Since he assumed office of Hyderabad Cricket Association, many believe that since former Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin was chosen the association’s president, corruption and poor management have damaged not just the HCA’s reputation but also the calibre of cricket.

On February 14, the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) Mohammed Azharuddin, who has been under fire for the organization’s management, sustained yet another blow. The HCA “mess” needs to be cleaned up, and the Supreme Court nominated retired SC judge Justice L Nageswara Rao to lead a single-member commission in charge of overseeing the smooth conduct of elections. Although Azhar, as Azharuddin is known in the public, was not named, the appointment is a setback for the former India captain who is most likely to run for re-election.

The Azhar-led committee’s term legally came to an end in September, but because no elections were held, the body carried on. With this SC’s decision, Azhar’s contentious term as HCA president has also officially ended.

“We believe that the deadlock must be broken so that a free election can be held. The single-member committee to sort out this problem should be led by Justice Nageswara Rao, a retired judge from this court, according to the SC bench.

In September 2022, the Supreme Court appointed a four-member Supervisory Committee to manage and supervise the affairs of the HCA. The committee submitted a progress report to the SC in January 2023 with some damning observations. This had already put the HCA and Azhar on the backfoot. Importantly, the observations came in the backdrop of Azhar’s detractors squarely blaming him for the mounting mess in the association.

A copy of the report, which #KhabarLive is in possession of, alleged irregularities in the memberships of the HCA and the electoral rolls drawn in 2019 by the Election Officer. Interestingly, hinting at a disagreement, the report submitted by the committee was not signed by its chairman, Justice (Retd) NA Kakru. The other three members of the committee were IPS officer Anjani Kumar, and former cricketers SL Venkatapathi Raju and Vanka Pratap.

The progress report submitted by the committee concluded, “The memberships in HCA are ridden with irregularities and fraud, and the record is deliberately not maintained to escape accountability. Even after the judgement of the honourable civil court in 2002, no steps have been taken to clean the record. And on the contrary, the fraud appears to have reached new heights with new teams and new names being included indiscriminately as a result of trading.”

“Cricket is the popular and loved game in India and the honourable Supreme Court has emphasised it with its commitment to implement Justice Lodha reforms. Unfortunately, the menace continues in the state associations, as can be seen from the memberships in HCA. This can lead to keeping genuine talent who cannot afford to be part of the corrupt and high-cost establishment away from the game. The committee is in the midst of enquiring into various aspects of these irregularities highlighted above,” the report added.

In line with the committee’s observations, former HCA secretary Shesh Narayan alleged that cricket is on sale in Hyderabad. “Cricket has become a rich man’s game. If anybody wants to play, they can get in touch with the right people, pay, and play. It’s a distant dream for another player like Mohammed Siraj to be identified and moulded. Even if another Siraj is born in Hyderabad, it is unlikely he will even get to hold a ball.”

Azharuddin and the HCA were recently in the line of fire after the Hyderabad team ended the recently concluded Ranji Trophy season with zero wins. Out of the seven matches played, the team drew one and suffered six losses. The disastrous performance relegated them from the elite to the plate division, the category underperforming teams are grouped into. It was in the 2010-2011 season that Hyderabad last played in the plate division after a dismal 2009-10 season. For a team that has produced stalwarts of Indian cricket such as ML Jaisimha and VVS Laxman, the underperformance raised several questions about what had gone wrong.

Many former cricketers and experts that #KhabarLive spoke to attributed several reasons for the team’s disappointing performance. A majority of them pinned the blame on the HCA administration headed by Azhar. As one of India’s most successful captains, Azhar’s election as the president of the HCA in September 2019 kindled hope for the team. Azhar had led India in 47 tests and 174 one day international (ODIs). When he took over, he had promised to revive Hyderabad cricket and bring back the team’s past glory.

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However, today the HCA is embroiled in controversy with the team’s poor performance being linked to alleged corruption and mismanagement – both not new to the HCA. In the past, multiple cases have been filed by the Anti Corruption Bureau. Though the chargesheets in the cases have been filed, the framing of charges is still pending. In a case booked in 2017, on the orders of the High Court, Ernst & Young (EY) had conducted a forensic audit of the accounts of the HCA between April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2017. The findings had reported “large-scale swindling of money” in travel, accommodation, catering, civil works, installation of cameras, maintenance, and several other works taken up by the HCA.

Speaking to #KhabarLive, a senior sports journalist working with a national daily said on the condition of anonymity, “Today, players in Hyderabad have to pay to play in cricket matches. They are being asked to cough up around Rs 30,000 to play in a local league. We haven’t seen corruption of this scale before, it is rampant now.”

Questions have also been raised about the credibility of the selectors appointed by the association. Speaking to #KhabarLive, Shesh Narayan said, “In fear of serious repercussions that may affect their ward’s future, parents usually never come forward to openly voice their complaints.”

Shesh Narayan is among those who have alleged corruption in the selection procedure followed by Azhar and the selectors. “When you see boys who have never played U-19, U-25, or for that matter any league getting to play in the Ranji Trophy season, you know there is clearly something wrong. What is sad is that all this has been happening under the leadership of a former Indian captain.”

Another concern raised is about the excessive number of players selected for each season, who are then randomly shuffled. In the recently concluded Ranji season, Hyderabad had a 28-member squad, of which several were debutants. The BCCI rule says that the maximum number of players is 15 per match. “Good teams don’t change and shuffle players during a season unless there is an injury,” said N Jagannath Das, a retired senior sports journalist, explaining that it was unusual to have 28 players play in a season.

John Manoj, vice president of the HCA who is also part of the committee that was elected with Azharuddin, too questioned the unusual practice. “Twenty-eight players were selected for Ranji and shuffled in every match. Good players are being dropped and no reason is being given for the same.”

When #KhabarLive went through the Hyderabad Ranji squad details, we found that 11 players had played only one match each in the season. Five other cricketers had played only two matches each during this season. Tanmay Agarwal, Rohit Rayudu, Ravi Teja, and Kartikeya Kak were the few players who played throughout the season. According to members of the association, when the number of players in a team surpasses the prescribed limit set by the BCCI, it makes it a perfect ground for corruption.

According to John, the usual procedure followed is that around 10 league matches are held and then a team is chosen for the junior and senior zonal games. The best among the players are shortlisted to play in the Ranji Trophy matches.

While many others echoed the need for more accountability and structure in the HCA, the major complaint is that very few league matches are being held now compared to earlier. According to former cricketer Arshad Ayub who has also served as the HCA president, “They don’t want to organise league matches, because if they do then they will have to choose players based on talent and performance. Today, those who haven’t played any league or local matches are finding their way into the Ranji team. This can be done only if league matches are not held.”

Experts say that not conducting matches is part of the association’s new strategy – to ensure that the skewed selection process can be covered up. “Earlier, HCA would organise about 5,000 matches every season (June to March). However, today less than 600 matches are conducted,” said Ayub. This, according to experts, is adversely affecting the quality of cricket because several underperforming players are allegedly paying to get into the teams.

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When asked why Ayub, who had strongly endorsed Azhar when he had contested for the HCA president post, was against him now, Ayub said, “I’d played with him for years. We believed the match-fixing incident had changed him and that he deserved another opportunity. We’d hoped he would make a positive impact on the team.”

Shesh Narayan too had supported Azhar’s candidature in 2019. “Azhar has let us down. I had vehemently supported him when he stood for president. I had thought that after all he was a cricketer who had played for the country and had also served as an MP. But today, there is rampant corruption in the HCA across formats. All BCCI laws are being violated. I never thought Azhar would stoop to this level. He converted HCA into his fiefdom.”

Expressing disappointment with Azhar’s leadership, John said that he had turned HCA into a one-man show. “The association has to be run by a committee. Cricket administration is very different from playing cricket. Azhar and I got elected as part of the same committee. However, it is run as a one-man show by Azhar.”

While several others too raised concerns about the functioning of HCA under Azharuddin, former cricketer Vanka Pratap, who runs the Hyderabad Cricket Academy of Excellence and was part of the four-member supervisory panel, felt everyone should take the blame for the dismal performance in the Ranji season. “The players performed in batches, had they been put together in a good team they would have done better.”

“Azhar cannot do anything alone. He needs the entire committee to cooperate with him. Every elected member should fulfil his responsibility to the association. It is unfair to single out Azhar,” Pratap added.

Eighty-four-year-old veteran cricketer PR Man Singh, who was the manager of the Indian cricket team that lifted the World Cup in 1983, too feels there is no point in blaming Azhar alone. “This is a long-term issue. No one really cares about cricket anymore. When at the helm of affairs, everyone has their own personal agendas. Earlier there was corruption in financial aspects. Today, sadly it is reflecting on the field,” he said.

“As head of the institution, Azhar should take the responsibility of getting everyone together. It is like he is the captain of the committee,” he added.

Ironically, the Hyderabad team’s dismal performance came at a time when Siraj, who hails from Hyderabad and was part of the same team, has earned the number 1 spot in the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) ODI bowler ranking. Siraj catapulted to prominence after his performance in the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy season as part of team Hyderabad. His accuracy and ability to hit the decks hard was noticed, and he was soon picked up by Indian Premier League team SunRisers Hyderabad in 2017.

While Siraj’s is a success story, many believe that a lot of talent in Hyderabad is being missed out. “Clean selections can surprise you with the talent Hyderabad has got. Today, people are disheartened with what is happening in HCA,” Ayub said.

Speaking about the importance of identifying good talent and moulding them, Man Singh said, “It was Vasant Amladi who had spotted Azhar and identified him as a batsman when he was playing at Fateh Maidan. HCA should also give importance to identifying new talent and training them.”

#KhabarLive reached out to Azharuddin on the allegations levelled against him, but he refused to comment saying he was travelling. We also sent him a questionnaire with specific questions about the allegations hoping that he would revert with the answers.

The Supreme Court’s decision to appoint Justice Nageswara Rao as a single-member committee now means that the Justice Kakru-led four-member supervisory panel has been eased out.

Justice Nageswara Rao’s appointment comes as a glimmer of hope for the association and the young players who are hoping for the system to be cleaned up. Justice Rao has a clean track record and it is also learnt that the retired judge played cricket in his younger days. HCA’s stakeholders and the city’s young cricketers are hopeful that Justice Rao will be the catalyst for the metamorphosis the association is in need of.

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When asked whether there is any hope that the HCA can go back to its glory days, cricket veteran Man Singh felt if the cricket academy is restarted, if importance is given to leagues, and the team works in full cooperation, then there is still hope for the HCA. He summed it up saying, “After all, we all live in hope.”

At last, Azharuddin responds to #KhabarLive questions. Here are the excerpts:

#KhabarLive published a detailed story about the issues in the Hyderabad Cricket Association led by Azharuddin. Following this, the former India captain responded to the allegations of mismanagement and corruption levelled against him.

Hours after #KhabarLive published a story about Mohammed Azharuddin’s controversial tenure as the president of the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA), the former India captain responded saying he gave his best to the association during his term. He also replied to our questions about the allegations of mismanagement and corruption levelled against the HCA. Azhar took over as HCA president in September 2019; though the committee’s tenure came to an end in September 2022, the committee continued as the elections weren’t held.

When #KhabarLive reached out to Azharuddin for a response earlier, he said he was travelling. After the story was published, he shared his response through the questionnaire.

  • Do you believe you have been able to give your best to the HCA after being made the president?

Yes, despite being handicapped by the absence of a full APEX council of like-minded members, I gave my best to HCA.

  • What do you think is your biggest contribution to the HCA?

I brought in international matches, fought relentlessly to restore order against the coterie which has hijacked HCA over the years.

  • Do you think you have been given a fair chance to deliver your best? Could you have done more if the entire committee cooperated better?

Yes. But for such cooperation, you need a committee that is like-minded. When the committee members themselves own clubs and mask their corrupt intentions under the garb of league matches to lease teams for lakhs of rupees, how can cricket get better?

  • There are allegations of corruption in the HCA peaking under your leadership. They say it has become pay-and-play in the HCA. What do you have to say about this?

These are politically motivated allegations.

  • Experts say absence of league matches has drastically affected the quality of cricket in Hyderabad. Why have the number of matches being played fallen drastically?

After I took over, I came to know that league teams are leased for lakhs of rupees in the guise of cricket, talent search & what not. When brokers can’t deal in profits by sucking the blood of aspiring players & their parents because I stopped the flow of money by not conducting the leagues, such allegations are made.

  • Allegations about selectors taking exorbitant bribes from players have been levelled. Experts have said you chose bigger teams this Ranji to accommodate more players despite the BCCI saying 15 players in a team. The team being shuffled every match has also been pointed as part of the same strategy to include more players. What is your response?

When players don’t perform, they have to be replaced. Players own performance & its consequences.

  • Many say a good cricketer doesn’t really mean a good administrator. Do you agree?

Not at all. The good administrators who led the association before me are neck deep in ACB (Anti Corruption Bureau) cases, have been accused of swindling crores of rupees, have manipulated memberships, purchased & sold clubs for crores of rupees & are crying hoarse today under the garb of cricket, only to shield their fraudulent deeds & thereby retain control of HCA & kill cricket. Private clubs, multiple clubs & what not. They want to remain the privileged few in Hyderabad that control the flow of money in cricket through their clubs. I am here as a cricketer, I don’t own any clubs.

  • Lastly, what according to you should be done to ensure the HCA is cleaned and cricket in Hyderabad sees a better future?

Review the memberships, remove all fraudsters & multiple clubs, put in a strong process to eliminate the role of money in leagues & selections. #hydnews #hydkhabar #hydlive