Fears have been expressed in many quarters that the investigation into a case of stage-managing a club match, so the result can alter the standings in the points table to benefit a particular team, could be swept under the carpet by the hierarchy of Sri Lanka Cricket.
Dubbed by some as ‘match-fixing’ although no money is said to have changed hands, the saga has not only raised new interests into the affairs of Sri Lanka Cricket but has also brought into question whether such acts of manipulating the results of club matches had been a common occurrence over the years.
Unlike international cricket played in Sri Lanka, the media does not follow domestic club matches with the same zeal thereby leaving room for shady conduct between teams, players and even umpires.
But ironically in the latest case involving Panadura Sports Club and Kalutara Physical Culture Club, it appears the umpires hold the key to a make or break situation in that they have clearly stated in their customary match report that questionable or unfair practices had taken place.
The umpires report has now become one of the most precious documents in the files of Sri Lanka Cricket and well guarded by a faction that is opposed to the manner in which administrators conduct their business.
An investigation conducted by the Nation revealed that before the latest episode, manipulating the results of matches had been taking place unchecked.
Some call it ‘team-fixing’ where players, of a particular club that is fancied to lift the domestic trophy and with it a huge purse, are made to be selected to a Sri Lanka second string team so that the club is stripped and weakened as key players of the club will then be ‘involved’ in national duties.
The less-fancied club, which is under the influence of an official who holds a big stake or say at Sri Lanka Cricket, is then able to beat the ‘weakened team’.
“This is something the Press does not know”, said a retired club player and now a Sri Lanka Cricket employee who requested that his name not be published for obvious reasons.
“It has been taking place for years and nothing has been investigated. We used to call this team-fixing where the top players from a club that is poised to win the League title are taken out and made to play for a second or third string Sri Lanka team in order to weaken the club side,” he added.
Vice president of Sri Lanka Cricket K Mathivanan who is considered a stalwart in the promotion of club welfare said the outcome of the inquiry could take as long as two weeks or more depending on the characters like players and match officials that will have to be interviewed.
“We are treating this as a very serious matter”, said Mathivanan. “It is something that we must not allow to spread”.
Today clubs that win the League title can be well compensated financially and this year the triumphant team has been offered a super luxury bus as an incentive to add to the prize money running into millions.
Also the 14 teams in the main League (Tier A) are entitled to annual allocations in excess of Rs.10 million each while clubs contesting in the second division called the Tier B get less which is what allegedly made Panadura Sports Club ‘fix’ their match against Kalutara Physical Culture Club so they could win and earn a promotion to the Tier A segment for more financial benefits courtesy Sri Lanka Cricket funds.
Panadura Sports Club which won the match that is now under investigation looks set to earn a promotion to Tier A from Tier B after earning the required points to end of top of their group dislodging a team called the Sri Lanka Ports Authority which was poised to bag the title but could now only stand and blow the whistle.
Sri Lanka Cricket president Thilanga Sumathipala who was elected on promises to create a level-playing field for all club teams has already assured journalists that he was awaiting the outcome of the investigation by a three-man committed headed by a veteran club cricketer Jayantha Paranathala, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police.
“A team in order to win can use various tactics. But we will look into if there were any malpractices that had taken place”, said Sumathipala.