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'Life ban lifted feels like a lifeline for me' - Sreesanth

S Sreesanth looked at his optimistic best after the Supreme Court relieved him from the life ban imposed by the Board of Control For Cricket in India (BCCI) for his alleged involvement in the 2013 Indian Premier League (IPL) spot-fixing scandal. The 36-year-old pacer compared himself Indian tennis ace Leander Paes saying, "If Leander Paes can win Grand Slams at 42, I can at least play some cricket at 36."

Sreesanth, along with Mumbai spinner Ankit Chavan and Haryana's Ajit Chandila, were suspended for life by a BCCI disciplinary committee in 2013, a decision that the player had challenged in court. Speaking to reporters after a favourable verdict by the apex court, a relieved Sreesanth said: "I don't know what life has in store for me after all these years. Its six years and I haven't played cricket, which was my life. "I hope that the BCCI respects the verdict of the country's highest court and allows me to at least get back to the cricket field. I hope that at least now I can walk to a school cricket ground and train there without being told that I am not allowed. I just want to play whatever cricket I can," said Sreesanth, who has been a part of the 2007 World T20 and 2011 ODI World Cup winning squads.

But age is not something that he feels will be a factor in trying to make a comeback to competitive cricket. Sreesanth has represented his national team in 27 Tests, 53 ODIs and 10 T20Is, respectively.

The apex court of the country has asked the BCCI to "reconsider" and "revisit" the length of any fresh ban, "preferably" within three months. Under the BCCI's new constitution (registered in August 2018), all the duties earlier discharged by the disciplinary committee, made up of BCCI officials, will be performed by the ombudsman going forward. Therefore, Sreesanth's fate will now be decided by Justice (retd) DK Jain, recently appointed for the job. The BCCI action followed the arrest of Sreesanth and the others by Delhi Police for alleged promises made to bookmakers during the 2013 IPL. The charges against Sreesanth pertained to the match against Kings XI Punjab, played on May 9.

In the judgment, the court was told that in "exchange" for the sum of INR 10 lakh, Sreesanth had "agreed to concede 14 or more runs in the second over" of his spell. And in order to "confirm the fix", he was "required to place a hand towel in his visible pocket while ensuring there was no such towel during the first over". That information was extracted from a taped conversation between Jiju Janardhan, Sreesanth's close friend and team-mate at an Ernakulam club, and alleged bookie Chandresh Patel by Delhi Police on May 6, 2013, three days before the match. The Supreme Court was hearing the matter because earlier this year, Sreesanth had challenged last August's order of the division bench of the Kerala High Court, which had negated a judgment issued by the same court asking the board to lift the ban.

Sreesanth's lawyer Salman Khurshid, a former Indian minister of external affairs, plead his case in the latest instance, and said that the BCCI had not followed the laws of natural justice while determining the sanction, and pointed out that a life ban was "excessive and maximum". Khurshid argued that Sreesanth should have been penalised with a five-year ban at the most for not reporting the approach made by bookies, an offence under the BCCI's code of conduct.

In its judgement, the court concluded that BCCI had "not violated" any principles of natural justice while determining the sanction. However, the court did point out an anomaly in the BCCI verdict, that the disciplinary committee did not "advert to the aggravating and mitigating factors" as listed under its code.

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