by Ashis Ray
The spot-fixing scandal could engulf cricketers outside Pakistan. There were reports on Sunday that a leading Sri Lankan player was under suspicion for links with a bookie. And this has led to fears that IPL was also not immune to investigation by the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit.
A senior figure in world cricket said the ICC has been probing Lankan betting links with IPL since its second edition, if not earlier.
Meanwhile, 'News of the World' released another sting tape which showed Pakistani batsman Yasir Hameed claiming that most Pakistani players were embroiled in fixing and "they are doing it (fixing) in almost every match".
The disclosure that a leading Sri Lankan cricketer was under suspicion for too much late-night conviviality with a bookmaker is a warning that the Twenty20 Indian Premier League (IPL) is not immune to investigation by ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU). A senior figure in world cricket said the ICC has been probing Sri Lankan betting links with the IPL since its second edition, if not earlier.
The ICC's interest has been trained on Thilanga Sumathipala, a former chairman of the Sri Lankan cricket board (BCCSL), whose family operates betting shops all over the island, especially in the capital Colombo. Sumathipala denied any involvement with this aspect of his family's businesses.
However, the ACSU secretly filmed his residence and office and reportedly gathered evidence of betting-related elements frequently visiting at least one of such premises. Besides, his rival in the BCCSL, the erstwhile Sri Lankan captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, is convinced Sumathipala is involved.
More importantly, in an chat with this correspondent in the presence of an English cricket official, Ranatunga revealed: "Sumathipala and Sanath Jayasuriya were instrumental in setting up a meeting for Lalit Modi with the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in July 2008".
The purpose was to persuade this powerful politician to overturn Ranatunga's decision as the then chairman of BCCSL to disallow Sri Lankan players to participate in the 2009 IPL and instead tour England, who had offered $2 million to the cash-strapped BCCSL to do so. Rajapaksa duly obliged; the England visit was cancelled and the Sri Lankan cricketers reaped a harvest in the IPL in South Africa.
Sumathipala is an influential newspaper owner, who the reputedly ruthless Rapapaksa would like to keep in good humour for political purposes.
Ranatunga further alleged that Sumathipala's vested interest was the turnover in his family's bookmaking business, which had boomed at the time of IPL 2008. To maintain this momentum, it was essential to have the continued participation of Sri Lankan players in the IPL; otherwise, punters' interest in Sri Lanka would drop dramatically.
Repeated phone calls to Sumathipala failed to elicit a response.
In 2007, Sumathipala was sentenced to two years hard labour by a Sri Lankan court. As the then deputy solicitor general of Sri Lanka put it: "He was convicted of having abetted a person (belonging to the underworld) to use a forged passport for the purpose of travelling overseas (to watch the 1999 World Cup in England)." He was released on bail pending an appeal.
Earlier, the ICC had more than once written to the BCCSL not to send Sumathipala to attend ICC meetings given his allegedly dubious activities, including one categorical letter from Ehsan Mani, then ICC president, not to do so. So, the question that now arises is: was Modi, now charge-sheeted by the BCCI for other reasons, privy to Sumathipala's motives in helping him to meet Rajapaksa? If so, then he knowingly and willingly accepted this assistance, ignoring the disrepute that such collaboration might potentially bring to the the IPL.
More seriously, did the odds that have been offered by Sumathipala's family's bookmaking concern border on match fixing or spot fixing?
The ICC is clearly under pressure to clean up the game. It cannot be seen to be obsessed with Pakistan and oblivious of other areas of abuse. In the past week, a section of Pakistani media have repeatedly reminded the ICC it is turning a blind eye towards the IPL.
What is abundantly true in the past week's developments that, while the fixers may be Pakistan players and middlemen, the illegal bookies are mostly Indians.
In other words, the national issue for India is: should it legalise bookmaking across the board? The answer to this has got to be an emphatic "yes", while protecting the vulnerable. For instance, only persons holding PAN can be permitted to place bets. Licensed betting will enforce regulation as well as generate thousands of crores of revenue each years, otherwise swirling in the black economy. - courtesy: Times of India -