By Madushka Balasuriya
Sri Lanka Cricket has come under fire for failing to take action on a year-long match-fixing inquiry which also implicates SLC Assistant Secretary Ravin Wickramaratne, who yesterday sought to deflect accusations against him as a key player in the scandal.
During a press conference held at the behest of Wickramaratne, it emerged that for four months SLC had failed to act on a report which raised serious questions and conflicts of interest on a long-running match-fixing scandal. Umpires’ Committee member T.H. Wijewardene, and high ranking officials at the two clubs in question, Panadura Sports Club and Kalutara Physical Culture Club, have also been implicated.
The report, which was commissioned by lawyers representing the players of Panadura but not the club itself, recommends that SLC hold an internal inquiry into the conduct of Wickramaratne, Wijewardene, and key office bearers at Kalutara and Panadura, in line with findings against them by an appeals committee. It also highlights that, while SLC had fined both clubs to the tune of Rs. 500,000 and suspended their players, the governing body has failed to impose any form of suspension on the clubs itself.
Wickramaratne, who is also the former Panadura SC Chairman, maintained his innocence and confirmed to reporters that over the course of the months’ long investigation into the scandal he had never been questioned. He also took umbrage at what he perceived as a politically motivated witch-hunt against him.
“Some media have attacked me saying that I am linked to this issue. I did not watch this match but I have heard of the match. I am a member of the club and a friend of Thilanga. But you can’t use that to attack me,” said Wickramaratne at a media briefing at SLC headquarters.
“This is a well organised mudslinging campaign against me. I have never been named; no one has talked to me. No one has asked me to testify. Do you really think an official can fix a match alone? The cricketers have to go out and play. Please don’t destroy my character, because I was not a part of this.”
Responding to questions from the media, Wickramaratne also acknowledged he had failed to read crucial reports investigating the match-fixing scandal and suggested that the Executive Committee would only take up the issue once SLC elections are completed at the end of this month. Votes from both Panadura and Kalutara clubs are seen by analysts as crucial to the incumbent board’s re-election chances.
“It was a pretty busy period with the Nidahas Trophy and local government elections, so we may not have had the time. I admit that we did not take action and maybe it would be taken in the future. But this is not something that I should be attacked for on my own.”
An emotional Wickramaratne also seemed to contradict himself at various points during the media briefing, at one point making a vague threat that, “if we continue to discuss this and continue to drag this matter out I can put many people in trouble,” only to later assert that no match-fixing had taken place in the first place. He also threatened to take legal action but said he would defer such efforts till the SLC had completed the inquiry.
“I don’t think the match was fixed,” he said of the game, in which the third and final day saw 603 runs scored at a rate of 10.28 runs per over and 24 wickets fall in 59 overs.
With it being a clear thread throughout the briefing that Wickramaratne felt unfairly targeted, despite having claimed that no match-fixing had taken place, he proceeded to place the blame on the players once more.
“From this incident about 30 people are supposedly involved, so why is it that only I am highlighted? Officials alone can’t fix matches. There are many things I can say, but I won’t. You can’t abdicate the players of their responsibilities.”
The initial investigation conducted last year had seen players of Panadura and Kalutara banned for one year from all cricketing activities for their supposed role in manipulating the result of the Tier B first-class match in January 2017 - with captains Chamara Silva and Manoj Deshapriya receiving two-year bans. However, upon receiving complaints from the two clubs, SLC commenced a formal appeals process and temporarily suspended the original punishments.
The report commissioned by the players, which has been seen by the Daily FT, also cites a technicality – that SLC failed to verify that charge sheets were handed to and received by the players – as reason for declaring null and void the sentences handed down to them.
It also finds that all the players – apart from Manoj Deshapriya – were prevented from appearing before the original inquiry panel to provide statements. The players are believed to have been brought to the building where the inquiry was being held but were prevented from getting off the bus. Wickramaratne admitted to have gotten on the bus and informed the players that their presence was not necessary as the club had hired a lawyer to represent them.
“I admit I went into the bus because the players are from my club, and I have an interest towards my club as an honorary life member. I just had a chat with them,” he explained.
At an Appeal Committee hearing in November 2017, a representative of Panadura SC claimed that the club had been instructed by the inquiry panel not to bring the players before them unless asked to do so.
However Chairman of the inquiry panel, attorney Asela Rekewa, had earlier stated that the players had been given ample time to provide evidence to the panel. Nonetheless, this has been disputed by the players, who claim the only notice they received was one informing them of the final sentence.