In the summer of 2013, life presented Rahul Dravid with one of its cruellest ironies. The cricketer, who epitomised honesty in cricket, going out all lengths to ensure that the “gentleman’s game” remained just that, was forced to take a step back as three of his teammates from his Indian Premier League franchise Rajasthan Royals namely S Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila, were arrested for their alleged involvement in spot-fixing, betting and for having links with the underworld.
In an age when world cricket needed to salvage some of its lost pride after it had been rocked by the murky incidents of corruption and fixing, this incident further raised question marks in the minds of the billions of cricket lovers for whom cricket exceeded being just a mere game.
As a thousand suspecting eyes welcomed every no ball and boundary conceded by the bowler, cricket, which had already lost its credibility, was waging a battle to survive, despite the controversies, which had threatened to harm the game’s legacy.
In a breakthrough moment earlier this month, the trial court in New Delhi dropped all charges against the trio and 38 other individuals, on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute them under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).
Sreesanth, who had pledged his innocence all this while, immediately made his intention clear of playing for the nation again. In a bid to bowl those outswingers once more, Sree took to bowling the next day, before news came in that the life ban meted out to the trio by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was not be revoked.
Despite appeals from the respective state associations, BCCI Secretary Anurag Thakur doused all hopes of a return for the three cricketers. This move raises questions over the Board’s actions, with many failing to realise why the punishment has not been absolved, even though they have been discharged by the trial court.
In order to evaluate whether the BCCI has taken a step in the right direction or not, we will first have to look at the charges levied against the accused in 2013 and the reasons given by the court for setting them free.
The charges levied against Sreesanth by the Delhi Police in May 2013
- The court accused Sreesanth of taking cash upto 60 lakhs from P. Jiju Janardhanan, a close friend of the former, to participate in match fixing by conceding 14+ runs in an over in the match between Kings XI Punjab and RR, played on 9th May 2013.
- In the said over, the bowler tucked his hand towel in his trouser, which acted as a signal to the bookies. He however, conceded only 13 runs in the said over.
- The prosecution had intercepted calls between the duo, from which it was revealed that Jiju had paid 10 lakhs in advance to Sree in the first month of May, out of which 3 lakhs were used by Jiju to purchase mobile phones for the cricketer.
- Sreesanth was allegedly also involved with a number of bookies Amit Kumar Singh, Abhishek Shukla and Chandresh Patel.
What the trial court stated about Sreesanth in July 2015
- The court has stated that not a single intercepted call between Jiju and Sreesanth was conclusive to prove that the former had persuaded Sree to indulge in spot fixing, let alone there being proof of the bowler agreeing to the offer.
- No evidence suggests that Sreesanth agreed to the payment of 60 lakhs or accepted 10 lakhs in advance for spot-fixing. In addition, it would be an assumption to state that the mobile phones bought by Jiju were from the advance money that Sree had received. For all we know, the expenses could have been from his legally earned income as well.
- The court dismissed the view that the tucking of the towel was a gesture to the bookies, by stating that this was a common habit amongst cricketers globally.
- A detailed look at the over in question that was bowled by Sreesanth would suggest that only 5 runs were conceded in his first 4 deliveries, with no wides or no balls. If he indeed had agreed to the deal, he would have looked to bowl stray deliveries first up, rather than keeping a tight line and length. He conceded 13 runs in the over, which indicates that the deal failed to bear fruit.
Sreesanth was not involved in any court case prior to this incident, which further went in his favour. He was hence, rendered free from all charges.
Charges levied against Chavan by the Delhi Police in May 2013
- The Rajasthan Royals bowler was involved in spot-fixing on 15th May 2013 in the game between Mumbai Indians and RR, for which he received a sum of 60 lakhs in cash.
- Chavan agreed to participate in spot-fixing on request of the bookies Chandresh Patel, Jitender Jain and teammate Ankit Chavan, who were members of the crime syndicate. Intercepted calls between the above-mentioned people provided the court with the evidence of his involvement.
What the trial court stated about Chavan in July 2015
- The court argued that there was no evidence to prove that Chavan had intentionally underplayed in the match or that he received the cash amount of 60 lakhs for underperforming. Even if he pocketed the sum, one can in no way assume that he did not play to his ability.
- No connection with the Crime Syndicate and lack of evidence helped Chavan escape the judgements of the trial court.
Charges levied against Chandila by the Delhi Police in May 2013
- Chandila, arrested on 16th May 2013, was in constant touch with the underworld henchmen as well as a number of bookies, from whom he was receiving huge sums of money for fixing.
- The cricketer agreed to spot fix in 2012 and received a sum of 12 lakhs for the same from bookie Sunil Bhatia. He however, had to return the money after failing to provide the required underperformance.
- Chandila agreed to participate in the fixing scandal on more than one occasion. On two different instances, he demanded 25 lakhs to underperform, but had to return the advance on both occasions after failing to underperform and give the requisite signals, respectively.
- After another instance of underperformance in 2012, the player was linked to Chota Shakeel and the underworld. Chandila, who refused to return the advance money, despite failing to underperform as per the deal, was in contact with Javed Chaitani, who in turn referred the matter to Shakeel.
- The player acted as a solicitor, introducing Chavan to the betting racket and encouraging him to underperform as per demands.
What the trial court stated about Chandila in July 2015
- The court refuted all claims of wrongdoing on Chandila’s part by stating that he did not commit an illegal activity by agreeing to fix matches, as match fixing is not considered an unlawful activity under the Indian Penal Code.
- According to the statement, the court believed that Ajit Chandila was not aware that the bookies were members of the Crime Syndicate. The knowledge of the accused, whereby he is aware that the person/s that he is dealing with is a member of the crime circle, is essential in levelling charges, which was not established.
- Even though Sunil Bhatia confessed that Chandila failed to underperform on more than one occasion, the court refrained from terming him guilty because fixing, by itself, is not considered an illegal act in India.
Is the BCCI right in its verdict?
That brings us to the question- how innocent are the trio at the end of the day? Yes, the trial court has dropped all charges against all the accused, but there lies a difference in being discharged for “insufficient evidence” and being pronounced innocent.
The BCCI, which conducted its independent inquiry, focused on the conduct, behaviour and intentions of the players, unlike the court, which wanted to establish a connection between the players and the crime circle, failing which, the players were discharged.
Ravi Sawani, the former head of the ICC’s anti-corruption unit, who conducted the investigation, had adequate evidence to prove that the 3 accused were in constant touch with the bookies. He further accused them of breaching Article 2.11 of the BCCI’s Anti Corruption Code, which deals with match fixing.
Article 2.11 reads- "Fixing or contriving in any way or otherwise influencing improperly, or being a party to any effort to fix or contrive in any way or otherwise influence improperly, the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of any Match or Event."
After the Spot Fixing Scandal of 2010, where three Pakistani cricketers, Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammed Amir were banned after indulging in fixing, the ICC, in a bid to keep the game clean, came up with stringent rules, whereby every approach made by a bookie had to be reported.
The fact that the trio of Sreesanth, Chavan and Chandila failed to inform the higher authorities, despite constant approaches, is a serious breach of conduct. Even though the court failed to establish that they were underperforming intentionally, there is enough evidence to suggest that the bookies approached them.
According to the BCCI’s jurisdiction, agreeing to participate in an act of fixing is an offence in itself, even if the deal fails and is not fulfilled. Sunil Bhatia’s confessions on Chandila’s underperformance and Jiju’s intercepted calls with Chandresh Patel, where he confirmed that he approached Sreesanth, has played a huge role in the BCCI’s verdict, according to Sawani.
Other than being guilty of spot fixing and approaches by bookies, the cricketers were also guilty of accepting bribes, in lieu of cash, kind and girls and for willing to underperform, despite being aware that it was a subject of a bet, which is illegal in India.
The BCCI, it can be argued, has been too stern on the players by handing out life bans, when Mohammad Amir, who was proven guilty of spot fixing in England in 2010, was given a ban of 5 years as punishment. The fact that the Board, which in itself is wading through the waters of corruption, has handed over a punishment, which in no means is lenient, can be a desperate message to the general public that no wrongdoings will be tolerated in Indian cricket.
In an attempt to win back the trust of the fans after the episodes of betting, corruption and conflict of interest came to the fore; this harsh verdict can be seen as a desperate method of cleaning up the game in India, by leaving aside the officials and players who have disregarded cricket.
Playing with the sentimental Indian: How innocent are the cricketers?
The Spot Fixing episode provided the greatest setback to the fans who have grown up watching Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis - all pioneers of the game, optimising honesty and truthfulness. In a heartbreaking moment for all cricket lovers, Dravid, who was left stunned at the happenings of 2013, had expressed his disappointment on being cheated by the very same players he called family. By terming it as a “bereavement of sorts”, he only highlighted the emotional betrayal brought about due to this controversy.
Besides raising question marks in the minds of the ordinary fan, the incident has dealt a severe dent to the game’s image. Although they have been freed of all offenses by the court, the BCCI has refused to tone down the quantum of their punishment, by stating that the players in question have cheated the fans and the nation, who have come to define a sport as a fair encounter between two oppositions.
Instead of preserving the game’s reputation, as every sportsperson should, the trio failed to keep in mind the sentiments of the Indians, instead bringing disrespect to a sport that has given them their all. And for this reason, they can never truly be called innocent.Published 31 Jul 2015, 18:34 IST