In the last two years, at least three Test matches featuring India have been fixed, claims a documentary on cricket corruption made by Al Jazeera’s investigative unit. The Doha-based TV channel has shared exclusive footage with Hindustan Times that argues how a Mumbai-based former Indian first-class cricketer, an Indian advertisement executive based in the UAE and members of the D-Company use their ‘connections’ in the cricket establishment and even in the International Cricket Council (ICC) to decide on the outcome of matches.
The sensational sting operation done by journalist David Harrison suggests how match fixers bribe curators, current and former cricketers to fix the outcome of sessions or an entire match. In the eye of the storm are Pakistan’s Hasan Raza (youngest to play a Test match) and three Sri Lankan internationals – Dilhara Lokuhettige, Jeevantha Kulatunga and Tharindu Mendis – who are seen heavily involved in either spot-fixing or doctoring the pitch to force a result within a specific number of days.
Also in the spotlight is Tharanga Indika, the curator of Galle Stadium who admits to doctoring pitches. It was under his supervision that Australia lost a Test is less than two-and-a-half days in August 2016 and India amassed 600 in their first innings in July 2017. Both ‘events’ were as ‘scripted by match-fixers’, the documentary suggests.
The India versus England Test played in Chennai (December 16-20), the India versus Australia Test in Ranchi (March 16-20, 2017) and the Galle Test between India and Sri Lanka (July 26-29, 2017) were influenced by bookmakers, says the documentary titled ‘Cricket’s Match-Fixers’ that can be seen online on Sunday at 3.30 PM IST. Particular sessions in all the three games were ‘scripted’ by players in collusion with match fixers. No India cricketers are mentioned in such spot-fixing episodes.
Investigations suggest that at least two Australian cricketers were involved in Ranchi and three Englishmen fixed sessions in Chennai. While the England players have denied these charges, the Australians have not reacted at all.
A wary ICC, which is not shown in good light, has now reacted to the Al Jazeera probe and started an investigation into the allegations.
“We have already launched an investigation working with anti-corruption colleagues from Member countries based on the limited information we have received. We have made repeated requests that all evidence and supporting materials relating to corruption in cricket is released immediately to enable us to undertake a full and comprehensive investigation,” the ICC said.
The documentary highlights how match-fixers have found subtle ways to fix sessions and pitches. It also shows the ease and confidence with which the chain of operators works.
“Each script I will give you, will happen, happen and happen,” Aneel Munawar, a member of the D-Company tells Harrison, who poses as a businessman and meets the notorious stake holders during various stages of the operation mostly shot in Mumbai, the UAE and Sri Lanka.
Robin Morris, a former Indian first-class cricketer, is seemingly in the centre of the multi-million dollar fixing operation. The former all-rounder, who once played in the controversial Indian Cricket League T20 for Mumbai Champs boasts about his ability to fix players and curators.
“I have a set of 30 players who will play what I tell them to do,” says Morris. His business partner, Gaurav Rajkumar, adds: “We don’t care about the entertainment as long as we are making our money.” The extent of control of match fixers can be gauged from the fact that “60-70 per cent matches can be set.”
When asked for a reaction on the Al Jazeera sting and his alleged involvement in match-fixing, Morris said, “I have been fabricated in this; there is no truth in this and I have nothing to do with the Galle Test.”
10-day tournament as front for fixing
Money is everything, says Munawar. “If you have it, you will do anything,” he adds. The audacious Rajkumar also reveals his grand plan to start a 10-day international T20 tournament under the aegis of the Dubai Cricket Council. The four-team championship will be a front-office for fixing and all overseas players will play a role, says Rajkumar. “We want total control…players will be like puppets.” A player stands to make half-a-million dollars in 10 days, says Rajkumar, adding an international cricketer who wants to be part of the fixing game can earn “40 times more money than his appearance fee.”
The documentary suggests the involvement of cricket officials and high-profile businessmen, who invest to grab ‘big’ returns. Munawar says the D-Company pays anything between Rs. 2-6 crore to fix a game, depending on the profile of the team.
Groundsmen in Sri Lanka, particularly Galle, are seen as gullible. “When they get Rs. 25 lakh to doctor the pitches, they will fix …it’s eight years’ salary!” says Rajkumar.
In the centre of the pitch fixing menace is Tharanga Indika, the assistant manager and curator of Galle Stadium. He confesses that he can doctor pitches easily and reveals how a pitch can be prepared to help bowlers or batsmen.
“All these things must be done before the ICC officials come in,” says the Lankan official who adds that there are still ways to tamper with the pitch when a match is under way. “Like extra pressure on the special brush can damage the pitch,” says the curator, who takes pride in controlling the number of days a Test will last.
Interestingly, the ICC didn’t punish Galle for the Australia Test. In January 2016, the ICC suspended Galle stadium curator Jayananda Warnaweera for three years after the former Test player failed to cooperate with anti-corruption officials.
The 55-year-old Sri Lankan, who played 10 Tests and six one-day internationals, was previously handed a two-year suspension by his own country’s board in November for the same offence.
The ICC said Warnaweera was charged after he missed meetings and also failed to provide documents to its anti-corruption unit (ACU) for an investigation, the details of which were not disclosed.
Now the ICC will have its hand full, thanks to the Al Jazeera investigation.