Sri Lanka news May 27, 2018

Allegedly corrupt pitch curator is not a curator, says SLC

Heavy morning showers delayed the start of the Galle Test © AFP

The person identified in an Al Jazeera investigation as a "groundsman" who may have twice curated Test pitches in Galle to suit bettors, is not in fact a curator, according to SLC. As such, he did not have powers to alter the state of either pitch, board officials said.

In the investigative documentary, "Cricket's match-fixers," the person Al Jazeera says is Tharanga Indika is seen in conversation with an undercover journalist posing as a prospective bettor. Two other men, who are also identified as fixers, are present in the room. Through the course of this conversation, Indika claims to have doctored the Test pitches for the 2016 match against Australia and 2017 match against India, according to Al Jazeera. The investigation describes Indika's actions as "unlawful", the implication being, the doctoring was for the benefit of bettors.

The documentary identifies Indika as someone "who oversees the pitch at Galle, where Sri Lanka play international matches". But SLC denied Indika had control over how any pitch will turn out.

While the board pledged its support to the ICC's investigation into the matter, "[Indika] is not a curator," board CEO Ashley de Silva told ESPNcricinfo. "He was only the assistant manager. He was working on the administrative side and overlooking the staff at the venue." 

SLC did not deny that Indika was in a position to direct staff who were working at the venue. However, all work on the pitch was overseen by SLC's certified curators, said Godfrey Dabrera, the board's international venues and facilities manager - effectively the head SLC curator. Dabrera was the man in charge of both the Test pitches Al Jazeera drew into question. 

"Anyone who works at the ground has access to the pitch, but without my permission, he can't direct staff to work on the surface," Dabrera told ESPNcricinfo. "All he can do is supply the labour that we need. Sometimes he directs the temporary staff we have hired to pull the covers on and off the field, but when it comes to making the wickets, he has no rights there. He has no connection to the cricket side of things. If I am not at the pitch, then my assistant Asitha, who generally works at Pallekele, is at the pitch."

While the SLC curators are present during pitch preparation before the match begins, the Al Jazeera investigation itself suggests ICC officials are present after the game has begun. 

And although Indika had begun training to become a curator, he was some way from completing that qualification, and was not regarded by the board as a curator, Dabrera said. "He has attended a curators' workshop, but he hasn't completed that course. Even though he has done some of the theory, there is a practical component. If you pass that only you get a certificate. He's not a curator in any case."

Where someone who works inside the venue might be of use to bettors, however, is when it comes to providing pitch information before the game begins. Dabrera said: "People like assistant managers don't have the power to make the pitches they want. What is possible is that they can watch what we are doing. They can talk to the staff who have been working on the pitch. They can listen to conversations."

"I wasn't aware anything like this was going on. Now I will have to cover everything up during the preparation of a pitch to stop [that information from getting out]. But someone who has no control over how the pitch will turn out can't say anything like this."

The two Test surfaces in question, meanwhile, had not raised the officials' eyebrows at the time. In fact, ESPNcricinfo can confirm the Sri Lanka team had requested a spin-friendly surface for the Australia match in 2016, and a batting friendly surface against India in 2017. Immediately after that 2017 game, the captain Rangana Herath had said: "I think we made this pitch because we had a plan. I said before the match that it will be a track that's good for batting. We should take the main responsibility for the nature of the pitch." The ICC had rated that pitch as "very good".

*The 2016 pitch for the Australia match had been rated "below average", just about escaping serious ICC censure. It was very spin friendly, and had been described by Sri Lanka's then-captain Angelo Mathews as an "extreme pitch". Australia slumped to 106 and 183 all out in that game, Sri Lanka ad made 281 and 237 in their innings. 

"There are standards for every pitch that we have to follow," Dabrera said. "The ball can't skid along the ground. It can't jump up at batsmen. It can't have inconsistent bounce. Those things are regulated by the ICC." 

This is the second time in a few years the surfaces in Galle have been part of corruption investigations, however. In early 2016, the venue's curator Jayananda Warnaweera was suspended for three years by the ICC, for failing to attend scheduled ACU interviews on two separate occasions.

*This story was updated with the pitch rating information.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

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