Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna
Suriname's withdrawal from the ICC World Cricket League Division 5 due to violations of player-eligibility guidelines was the culmination of a five-month investigation sparked by documents submitted by Vanuatu Cricket Association president Mark Stafford. According to an ICC statement announcing Suriname's withdrawal from Division 5, disciplinary charges were brought against the Surinaamse Cricket Bond with respect to player-eligibility regulations following the ICC's own investigation into the matter.
"We believe the material we have collated is more than sufficient to create a 'reasonable suspicion' that breaches of the Regulations have occurred and that the Head of Legal should carry out a detailed investigation in which copies of all passports, entry visas, employment records, playing records and related documents should be furnished to the Head of Legal to enable him to verify the claims made as to eligibility," Stafford wrote to ICC head of legal Iain Higgins in a 15-page document on October 7, a copy of which has been obtained by ESPNcricinfo; the document was submitted along with a 19-page supplementary evidence document.
Vanuatu had finished third after losing to eventual champions Suriname in a semi-final at WCL Division 6, held between September 7 and 13 in Essex, and Suriname was promoted to Division 5 at Vanuatu's expense. Following Suriname's withdrawal, Vanuatu will now replace Suriname at Division 5, which will be played from May 21-28 in Jersey.
Stafford's letter on behalf of the VCA included detailed notes from Vanuatu's own investigation and asked for Higgins and the ICC to take the matter further with their own investigation. Stafford's submission cast doubts pertaining to the eligibility of at least six members of Suriname's squad including star allrounder Wasim Haslim, WCL Division 6 leading wicket-taker Muneshwar Chris Patandin, and Player of the Tournament Gavin Singh, who all originally hail from neighbouring Guyana.
The ICC announcement claims that the SCB has now accepted that "it failed in its duty to ensure the provision of accurate residency information to the ICC in respect of a number of players." Prior to participating in any ICC tournaments in the future, the SCB "will be required to satisfy to the ICC that it has put in place robust processes for maintaining accurate residency records and ensuring the compliance of all Suriname teams with the player eligibility regulations."
According to ICC eligibility guidelines, non-citizens must be residents of the country they are aiming to represent for a minimum of 183 days per year in the four years prior to the start of a tournament in order to qualify. Much of the evidence compiled and submitted are links to scorecards from various club matches played by the players outside of Suriname, demonstrating their participation in club seasons in the UK, Guyana, Canada and the USA.
Stafford's letter made a case that the evidence demonstrates the improbability of each player being able to fly back and forth to Suriname in between matches during the club cricket season, therefore reducing the likelihood that they satisfied the 183-day residency requirement. The scorecard evidence was also complemented by other documents including numerous time and location stamped social media posts made by the players or their family members showing them consistently outside Suriname for lengthy periods of time, as well as public property records showing players owning and operating residences and businesses in the USA.
Another point raised by Stafford is that ICC eligibility criteria also states a player needs play in "50% of the domestic league matches that his club was scheduled to play within the relevant domestic structure in any 3 of the preceding 5 domestic league seasons". Vanuatu's letter contends that a traditional season runs for 15-20 weeks but that Suriname allegedly manipulated this by scheduling a five-team round-robin domestic tournament in which each team played four games, meaning that a player would only have to play two games in Suriname to meet the 50% stipulation.
Stafford wrote that concerns over the eligibility of many of Suriname's players were brought to his attention prior to the start of the Division 6 tournament. Stafford served as the team's tour manager at the tournament and writes that Vanuatu team management tried to raise the issue with ICC officials at an ICC technical meeting on September 6, the night before the first match of the tournament, but says that his attempt was unsuccessful.
The VCA's 19-page supplementary letter with appendices also states that they received supporting evidence from Botswana Cricket Association, whose national side also played at Division 6, to demonstrate that Suriname fell foul of the eligibility rules. Among the other pieces of supporting evidence were press conference and interview transcripts from cricket officials in the Nickerie district of Suriname, who claimed that local players were losing interest after being passed over in favor of Guyanese players that were suspected of being ineligible to represent Suriname due to their foreign residency.