical towards him, when they met the committee and also by the dethroned IPL chairman-commissioner Lalit Modi, who has been crying hoarse sitting in London, on the omissions and commissions of the board and the IPL under Srinivasan's dispensation.
The board, which stood up to the government move to bring it to heel, has now been compelled to bow before the Supreme Court. The court gave it a chance to preserve its institutional autonomy by instituting an internal probe on the unsavoury happenings in the IPL. It frittered away the opportunity by not constituting an independent probe committee and coming up with a panel of which every member had a conflicting interest, even though at face value, there cannot be any objection to retired high court chief justice Jai Narayan Patel, former CBI chief R.K. Raghavan and former India all-rounder Ravi Shastri.
Questions were still raised. Patel was found to be related to the acting board president Shivlal Yadav, Raghavan turned out to be an office-bearer of an affiliated club of Srinivasan-presided Tamil Nadu Cricket Association and Shastri a paid employee of the board for years, even if he has a certificate for his uprightness from fellow cricketers.
The board, by inference, conveyed to the court that it was split in naming the panel and that the names were decided in a vote. The court did not go into the merits of the board panel when it took up the matter on April 23 and straightaway asked senior advocate Gopal Subramanium to ascertain the Mudgal committee's willingness to undertake the probe and inform it Tuesday. The retired chief justice of the Punjab Haryana High Court quickly agreed.
When the board lawyer tried to argue that it should be allowed to carry out its own probe, saying that none of its officials has been indicted by the Mudgal panel, it cut no ice with the two-member bench of Justices Ananga Kumar Patnaik and Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla.
One good thing is the Supreme Court has given the board members spine to stand up to Srinivasan. The worm has turned and some members have started asking questions as to how Srinivasan was allowed to amend the constitution destroy the board's time-tested rotation policy of a two-year term for the president plus an extra year on the basis of his performance.
People like Shashank Manohar, Jagmohan Dalmiya and Arun Jaitley and other politicians in the board will have a lot to answer for acquiescing with Srinivasan in tinkering with the board's constitution, which now will allow him to carry on as president as long as he could muster a majority in the 31-member general body and every zone proposes his name by rotation!
When a member confronted the khalifas in the board as to why did they stoop when they should have been stopping Srinivasan from playing havoc with the board's statute book, they sheepishly believed to have admitted that they kept quiet seeing the mood of the house. Or was it that each one of them is also entertaining hopes of returning to the helm? There is already a group clamouring for the return of Manohar, another is rooting for Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar (the president of the Mumbai Cricket Association) and then there is that eternal optimist Dalmiya waiting to be a compromise candidate. Then there is that new group, comprising BJP stalwarts that will open its cards after the general glection.
The board's sanctity must be restored first by returning to the fixed tenure system so that tyrants are kept in check and genuine cricket administrators and renowned cricketers get to occupy the principal positions. A clear picture is likely to emerge after the results of the general election are out May 16 and the new equations come into effect. But before that, Mudgal, with his sweeping powers, should set the house in order.