On the night of 15 May, 2013, just after the IPL match between Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals, a Delhi Police team sent by then Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar, carried out arrests of bookies and three cricketers in Mumbai with regard to a spot-fixing case.
Delhi Police's special cell had invested more than a year tracking various calls between bookies and cricketers and the names of three cricketers had emerged in some telephone conversations where talks of fixing an over were discussed.
Fourteen years after the match-fixing scandal that had rocked the country, three Indian cricketers were arrested on grounds of fixing in return of some favour. The news was not welcomed by the die-hard cricket fans and rightly so.
The headlines on the morning of 16 May named a young Ankeet Chavan alongside Ajit Chandila and India international S Sreesanth. Chavan, an upcoming talent from Mumbai, was once hailed as someone who could play in all the three formats and was good enough to represent India someday. But then, life took a different turn.
His Mumbai U-19 coach Satish Samant told Firstpost over the phone, "There were three very good left-arm spinners in Mumbai circuit (at that time) – Iqbal Abdullah, Harmeet Singh and Ankeet. I always felt Ankeet had the capacity to do well in all formats."
Samant, at that time, did not know that fate had something else in offing for Chavan.
In that 15 May match, Ankeet gave away 15 runs in one over to pull off the alleged fix. After two years of trials, he was finally given a clean chit by a Delhi court, along with Chandila and Sreesanth. However, the BCCI did not lift its lifetime ban on the cricketer, which stays to date.
Chavan was all of 27 when it happened. In the Ranji Trophy season before the 2013 edition of IPL, he had picked 14 wickets in five matches and scored 262 runs, including a gritty hundred against Madhya Pradesh, helping Mumbai clinch the Ranji Trophy title for the record 40th time. Who knew, that this rising star, who was soon going to play for India 'A' and maybe for the national team one day, would end up in a Delhi Police investigation room, answering questions related to an over he was accused of having fixed while playing for Rajasthan Royals a few months later.
Samant remembered the kid in the nets of MIG cricket club, who used to bowl left-arm medium pace. This kid would take up left-arm spin on suggestion of his club coaches and would go on to represent Mumbai in a few years, finish with figures of 9/23 in a first-class game, get an off-spin legend in Harbhajan Singh declare him the best left-arm finger spinner in the country and become Rahul Dravid's go-to man during crunch moments in an IPL match.
Not to forget, even in the controversial 15 May game, Chavan bowled the first over. Dravid trusted his ability to bowl spin with the new ball.
In 2015, the Court released Chavan of all charges. There are no more trials. But BCCI is yet to lift the ban. Until that happens, he is not even allowed to practice in any academy. Chavan is no more a fixing offender, but he is no more a cricketer either.
When Firstpost reached out to Chavan for this story, he said, "I want to clarify, I can never move on from cricket," before saying that he is not willing to speak at this moment to the press. Chavan has intentionally stayed away from interviews. With each passing year, the sport may be moving away from him. Chavan has lost seven years due to the 2013 spot-fixing episode and despite the charges dropped against him, the word 'tainted' would be hard to get rid of.
Irrespective of whether he committed the offence or not, the fall of Chavan remains a huge loss in Indian cricket, and with the return of many international cricketers to the sport even after being proven guilty, a ban on him sounds harsh to many, including Samant, who wants a strict punishment for those who bring bad name to the sport but not without a fair trial.
"Until someone's guilty, he is not a criminal. Pass a judgement when he is proved guilty. It is wrong to put someone as guilty before that. To punish someone on doubt is not right. Even judiciary says that an innocent should not be punished," argued Samant, who saw Chavan grow from a 14-year-old promising talent to a fine first-class cricketer.
When, on 16 May, the news of Chavan's arrest reached Samant, the coach was devastated by the developments.
"I was shocked. It was very natural because when you have seen a player grow in front of your eyes, you know that this player cannot do such things. I never had any doubt over his commitment towards the game (when I used to watch him play)," said Samant.
Chavan had worked his way up with sheer hard work. Be it club cricket, to corporate cricket, to first-class and then IPL, he made his mark and continued to take the big leap from one level to another.
"He was a confident boy. His attitude was right as well, His attitude said that he is here to stay. Good performance in club cricket escalated him into the state side," said Samant.
IPL has swiftly moved on from the 2013 episode. The two franchises – Royals and Chennai Super Kings – banned for two years for involvement in corrupt activities, have been welcomed back already. But the story of the cricketers caught in the scam remains the same – they cannot play cricket.
In Chandramohan Puppala's book No Ball: The Murky World of Match Fixing, the facts presented go against Chavan. Delhi Police recordings suggest that he, in fact, was 'a child gone astray', but in the judgement of the Delhi session court, he is still not an offender. And as per the BCCI rule books, he cannot even enter the nets, forget about entering the field in an official match.
In the tangle created by fixing, chargesheets, judgements, rule books, Chavan, at 34, remains a big question for the forces fighting match-fixing in the sport.
What opinion would anyone draw for Chavan, who was proved innocent by the court of law, but is still deemed corrupt by the national cricket board? But more importantly, what should we draw from the whole 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal? What does it say of the overall fight against corruption in sport?
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