Is cricket a sport or a match-fixing joke?
The spectre of matchfixing in cricket has resurfaced with alarming frequency less than a year after three Pakistan players were caught in a spot-fixing scandal during a tour of England last summer.
Salman Butt, Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Aamer were handed lengthy bans after being found guilty by a panel appointed by the International Cricket Council (ICC) which acted swiftly in this instance.
But the world governing body for the sport headquartered in Dubai has strangely maintained a deafening silence on speculation that cast doubts on Sri Lanka’s performance in the World Cup final won by India.
Their terse reply when confronted with any allegations of match fixing is that they are not authorised to comment on speculation.
However, former Sri Lanka captain Hashan Tillakaratne has added fuel to the raging controversy when he publicly commented in a TV talk show that “match fixing is not a new phenomenon” alleging it has been prevalent for a long time.
“Match fixing is not something that started happening yesterday or today. This has been happening since 1992 and I know all the people who are connected to it. I say this with great responsibility,” Tillakaratne told the talk show.
He promised to reveal the name of the suspects “shortly”.
“This has spread like cancer today,” he added.
Although he did not imply that players were involved in match fixing during the World Cup, he has aroused the suspicions of fans by questioning the sudden changes made in the Sri Lanka team composition for the final.
“I am not saying that this match (the World Cup final) was fixed but why were four players changed for this match? Those are questions that should be asked.
"We were playing an entirely different side,” said Tillakaratne, who represented Sri Lanka in 83 Tests and 200 One-Day Internationals.
“Why was Mendis (Ajantha) removed to put another spinner, Kapugedara (Chamara) was never among runs but he was chosen to replace Chamara Silva. It is not fair, is it?” he queried.
His one-time team mate Mahela Jayawardena who scored a classy century in the World Cup final challenged Tillakaratne to come out with proof.
“People can say whatever they want. You need to prove the allegations,” said the former Sri Lanka skipper who was accused of underperforming during a World Cup group match against Pakistan by a local TV channel which later apologised for its allegations.
Interestingly former Pakistan skipper Rashid Latif, who was a whistleblower in the match-fixing scandal involving Pakistan in the 90s, believes Tillakaratne is not talking through his hat.
“I know him personally, he told me about this (match-fixing) in the 1993-94 as well. Nobody knows the subcontinent players better than him and if he reveals the facts then a lot of former cricketers from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka would be exposed,” Latif was quoted as saying in Times of India.
“As far as I know Hashan would honour his commitment and it would be extremely damaging for some ex-players of the subcontinent, but everything will be settled down if a deal struck,” stressed Latif, a former Test wicketkeeper.
He was echoing the sentiments of Tillakaratne who said the match-fixing issue could have been exposed earlier but it was swept under the carpet.
“There were threats of this issue being exposed during various times. But it was pushed down by giving money to various people,” said the former left-hand batsman.
The cricket world was also rocked last year when Pakistan wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider’s fled to London during a middle of a series against South Africa in Dubai alleging that he had been threatened to fix matches.
He initially sought asylum in the UK and also promised to reveal names. However, as the world waited with bated breath it was a no-show and Haider returned to Pakistan recently after safety assurances were given by the country’s Interior Minister for him and his family.
The only visible outcome of this was the arrest of eight bookies who had threatened him.
Sri Lanka Cricket Chairman DS de Silva told the BBC that the board would decide on what course of action to take on Tillakaratne’s allegations.
Channaka de Silva, sports editor of Sri Lanka’s ‘Daily Mirror’ which published these revelations, said the allegation was “very serious” considering Tillekaratne’s role as a former captain.
“If someone doesn’t intervene and stop this menace, within another two-three years in this country, with these politics, with these corrupt administrators, I believe this country (Sri Lanka) won’t be second to Pakistan in the near future,” said Tillakaratne.
But with the ICC not showing any inclination to investigate allegations which have brought the sport into disrepute, Tillakaratne may be left to fight his own battles to expose corruption at high levels. Or will this turn out to be another damp squib like the Haider saga?
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