The Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police has finalised the investigation of the spot-fixing scandal that plagued the recently concluded Nepal T20 League, naming Jatin Ahluwalia, the co-founder of Seven3Sports, the commercial and strategic partner of the Nepal T20 League, as the mastermind.
As the report has been submitted to the government attorneys, a Nepali court will see a spot-fixing case for the first time in its history.
Nepal T20 League was the Cricket Association of Nepal’s first official franchise tournament that was held in Kathmandu from December 24, 2022, to January 11. As the league was ongoing, news of spot-fixing emerged, after which cricketer Adil Ansari and former cricketer Mehboob Alam were arrested. One more person was arrested for approaching a national team player.
According to an investigator, spot-fixing done by Alam is just the tip of the iceberg as Jatin Ahluwalia’s role in the league makes a curious case to learn lessons from in the future.
The strategic partner’s strategy
Seven3Sports got involved in Nepal T20 League after signing the initial agreement with CAN on January 2021. It was named the strategic and commercial partner for a decade for Rs 420 million. This was not taken well by some CAN members, after which the term was revised. Then, Seven3Sports was made a strategic and commercial partner for eight years for Rs 330 million.
In this amendment, CAN added conditions regarding the amount to be paid to it by Seven3Sports and the players by the teams.
By then, Jatin Ahluwalia had won over the trust of most CAN members. Therefore, even though he did not comply with any of the revised conditions, CAN took no action against him.
Instead, he tried to use it to his advantage. The Delhi tour of the Nepali cricket team is proof of this. Before going to Namibia to take part in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup League 2, the Nepali team went to Delhi to play two practice matches.
The day the team arrived in Delhi, they were taken to a restaurant for dinner by Jatin Ahluwalia and Abhishek Saklani, the Seven3Sports CEO. According to a member of the Nepal team, representatives of Seven3Sports tried to get close to some cricketers during the tour.
There are claims Seven3Sports, privy to the strengths and weaknesses of many Nepali cricketers, tried to take advantage of their situation. A national team player says it tried to lure some players with promises of iPhones and cricket kits. Players were even held back at the offices of Seven3Sports in Gurgaon for photo and video shoots.
CAN acting secretary Durga Raj Pathak confirms Seven3Sports representatives met the players of the national team during their visit to Delhi. He says the visit was meant to connect Nepali players with franchise team owners. This is odd as the team owners should have done it separately. And, it was not the best time to meet the players as the team were there to prepare for an important series and not the Nepal T20 League.
Choosing captains wisely
If so, why did Jatin Ahluwalia and the representatives of his company meet the players? To know the answer, you have to look for the connection between Ahluwalia and the franchise team owners.
CAN and Seven3Sports announced six franchise teams for Nepal T20 League in July 2022. The teams were Biratnagar Super Kings, Janakpur Royals, Kantipur Gurkhas, Pokhara Avengers, Lumbini All Stars and Farwest United.
Out of them, only Lumbini All Stars and Pokhara Avengers were owned by Nepalis. The remaining teams were owned by people who Jatin Ahluwalia knew and was close with.
The choices of captains were also criticised from the start as the police believe the teams chose the captains to ensure spot-fixing happened in a subtle manner. It came as a shock to many when Nepali players were overlooked and international players were made captains.
Another interesting thing happened prior to the tournament. As the league was getting shrouded in controversy, Kantipur Media Group, which owned Kathmandu Gurkhas, pulled out of the tournament. The team then got rebranded as Kathmandu Knights, which was co-owned by Nabin Kandel. Even though Kandel was the co-owner, Jatin Ahluwalia’s confidant Bikas Dhyani was appointed as the chief financial officer.
Kathmandu’s team were built under the ownership of the KMG. This meant the team’s formation and captain could not be changed at the last minute. However, the police investigation states Dhyani, who was Kathmandu’s CFO, was approached for spot-fixing. An international player approached by him informed his captain Gyanendra Malla, who then reported the offer to the head of the anti-corruption unit (ACU) Vir Singh.
According to the investigators, Biratnagar manager Rahul Sharma and their captain West Indian Andre McCarthy were involved in spot-fixing. Janakpur and Farwest players were approached for fixing by their managers but they refused and immediately reported to the ACU chief.
The police report states Jatin Ahluwalia and his team asked players to fix matches promising them it would help them to get to the Indian Premier League and other top leagues. According to a CIB official, they (Seven3Sports and some franchise teams) came to Nepal with a plan to earn money through betting and spot-fixing.
The gambling game
Seven3Sports, which spent huge sums of money to become a commercial and strategic partner in the Nepal T20 League, had no official sponsor. A day before the tournament, 1XBat was announced as the main sponsor. Oddly, 1XBat, which is said to be a sports equipment manufacturing company, has not started its production yet.
Police believe Seven3Sports was trying to earn money through live betting and spot-fixing. Why? In India, Seven3Sports is registered as a betting company. They say Jatin Ahluwalia had already fixed things with some team owners and captains so that he could bet millions to get a higher return.
Take the match between Biratnagar Super Kings and Janakpur Royals on December 31, 2022, as an example.
Chasing 190 to win, Biratnagar was expected to play big shots from the start. Linden Fraser, Biratnagar’s coach, had the same thing planned and wanted Pradeep Airee and Gauranshu Sharma to open the innings and play attacking shots from the start. But, the team manager Rahul Sharma intervened and told Fraser to send the captain McCarthy instead. Despite being a former international cricketer, and chasing 190, his batting was very defensive as Biratnagar only scored 29 runs in the powerplay. Biratnagar lost the match by 49 runs and their coach vented his frustrations on how the openers played unnaturally during the powerplay.
During the CIB’s investigation, it has been confirmed that less than 30 runs had to be scored in the powerplay and McCarthy ensured it happened.
According to an official, when the CIB started investigating after receiving complaints regarding spot-fixing, Seven3Sports owner Jatin Ahluwalia along with CEO Saklani, Biratnagar manager Sharma and Kathmandu chief financial officer Dhyani had fled to India.
“If they could have been arrested, many things would have been revealed,” says an investigator. “But, our investigation confirms spot-fixing happened. But, how much money was transacted? We don’t know yet.”
This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.