By Michael Roberts –
The Al-Jazeera Video Report on alleged pitch-doctoring at the Galle Test Matches in the recent past as steps in betting scams has grabbed the sporting headlines and generated an investigation. The sensationalist impact has skewed and dulled the minds of reporters and administrators alike. Cricketing acumen has gone out of the window.
No one has raised an immediate question: given that matches in Galle have generally produced results (usually in favour of the home side), how can gamblers win by betting on a draw? And how can they skew the result in favour of the spinner-laden home side when they cannot control the result of the toss?
The TOSS. This factor ahs been tossed out of the window by every reporter riding the slip stream of the Al Jazeera smash and grab.
This consideration, and the character of the guys initiating the claims in front of the Al-Jazeera reporters – especially Robin Morris and his style, immediately indicated to me that Al-Jazeera was being taken for a ride. Not that David Harrison and Company would have minded that. They wanted a scoop and Sri Lanka’s political record in recent years rendered its people a juicy target for the orientations of the Al-Jazeera directorate. Thus, it was ripe for the WHAM-BANG juicy corruption tale spawned by Morris et al.
The Australian and British press lapped it all up. They literally salivated and slashed. Peter Lalor of The Australian – a cricket analyst with a long record of hunting with both the hares and “the hounds – presented a tale with the headlines “Pitch doctors Fixed Test”. Not enough: he went further — the Al-Jazeera report confirmed his original report on the match in 2016 which read: “Doctor’s tweaked Galle’s test pitch”.
The bare scores were meant to demonstrate these ‘facts.’
Sri Lanka 1st ins = 286 runs
Australia 1sr inns = 106 runs
Sri Lanka 2nd inns = 207 runs
Australia 2nd inns = 183 runs
So, yes, the pitch clearly favoured bowlers and the details reveal that the spinners were the main destroyers, a standard feature at Galle.
However, there are two Buts” that any person with cricketing acumen should raise in responding to the betting/doctoring claims postulated by Al-Jazeera and Robin Morris.
1. How did the conspirators make sure that Sri Lanka won the toss? And what were the precise lines of the betting—when and what?
2. How is it that Sri Lanka scored 207 runs in their 2nd innings after Australia scored only 106? If the pitch was doctored devilish, how is it the sequence of scores indicate that?
That Australian reporters should buy the Al-Jazeera tale and cry foul is not surprising. The intellectual strands of what Edward Said called “Orientalism”—where the power-brokers of Western civilisation depicted Asia and the rest as degenerate and treacherous – remain alive today, , albeit in weaker strains. Peter Lalor, therefore, can claim to be a descendant of a ‘rich’ intellectual lineage.
However, what is surprising is that so many Sri Lankan and Indian journalists bought the story and ran with it; and that cricket journalists did not spot the shortcomings in the reportage. That the Sri Lanka cricket authorities immediately dismissed the two Sri Lankan story tellers and initiated an investigation is reasonable enough. Indika and Mendis were joining Morris and Al-Jazeera in bringing the country into disrepute.
My information is that Tharanga Indika is indeed a key official and curator of the Galle Cricket Club having succeed Warnaweera in 2015 when the latter was suspended. His friendship with Warnaweera immediately generates dubious strains because the latter has a tarnished reputation. However, Al-Jazeera’s indication that Tharindu Mendis was a cricketer from Galle is incorrect and one wonders why those experienced journalists did not check his background by simply visiting ESPNcricinfo. A lie on such issues should have raised concerns.
But, when one is on to a sensational tale that is a headline grabbing scoop, well, then, such caution is discarded is it not? David Harrison and A-Jazeera smelt headline glamour and threw caution to the wind. They also by-passed one of the fundamental points in a cricket match: one cannot predict who will win the toss.