Last year, an active Sri Lankan cricketer who had captained the country at various stages in shorter formats of the game was taken for a ride around Colombo by an ex-player. A few minutes into their conversation, the ex-player proposed being part of corrupt practice in games but the player turned down the offer. The former player then opened the cubby-hole of his car and showed stacks of US$ 100 notes to lure the player into foul play. But he didn’t want anything to do with it and took immediate measures to inform the Anti Corruption Unit about what had taken place.
That opened a can of worms as the ICC went deep into corruption in Sri Lankan cricket. They have reached the last stages of investigations and the next two months will be crucial for cricket in Sri Lanka. The ICC announcing a two-week grace period for players and other stakeholders to come and report previous unreported incidents is likely to see an avalanche of people turning in.
In the last 24 months, Sri Lankan cricket has hit new lows. They lost a first-ever Test match to Bangladesh, lost a first-ever ODI series to Zimbabwe, and failed to reach the finals of Nidahas Trophy, hosted to celebrate country’s 70th year of independence. India, Pakistan, England, New Zealand, and South Africa have whitewashed them in that period.
At a moment when authorities needed to find out how they are going to rectify their cricketing woes, they have been forced to keep that aside and worry on more serious issues — corruption in their backyard. Their reputation as the most corrupt cricketing nation in the world has done irreparable damage to the country. Their predicament is like being taken out of the frying pan, only to put into the fire.
You wonder whether the poor results have come because the team has not been good enough or whether there’s something more sinister that has been going on. There are some extremely suspicious incidents that have taken place in recent years. How can someone who has failed to find a place for his club in one-day cricket can go on to represent Sri Lanka and then eventually end up leading the side?
This happened when India toured Sri Lanka in 2017. The player who stood in as captain during one of the ODIs has come under the spotlight. The team had decided to chase if they win the toss at Pallekele. But after calling it right the said player opted to bat first. When the team management asked to show cause, the player put it down to ‘brain fade’. Even more surprisingly, he missed the next two games due to a mysterious back pain.
Too many players have featured for Sri Lanka in white-ball cricket in the last two years. Obviously, there were too many caps given away. Whether people try to influence the outcome of games using these rookies is another question that you need to ponder, particularly after Alex Marshall, the ICC Anti Corruption chief, harping on the fact that young players are the most vulnerable.
Someone who has worked closely with the Sri Lankan team in recent times has not got too many complimentary things to say about the players, both senior and young. He suspects that too many players have been up to mischief and concedes that once you have compromised with corrupt elements, there’s no way of coming out of it even though you feel that what you do is wrong.
How can Sri Lanka come out of the mess they are in? There are several measures that authorities can put in place to address this burning issue. The foremost of them is to criminalise match-fixing and spot-fixing. There are no laws currently to deal with corrupt practice in the sport and legal experts believe that this aspect has given corrupt elements the license to be engaged in foul play.
Laws need to be enacted involving not just fines but jail terms as well to root out the scourge of corruption. Unless drastic measures are introduced, the corrupt will continue to have a field day.
Sri Lanka Cricket also seriously needs to look at the parity of pay between first-class cricketers and international cricketers. Currently, while a Test cricketer earns US$ 7500 per game, the pay for a first-class game is less than US$ 100. Due to this, too many young players become vulnerable to corrupt elements.
Whatever the measures that both the ICC and SLC have put in place to keep the game clean seem to have failed. No doubt, there’s quite a bit of education being done on corruption in the sport and while this helps players to be vigilant, but it doesn’t seem to be stopping them from co-operating with crooks. There need to be stricter measures to monitor the activities of players and those who are closest to them. Some player agents could be, in fact, devil’s agents.