Al- Jazeera TV Sting Operation Opens New Can Of Worms for Sri Lanka’s Cricket
Was Galle CC President murdered because he threatened to expose fixers?
The world of cricket – the gentleman’s game – took another body blow last week with the revelations of the Al Jazeera sting operation which claimed to have strong evidence that two tests played on the picturesque Galle Cricket grounds were fixed by curators of the pitch in collusion with a gambling syndicate.
Host countries preparing wickets to suit the strengths of the home team is nothing new and in fact most host countries resort to every tactic possible to give their own teams the best possible chance of winning. Tour itineraries are fixed when the weather is at its most uncomfortable for visiting sides, preliminary tour games meant to give touring sides some vital match practice are often of no value because the sides are filled with fringe players and offer the weakest opposition. The wickets for these games too are usually the opposite of what is being prepared for the opening test.
All these actions are however done at the behest of the host’s board and team management working together and NOT a complete outside party working with gambling syndicates intent on making money through spot-fixing episodes during the game.
With the Al Jazeera exposure all the previous doubts about certain matches and results have come to haunt cricket fans around the world much like the catastrophe that hit the sport in March this year with several Australian players found guilty of blatantly attempting to cheat. Immediately, there are several nods of the head and previous instances spring to mind of earlier controversies where the Aussies somehow were able to wriggle out of them.
Slowly and surely the bits of a rather complex jigsaw puzzle are unravelling and the picture looks grimmer with each phase.
On the surface (pun not intended) the pitch fixing claims appear to be without foundation – especially as Tharanga Indika, the ‘curator’ seen boasting in the sting video is not even the official curator. Furthermore, as pointed out by Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) there was no formal complaint from either side or the umpires, match referee or even the ICC.
The matter should end there or so it seems. However, let us take a closer look at a specific instance – the second test between Australia and Sri Lanka from 4-8 August 2016 in Galle. Sri Lanka wins a crucial toss and batting first are dismissed for 290 – a total viewed as slightly below par. In reply, the Aussies crash to 106 all out and suddenly Sri Lanka’s first innings total assumes greater significance. Sri Lanka bat again and pass 200 for the second time in two days. Australia needing 412 to win are dismissed for 183 handing the hosts victory by 229 runs and the match is over in just two and a half days.
The official curator for the Galle pitch is Godfrey Dabrera who is in charge of all international venues within the country. A former venue manager at the R Premadasa stadium, Dabrera knows nothing about the preparation of pitches and is therefore dependant on others who are skilled at the job to do the work for him.
Dabrera wears many hats and is a well-known figure within the cricketing fraternity because of the apparent power he wields. One-time personal assistant to Thilanga Sumathipala he is now apparently his unofficial campaign manager for elections. He is the owner of a sports shop and supplies equipment to SLC, he is also the President of Chilaw Marians Cricket Club – a club which has risen rapidly in the power stakes. One wonders whether Dabrera has any time to devote to the role of being the ‘official curator’.
Back to the Australia test. Five months prior to the test, in early February, Dabrera sends a memo to the Galle CC President Helambage Premasiri informing him that SLC had decided to appoint Tharanga Indika as the Assistant Manager to the Galle Stadium.
Premasiri sent a reply advising him against any move to change personnel and supervisory staff:
“The Galle turf wickets have earned notoriety for purported unwanted practices, which I would like to do my utmost to eradicate. This I would be able to do only with trusted, reliable people and I am glad to say that I have full confidence in the ground staff and the curator here who has well over 15 years with the SPCA. With an international match scheduled here for August, it would certainly be unwise to make any changes in the maintenance schedule, personnel and supervisory staff at this present juncture” the letter noted.
Dabrera had insisted that the changes be made and these were later confirmed by SLC in a formal letter.
SLC then took over the preparation of the pitch for the August test.
We all know what happened at the test match which was over in just two and a half days but what most people don’t know was that Helambage Premasiri was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on 14 August – just one week after the test match ended.
Did Premasiri know that there was something fishy about the test? Did he threaten to expose the fixers and was eliminated? Has cricket sunk to such a desperate level?
Although home sides preparing pitches to suit their teams is a given in any country doing so to assist gamblers is taking this tactic to another frightening level.
The Galle wicket is no stranger to controversy. Some years back former Sri Lanka fast bowler Jayananda Warnaweera was accused of being involved in fixing and is still the highest profile Sri Lankan cricketer to be banned from the game by the ICC after he failed to be present at several inquiries.
Star bowler Lasith Malinga is also on record to say that there have been instances where the curators have ignored specific instructions from himself and the team management and have in fact done the opposite to what was requested.
Former Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga, who led Sri Lanka’s 1996 World Cup-winning team, also voiced his concern over the recent events.
“They are small fish,” Ranatunga said referring to the groundsman of the Galle stadium, Tharanga Indika, and Tharindu Mendis who figure in the Al Jazeera video. “They can’t do it unless they have agreement with those right at the top.”
The signs are ominous.