By Shehan Daniel
Allegations of match-fixing by former Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage has brought the 2011 Cricket World Cup final, which Sri Lanka lost to India, under scrutiny. But are these legitimate allegations or politically motivated statements?
What is the allegation?
Speaking to a private television channel last week, Aluthgamage alleged that Sri Lanka had “sold” the final of the 2011 Cricket World Cup against India in Mumbai. He pointed to the four changes Sri Lanka made to the team that beat New Zealand in the semi-final, presumably a suggestion that it was done to handicap the team’s chances in the final.
He told the private television channel: “We sold the World Cup final. I stand by what I say. It took place when I was the Minister of Sports. However, I do not wish to expose details for the sake of the country. The game against India in 2011, the game we could have won, was fixed. I say this with responsibility and I can come forward for a debate. The people are concerned about it. I would not involve the cricketers in this.”
Aluthgamage later told the Daily Mirror that an investigation should be carried out into how “certain cricket officials” purchased car companies and set up new businesses within a year of that lost final.
Sri Lanka lost the final by six wickets, despite making a competitive score of 275 and at one point having reduced India to 31 for 2.
The en masse resignations of captain Kumar Sangakkara, his deputy Mahela Jayawardene, the Aravinda de Silva-led selection committee and head coach Trevor Bayliss in the weeks after the final seemed to arouse suspicion at the time and fueled various conspiracy theories, but there has been no credible evidence to suggest that anything other than a fair match had been played out that night.
Allegations of match fixing and corruption are not new to Sri Lankan cricket, with the International Cricket Council (ICC) having conducted investigations into what it classified as “serious allegations of corruption”. The issue was addressed at heads-of-state level, when General Manager of the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit Alex Marshall met with then President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2018 to discuss the severity of the situation in Sri Lanka. Another former sports minister Harin Fernando claimed the ICC had rated Sri Lankan cricket as one of the most corrupt in the world.
Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) has repeatedly claimed the situation has been blown out of proportion, arguing that no allegations have been made by the ICC against the cricket establishment or active players.
Who is the allegation against?
Despite making such a stunning allegation, Aluthgamage has not divulged the names of those who he was accusing, only reiterating that it didn’t involve any players. When Daily Mirror spoke to the former minister, he elaborated on the allegations.
“The team who played the final match was not the team we had selected, finalized and sent. At the last moment, without the consultation of either me, or officials of Sri Lanka Cricket, four new players had been included to the team. We saw this only when we watched the match. How could four players get replaced without due approvals and consultations? The new players were inexperienced compared to the rest of the team. Why did they do that out of the blue?” Aluthgamage questioned.
Aluthgamage’s comments seem to suggest that even Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) officials did not know of these four changes, in which case he could be directing his allegations towards those who were involved in the team selection process or perhaps an influence outside of the cricket establishment that could be powerful enough to force these changes through. There is no way of knowing for certain unless the minister himself specifies who he believes “sold” the final.
He also told the Daily Mirror that he had written to the International Cricket Council in 2012 about the alleged fixing of matches and three other issues he noticed in Sri Lankan cricket, but received no response from the sport’s governing body. Aluthgamage is not the first to question the integrity of that final, with World Cup winning captain and former member of parliament Arjuna Ranatunga suggesting, as recently as 2017, that an investigation should be carried out into that defeat.
Who has responded to the allegations?
Former national captains Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene were the first to respond to the comments – the former suggesting that Aluthgamage should take his “evidence” to the ICC, while the other asked for “names and evidence” and “is the election around the corner”.
Aluthgamage sniped back saying that players need not make a big deal about it because the allegations were not directed at them. His political ally, former deputy speaker of Parliament and ex-president of SLC Thilanga Sumathipala weighed in saying, “Former Minister Aluthgamage had the right to do what he did, and he said players are not involved, and his statement will follow due procedure.” He also jibed at the former cricketers, saying, "Why are they getting worried and tweeting about it if they are not guilty of anything? If they have not done anything wrong, they don't need to wear the hat?"
Jayawardene responded, albeit with a hint of sarcasm, tweeting: “I am sorry next time we will check with him before reacting and wearing the hats since he has vast experience on the subject matter.”
Aluthgamage is contesting the upcoming general elections with the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna.
Former members of parliament also responded, with Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) election candidate Hirunika Premachandra condemning Aluthgamage’s comments, which she said has tarnished the image of the cricketers. She also said claimed this could be a part of a SLPP campaign strategy ahead of the August general elections. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake also underlined the seriousness of the allegations.
Secretary of SLC Mohan de Silva questioned why Aluthgamage did not follow the protocol that has been put in place for reporting such allegations.
“If the former minister felt at the time that there was something suspicious, he should have initiated an inquiry. He could have taken this to the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit as well,” the SLC secretary said. “If the ICC had not taken his comments seriously at the time, then it probably means that there was no merit to those claims.”
He also hinted at the political nature of these allegations: “It’s interesting that whenever an election is around the corner politicians come out with comments like this.”
Aravinda de Silva also responded saying Aluthgamage should report the purported match-fixing to the ICC, and argued that team selection was not a unilateral decision.
“We didn't make four changes outright, if you look at the team, not having Angelo Mathews meant that we needed to balance the team and were compelled to make those changes. The selection process involves a lot of people, with senior players, coaches, physios among those who give their input," Aravinda de Silva told another private television station.
"He needs to come out with a name and if he has proof, he should take it to the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit. Why is he talking about this after nine years?” Aravinda de Silva asked, urging the Board of Control for Cricket in India to also investigate the allegations.
Are the former minister’s allegations credible?
It’s difficult to say unless Aluthgamage, as former national captain Jayawardene has suggested, comes out with the names of those involved and any other information on which he is basing his allegations.
It is worth however revisiting a statement the former minister made when he spoke to the Daily Mirror: “At the last moment, without the consultation of either me or Sri Lanka Cricket officials, four new players had been included to the team.” This suggestion, that the minister’s and SLC officials’ approval was necessary in team selection ahead of matches, was contradicted by Nishantha Ranatunga, the Secretary of SLC at the time. "There is no reason to tell the minister or the SLC officials before finalizing the team. Usually the team is decided by the Captain, the Coach and the Chairman of Selectors and then conveyed to us,” Nishantha Ranatunga said.
The four changes the minister has pointed out to be suspicious could also be chalked up to being tactical changes, primarily revolving around an injury suffered by one player – Angelo Mathews. Since his debut three years earlier, Mathews had proven himself to be one of Sri Lanka’s most important players thanks to his skill as an all-rounder, with his contributions as a bowler just as significant as a middle order batsman.
Losing Mathews to a thigh injury, picked up during Sri Lanka’s semi-final against New Zealand, and not having a like-for-like replacement meant that the selectors, as suggested by Aravinda de Silva, would have to make at least two changes – to bring in a specialist batsman and bowler -- to compensate. Sri Lanka flew in two stand-by players, Suraj Randiv and Chaminda Vaas, and after ICC’s technical committee confirmed the legitimacy of Mathews’ injury, Randiv replaced him in the 15-man squad ahead of the final.
Additionally, Sri Lanka opted to replace two spinners, one who had been largely ineffective through the tournament and the other who had a poor record against India, with an additional fast bowler and a different spinner. This resulted in the four changes: Mathews, Chamara Silva, Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis making way for Chamara Kapugedera, Nuwan Kulasekera, Thisara Perera and Suraj Randiv.
Is it being investigated?
Unlike the claims made by Arjuna Ranatunga, the Minister of Sports Dullas Alahapperuma seems to have taken Aluthgamage’s allegations seriously and has launched a special investigation. The investigation will be carried out by a special unit of the Sports Ministry that was set up to investigate offences related to sports, consisting of officers from the Sri Lanka Police Department. This unit was established when the Prevention of Offences Relating to Sports Act was passed in parliament last year.
The Act also criminalizes, among many offences, match-fixing, corruption and illegal manipulation, also carrying punishment for failure to cooperate in relation to the investigation of an offense and failure to disclose information.
The Act also punishes those who make false accusations about an offense and in the event that Aluthgamage is found guilty of such, as defined by the Act, it would prove to be the cruelest example of irony, as the Prevention of Offences Relating to Sports Act was first drafted during Althugamage’s five-year tenure as Sports Minister between 2010 and 2015. The ICC has not released an official media release on Aluthgamage’s allegations, but multiple news outlets have quoted the ICC, saying that they are looking to engage with the minister to determine if any of his allegations warrant an investigation.