On Thursday morning,former Air India and first class cricketer Ashok Singh got a house call from his Haryana Ranji teammate Kapil Dev. Alongside the usual pleasantries,Singh says that Kapil complimented Ajit Chandila,whom he had played alongside for Air India during the last four years of his club career.
He said that he had come up quite a lot, recalls Singh. Just a few hours after the interaction,once news broke of Chandila being arrested alongside Sreesanth and Ankeet Chavan for spot fixing,Singh would get a lot more calls from other cricketers this time asking whether the charges of fixing were in fact true.
It is particularly hard for me because I was the one who got him into the Air India team, said Singh. He was playing club cricket for Collage cricket Club,when I called him up as a guest cricketer for Air India in a tournament near Varanasi, says Singh.
Singh says he remembers Chandila as someone who worked harder than most people.
Three matches a day
He didnt have the most talent but was someone who worked really hard to get where he had. He was someone who was seen as a big name in club cricket in Delhi. Sometimes when I would go through paper clippings of the previous days matches,I would see his names in three different places. Later I came to know that he was playing three matches in a day in the morning,afternoon and evening. This was in the summer season when temperatures would be in the forties, he says.
Singh admits the the mounting evidence put up against his former teammate looks bad,but says he wants to believe in Chandilas innocence. Even after he got into the IPL and became famous,he never put on any airs. Because I mostly work on the Air India counter at the airport,and he had to travel so much,we kept meeting each other. Just a couple of weeks back he was alongside Brad Hodge and Owais Shah,when he saw me and introduced me to them as his senior, he says.
Chandilas family,however,dismiss the charges as saazish (conspiracy). The family stays together in a modest yellow and green painted double-storey house just outside Badoli village in Faridabad. These charges couldnt have come at a worse time, says cousin Dharmvir Chandila. Just a month ago,his grandfather had passed away and on Thursday,his eldest brother Subash is undergoing surgery on his liver. All his family have gone to the hospital. Kisi ki nazar lag gayi hai, he says.
As proof of Chandilas goodness,Dharmvir points to a cow and calf tied outside the home. Because he travels so much for his cricket,Ajit bhai doesnt get to stay at home much. Whenever he is home,he performs puja every morning,and feeds the cow with the first roti of the day. He is a very simple man. He cant do these things, he says.
A few kilometers from his home,at the Nahar Singh Stadium Academy where Chandila trained as a youngster,nothing seems out of the ordinary. Children run laps,bowl,and practice their strokes. A few accompanied by their parents look to join coaching classes during the summer break. But coach Rajkumar Sharma admits that the children are taking the news hard. It is bad for the kids here.
This is a free cricket academy so we generally get youngsters from poor backgrounds. Ajit would bring shoes and T-shirts and kit for them. Whenever he would get back from the IPL he would get mobbed by kids wanting autographs. He definitely was a hero to them, he says.
Sharma recalls the first time Chandila came as a 16-year-old to the academy. I told him the same thing that I tell all the youngsters. I said even if you cant become a good cricketer,you should at least try to be a good person. Right now its hard to believe what he did, he says.