Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, May 27
A sting operation-based investigation into match-fixing in cricket, aired today on Al Jazeera, has thrown a shadow of doubt over several Test matches, including three involving India. The Test involving India were played against Sri Lanka (at Galle, July 26-29, 2017), Australia (Ranchi, March 16-20, 2017) and India England (Chennai, December 16-20, 2016); the one Test not involving India was played between Australia and Sri Lanka at Galle in August 2016. The allegations are that the pitch was doctored at the behest of fixers for the Galle Tests, and that some Australian and England players were involved in spot-fixing in the other two matches. No Indian player’s name has cropped up in any wrongdoing.
The sting operation involved several former cricketers, including India’s Robin Morris, Pakistan’s Hasan Raza, Sri Lanka’s Tharindu Mendis, Jeevantha Kulatunga and Dilhara Lokuhettige. In the documentary, Morris is seen introducing Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter to Tharanga Indika, claiming that he was a curator of the Galle stadium pitch. Another man who figures in the documentary is Aneel Munawar, an alleged match-fixer, who claims to be working for the underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. In the Al Jazeera report, the channel claims that all predictions made by Munawar regarding the pattern of play by Australian and English players for the Ranchi and Chennai Tests were accurate.
It is extremely difficult to prove spot-fixing or match-fixing in cricket — in recent past, the allegations that were deemed credible involved audio or video recordings of players/agents confessing their role in spot-fixing. Al Jazeera’s investigation too has several former players — Morris, Raza, Mendis, Kulatunga, Lokuhettige — agreeing to spot-fix matches, and explaining how fixing is done.
But pitch-fixing for the two Galle Tests seems quite improbable: The man who claims to be curator for Galle, Indika, says in the Al Jazeera sting that he made a turning wicket for the Australia Test. However, it was natural for Sri Lanka’s management to ask for a turning wicket for that match, so Indika, if he did prepare a turner, was probably only following orders. He also says that he made a batting-friendly wicket for the India Test; this, too, is not surprising because Sri Lanka could not have asked for a bowler-friendly wicket because of India’s superiority in both spin and pace bowling.
But the most interesting and credible part of the sting is attempts by Morris, Raza and other cricketers to start a T20 league in Dubai. It seems possible that Morris and the others were exaggerating their fixing abilities in order to attract funding from the undercover reporter, who was posing as a businessman.
The recordings certainly don’t seem to be for a TV documentary, as Morris claimed they were — legitimate documentaries don’t involve hidden cameras.
In the report, Gaurav Rajkumar, introduced by Al Jazeera as Dubai-based advertising professional and a match-fixer, proposes a T20 league to be based in Dubai, involving four local teams from places such as “Sharjah Gladiators, Ajman Typhoons, Dubai Dynamites, Abu Dhabi Champs”, according to Rajkumar. He claims that 16 to 18 international players have agreed to be part of the league: “They’re all with me.” Morris says that each ‘genuine’ player would get £1,000 pounds per match, while the players who “work for me” will get £35,000-40,000. “They’re going to work for us,” says Morris. Morris and Rajkumar say that they’ll target players who are at the last stages of their career, and also players who are starting their careers.
The players who figure in the report are all ‘last-stage’ player, or have-beens, such as Morris (41 years), Raza (36), Mendis (37), Kulatunga (44) and Lokuhettige (37). These were caught in the sting operation, and Al Jazeera didn’t name the other players whose names were mentioned.
The players repeatedly talk about the ease of fixing T20 matches, and giving signals to fixers by using specific wrist-bands or caps, removing pads, etc. “Playing according to your plan is the easiest thing because there’s no pressure for us,” says Kulatunga.
Cricketers nonchalantly talking about fixing future matches, in a future corrupt tournament, should worry the administrators.
The mushrooming of the T20 leagues has magnified the dangers of spot-fixing, because, as the players say, it’s easy to hide fixing in this format of the sport. People whisper about IPL and fixing too, and indeed we had the 2013 IPL spot-fixing and betting scandal that caused a big upheaval in BCCI. Remember?
Here’s what authorities say…
Channel not co-operating, says ICC
We have been in ongoing dialogue with the broadcaster which has refused our continual requests to cooperate and share information which has hampered our investigation to date — ICC
Eng, Australia back players
There is nothing we have seen that would make us doubt any of our players in any way whatsoever
—ECB CEO Tom Harrison
Neither the ICC or Cricket Australia is aware of any credible evidence linking Australian players to corruption in the game
—CA CEO James Sutherland
Wait and watch for BCCI
We believe ICC has started its probe. Let them complete that and pronounce Morris guilty. The BCCI will only act when they have the verdict in hand
—Senior BCCI official
They said it was a documentary: Morris
They wanted to make a documentary. They were talking something and they are showing something else
—Robin Morris, the accused
Indika not a curator: SLC
[Indika] is not a curator. He was only the assistant manager. He was working on the administrative side and overlooking the staff at the venue.
—Ashley de Silva, SLC CEO