In June this year, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, the former sports minister of Sri Lanka, had raised concerns about the four changes Sri Lanka had made before the final of the 2011 World Cup. However, after a thorough investigation, the Sri Lankan sports ministry decided to stop the investigation into claims that the final in 2011 was fixed. Kumar Sangakkara, the then captain, had also been questioned following the allegation.
Opening up about the ordeal in Cricbuzz In Conversation, Sangakkara said it was ‘disappointing’ to go through the ordeal, but also added that it could be ‘healthy for the game.’
“It is disappointing and also a bit amusing at times,” said Sangakkara. “And we had that recently when the ex-sports minister did quite a frivolous claim and we had to go in and answer questions.
“Actually, to go through and answer those questions, and making those statements was really really healthy for the game, whether it was me, the selectors, Mahela or anyone else. I think that process is really important for people to understand what respect for the game means. The game of cricket needs people of integrity and people who are not afraid to speak their minds. And also when you have any questions to be answered, you don’t need to hide, you can answer any of those. When it comes to politics, when you have politically and morally corrupt individuals, who are affiliated with the sport even in an official capacity, you understand where all this comes from and you don’t have to be afraid to second guess what their motivations are,” he added.
However, corruption in Sri Lankan cricket has come to the fore in recent times. The likes of Dilhara Lokuhettige and Nuwan Zoysa were suspended for violating the ICC’s anti-corruption code. Even Sanath Jayasuriya, the former Sri Lankan captain, was banned for a couple of years from all cricket-related activities for refusing to co-operate with ICC’s anti-corruption unit. Last year, Sri Lanka’s parliament even passed a bill to criminalise offences related to fixing.
Sangakkara felt that a ‘vulnerable first-class structure’ is one of the key reasons for the spread of corruption. “Well, I think corruption has always been a part and parcel of this game. Unfortunately, It happened in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. And then it went from match-fixing to spot-fixing.
“And then when you’re devoid of old cricketing stalwarts, people who can really impart experiences, knowledge, the self-respect for the game, its roots, culture, its traditions to a young side, then that side becomes vulnerable. And over the years, you take the dressing room of the Sri Lankan side, we don’t have the old greats imparting their wisdom to young cricketers now… to make cricketers understand what their responsibilities are.
“Now if you really go to the clubs, most experienced players are all leaving for Australia and England, because playing for a club isn’t a professional exercise anymore. So if you want to earn a living, you go abroad. All these young players coming to these clubs’ dressing rooms are devoid of experience. When you have a vulnerable first-class structure, it is open season for any of these corruptors to come in and try their hooks into through the cricketers,” said Sangakkara.
Sangakkara’s misgivings about the First Class structure in Sri Lanka extended beyond the realms of potential corruption to the lack of a proper feeder system.
“We are not being able to provide young, talented cricketers the structure and guidance to become greats. I think that has been a failure of the Sri Lankan system for a long period of time,” he said.
“We have always been left behind… without really looking at the first-class system. Other countries have refined their structures. In Sri Lanka, we always have a saying that in the first two years of international cricket, you’re teaching them how to play first-class cricket. I think it holds true now even more than what it was in the past. And unless we fix our First-Class cricket, refine and provide these players with the best possible nurturing grass-root structure to become greats… we are failing those cricketers. And it is very unfair to point fingers at young cricketers of today. And not point fingers at the system that is failing them.”