New Delhi – The Supreme Court installed batting legend Sunil Gavaskar as the interim head of India's troubled cricket board Friday after forcing the scandal-tainted incumbent N. Srinivasan from office.
Three days after warning Srinivasan they would order him to stand down if he tried to cling to power, a panel of judges announced that 64-year-old Gavaskar would take the helm of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Gavaskar would be made “interim working president” of the BCCI, said the court, an appointment which places him in charge of the upcoming edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The Twenty20 competition has been embroiled in allegations of illegal betting and spot-fixing, including against Srinivasan's son-in-law.
However it was not immediately clear if Gavaskar would stay on beyond the tournament which begins next month, with a lawyer for the BCCI saying only a current board member could take over on a permanent basis.
There was no immediate reaction from Gavaskar to Friday's announcement but he has already indicated his willingness to take on the task of leading the most powerful body in world cricket.
A lawyer for the board meanwhile said the BCCI “fully endorse(d) the order passed by the Supreme Court today”, saying it was in line with its own proposals to the judges.
In its announcement, the court also said that the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals – the teams at the centre of allegations of illegal betting and spot-fixing in last year's competition – would be allowed to take part in this year's IPL.
The same panel of judges said Thursday that both sides should be barred from the eight-team tournament which starts in Abu Dhabi next month.
The U-turn will be a huge relief to the board, with The Times of India estimating the total loss resulting from the teams' suspension could have been as much as $1.5 billion.
“It would have affected the tournament as well as millions of cricket-loving public,” C. A. Sundaram, one of the board's lawyers, told reporters after the hearing.
“We are very happy that the court has not passed any order that would have interrupted the tournament.”
While there was no immediate reaction from Srinivasan, Sundaram reiterated he had been willing to “stand aside” during the investigations.
The judges were seemingly unimpressed by Srinivasan's offer, aware that he stood aside last year before resuming his duties and then winning re-election.
On Tuesday, the judges had said Srinivasan's presence as head of the organisation was preventing a fair probe into the allegations, calling his refusal to quit “nauseating”.
The panel is looking at a damning report it commissioned into wrongdoing in last year's IPL when former Test bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth was caught deliberately bowling badly while playing for the Rajasthan Royals in return for thousands of dollars from bookmakers.
Released in February, the report also concluded that Srinivasan's son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan – who was the team principal of the Chennai Super Kings – could be guilty of illegal betting on IPL games.
The Super Kings are owned by India Cements, whose managing director is Srinivasan. The team are captained by India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Srinivasan had been seen as the most powerful man in world cricket and is still due to take over in July as head of the International Cricket Council.
But Aditya Verma of the Cricket Association of Bihar, the body which had petitioned the court for Srinivasan's removal, said his exit would draw a line under a troubled period.
“This is a first step towards cleaning up the game. Srinivasan had virtually hijacked the board,” Verma told AFP outside the court.
The court said Gavaskar would have to cease his television work to avoid any conflict of interest in his new role, adding the BCCI must “adequately compensate” him for loss of earnings.
Gavaskar, the first batsman to score 10,000 Test runs, has carved out a career as a commentator and sometimes spiky columnist in recent years. He has regularly called for India coach Duncan Fletcher to be sacked.
This year's IPL begins on April 16, with the opening round of matches shifted to the Gulf while India holds elections.
With its massive TV audiences, India generates almost 70 percent of the game's revenues and several Test nations are heavily dependent on its largesse.
International news organisations, including Agence France-Presse (AFP), have suspended their on-field coverage of matches hosted by the BCCI since 2012 after the board imposed restrictions on picture agencies. – Sapa-AFP