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SLC unable to find conclusive evidence in first-class match probe

Chamara Silva pads up during practice AFP

Despite a seven-month inquiry having run its course over the suspicious Tier B first-class match between Panadura Sports Club and Kalutara Physical Culture Club, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) and the independent committee it appointed have not been able to determine who made the decision to manipulate the result of that match.

The board has since punished the players of both the clubs - captains Chamara Silva and Manoj Deshapriya having been banned from "cricket-related activities" for two years, while the other players were served one-year bans. However, there remains no clarity on who - if anyone - instructed the players to manipulate the result.

"We can't pinpoint it was this person or that person who made the decision," chief inquirer Asela Rekawa said. "We didn't get any evidence to support that. That's why we had to punish more generally - even the captain, coach, we had to punish."

The reason for coming down hardest on the players, however, was due to the lack of evidence that any party other than the players were complicit, SLC said. It was on the cricketers, that SLC claims, original charges had been laid. And though the inquirers said they have provided players multiple opportunities to defend themselves, few players utilised that opportunity - many of them have remained completely absent from the inquiry's many hearings.

According to the inquirers, the players of each team had only been represented by lawyers, which is why the committee had later even requested the players to make written submissions if they had anything relevant to add. This process, in fact, was cited as one of the reasons why the inquiry took seven months to conclude, instead of the few weeks it was originally expected to take.

Despite all this, questions remain as to why many players spurned the opportunity to personally defend themselves at the inquiry.

One of the other strange aspects of this case, however, is that Silva* was actually not on the field on the final day of the match, when the suspicious scoring rates occurred. And yet, he has been handed the harshest sentence.

Rekawa said this was because as far as his committee was concerned, the inquiry was about whether the spirit of cricket had been tarnished through the course of the three-day match as a whole, and not whether it had occurred on a single day alone. Moreover, though Silva had not taken the field that day citing a stomach illness, Rekawa said the inquiry could not establish whether he had been at the venue or not.

"In terms of the documentation provided, it was very clear that [Silva] was not present on the last day. But there was no suggestion that Mr. Chamara Silva was not there at the [venue] premises. So there was no defense taken that he was not there and he didn't know anything about [the decision to manipulate the result]. He was in the same category as the other players. He didn't come [to the inquiry] in person. No lawyer appeared for him to suggest he was taking up a different position.

"In fact, only over the last two days, after the media had begun to discuss Silva's absence, did I find out about his stomach ailment. It wasn't much of a concern for us as we were not only concerned about the third day."

Rekawa and SLC did concede that having taken the decision to suspend the players, the board could be the subject of a legal challenge from them. In fact, at least one player has already retained a lawyer with a view to appealing his ban.

*This story had earlier erroneously said Silva was the only affected player to have represented Sri Lanka.