10 July 2020

The madnesses that must stop

Before we get to ‘crazy’ let’s start with ‘sober’. Innocent unless proven guilty. Trial by media is spectacle but has little to do with justice. Conviction by accusation is common but that’s as much a blight on the accuser as the accused.

Madness. It’s a word used recently by Harin Fernando in a tweet. Now Harin does get himself in hot water with the careless use of words, but in this instance he is expressing sentiments that are not uncommon.

“This madness has to stop, these Cricketers are our pride. We must be the first country to question all players over an unreliable statement which is clearly aimed at diverting public attention from the real issues public facing. Shame.”

This is what he said. He’s referring of course to allegations of hanky-panky leading to and during the 2011 Cricket World Cup final. Well, if that’s ‘madness’ it has stopped. The investigation was called off ‘for lack of evidence.’ Where that leaves Aluthgamage is something that the ex-minister has to worry about.

If, as Harin Fernando claims, it’s all about ‘diverting public attention from the real issues faced by the public,’ it is indeed shameful.  However, the true reason would only be known by the accuser, in this case former minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage.

There are obvious questions that need to be asked and in fact have been asked including ‘why now?’

‘It’s about elections and publicity,’ is an answer that some have mentioned. ‘Was,’ obviously. That’s a bit dicey though. If those accused or rather are implicated, are ‘greats’ and if they are loved (as they are certainly) by the general public, then Aluthgamage would essentially have been doing himself a disservice.

We could put it down to error of judgment. Politicians do that. Harin knows. So does his leader Sajith Premadasa who is making quite a reputation for himself by uttering nonsense and then apologizing for the same. The more important element of the question or rather the companion query is ‘why not back then?’

To Aluthgamage’s credit, he did make some noises at the time. Perhaps he did have the ‘evidence’ he’s since submitted to the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) attached to the Ministry of Sports but was persuaded not to proceed. All this is speculation which a full investigation would have sorted out one way or the other, but that’s not going to happen now of course.

Now some have claimed that the ‘timing’ is not about the parliamentary elections but possible elections for the post of ICC President. They’ve talked about a face-off between former Indian captain Saurav Gangula and former Sri Lankan skipper Kumar Sangakkara. So there’s speculation that India has a hand in all this. India wants the road to be cleared for Ganguly’s ascension, they claim. In other words, conspiracy theories abound. We need to keep in mind that given power realities in the cricket world, all it takes for an Indian to secure the post is to announce candidacy. 

More realistic is the possibility that investigations were stopped in view of possibly negative fallout politically at the time. Sangakkara was not only in his cricketing prime but had also become a global ambassador for the sport after his Colin Cowdrey lecture (the MCC Spirit of Cricket speech) in July 2011. Nevertheless Aluthgamage needs to offer a solid answer to the ‘why now?’ question.

Speaking of politics, Harin and his party haven’t exactly been apolitical here. They are howling in protest over ‘cricketing greats’ being questioned. They’ve forgotten that Sangakkara himself called for an investigation. He wanted the ICC to investigate.

There’s a problem here. Sri Lanka is a sovereign state. It has a sports ministry and a judicial system. The SIU is not a court. At best it can make a preliminary investigation. That’s basic. Rushing to international arbitration crying ‘Mommy!’ is a virulent disease of colonial remnants and many of  Harin’s political friends suffer from this ailment.

What’s most interesting is the crack he’s taken on Aluthgamage, who is after all hardly a political saint for reasons of omission and commission. He calls it an ‘unreliable statement.’ Aluthgamage, in other words, is not reliable. An opinion of course, but to be fair even ‘reliability’ is subjective.  

I find it interesting because Harin Fernando’s political friends (in the Samagi Jana Balavegaya and the United National Party) have worked hard for years to lynch their political opponents over alleged (that word!) war crimes based on statements issued by ‘unreliable witnesses.’ ‘Credible evidence’ is the term used.

How is credibility ascertained, though? In the case of ‘war crimes’ it’s about someone repeating something that someone else said. And that ‘someone else’ got it from another ‘someone else’. Dig all the way down to ‘original source’ and we find, for example, doctors forced to make statements at gunpoint, so to speak. The LTTE had a reason to conjure up horror scenarios. The doctors never had the freedom to tell the truth. They were, like the several hundred thousands who made the LTTE’s ‘human shield,’ hostages. Once they were rescued, the doctors could speak freely. And they did. But they weren’t believed because the truth was inconvenient. Four of these doctors are still in Sri Lanka and are respected professionals. The last preferred ‘greener pastures’ apparently and is now a pin-up boy for the liars.

‘Reliability,’ is therefore politically framed. And that’s a madness of a kind.

Two names have done the rounds, Kumar Sangakkara and Aravinda de Silva. Pointing fingers at ‘those who brought honor and glory to the country’ was what was considered ‘appalling.’ That was what Harin thought was ‘madness.’

Let’s get back to sobriety. Kumar Sangakkara is a hero. A cricketing great. Aravinda Silva is also a hero. A cricketing great. They’ve both brought immense honor and glory to Sri Lanka. It would break many a heart if they were found to have been involved in anything that goes against the ‘spirit of cricket.’ Sangakkara has done the right thing in calling for an investigation.

Allegations should be investigated. That’s a prerequisite in clearing innocents of wrongdoing. It should not be done by a kangaroo court (which is where war-crimals and their strange bedfellows would love ‘war crimes’ allegations to be investigated). The Special Investigative Unit set up by the Sports Ministry was hardly a kangaroo court. The issue has been put to sleep for ‘lack of credible evidence,’ we are told. However, if anything untoward had been unearthed, then the matter could have been sent to the ICC.

Let us not forget that the 2011 World Cup victory was one of the greatest moments for Indian cricket. It was Sachin Tendulkar’s ‘retirement present.’ It stamped Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s credentials as a cricketing legend. India wouldn’t want the luster of that moment robbed in any way, even if Indians were not involved in any of the hanky-panky that may have taken place (if proven of course).

Sudat Pasqual, a former Sri Lankan cricketer, a prolific commentator on cricket and politics and certainly without any political affiliations, has made some interesting points in an article titled ‘Match-fixing or spot-fixing?’

1. Ajantha Mendis has had a good World Cup going into the final. Mendis had played 5 matches and had taken 6 wickets including 3 wickets in the semis at an economy rate of 3.2 but was dropped from the final.
2. Rangana Herath had played against England and Pakistan where he had bowled his full quota of overs (20) and taken 2 wickets at an economy rate of 4.65. Herath was also dropped from the final XI.
3. Suraj Randiv who was not in the World Cup squad was included as a specialist spinner in the final XI.
4. Chairman of selectors Aravinda de Silva is on record saying that the loss of Angelo Mathews created a massive problem in terms of finding the right balance of the team and 2 of the changes in the final XI was to plug the hole created by Mathews’ absence. Kumar Sangakkara has voiced similar concerns after the tournament.
5. In the tournament before he received his injury, Mathews scored 94 runs in 7 innings and took 6 wickets bowling a total of 36 overs. Sometimes runs and wickets do not tell the whole story but it seems a bit dodgy to conclude that the Sri Lanka needed to make 2 changes to the team to balance the team by the loss of a player who averaged 5 overs per match and had a run aggregate of 94 from 7 matches. Mathews had scored almost half of those runs (41) against NZ and had not batted in 2 of the matches. Especially if the solution to losing a key player was to bring in a player who was not even in the squad (Suraj Randiv) and another who had played 1 match in the whole tournament and scored 2 runs against Canada during Sri Lanka’s 1st match of the tournament. To recap, the selectors included 2 players who had played a total of 1 match in the whole tournament to replace one of the most important players in the team.
6. The inclusion of Chamara Kapugedera seems strange considering Chamara Silva played in 6 of the matches including the semis and had scored 57 in the team’s only loss to Pakistan by 11 runs.
7. Selectors had 2 specialist spinners in the squad who had bowled a total of 62 overs, taken 8 wickets while conceding 3.2 runs/over (Ajantha Mendis) and 4.65 runs/over (Rangana Herath) respectively but opted to field a spinner who was not even in the squad to play in the most important match of the tournament.
8. Maybe the inclusion of Randiv who is a specialist off spinner was a cover for Mutthiah
Muralitharan who had admitted that he was nursing a groin injury going into the final.

Passa was not making wild allegations. The entire selection is marked by strangeness. Madness, even. And we know what ‘strangeness’ can deliver in a world where bets are made and people make millions out of them.

Is this enough to hang the skipper and the chief selector? Obviously not. ‘Error of judgment’ is a readily available explanation. The onus then would have been on the investigators to find out if indeed there was or wasn’t any wrongdoing.

Finally, we need to unpack the word ‘great.’ The great are not infallible. The great are not above the law. ‘Great’ does not confer untouchability. As mentioned, few if any would want heroes to fall. In fact NO ONE would want heroes to be framed. If indeed such is the intention, the intenders need to be investigated and made to pay for what would then most certainly be an abominable act. 

However, let us not forget that the world has seen many innumerable heroes who have proved to be fallible. Here’s a quick list of sporting personalities who fell from grace: Lance Armstrong, Michael Vick, Oscar Pistorius, Tonya Harding, Aaron Hernandez, Marion Jones, O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez, Antonio Margarito, Ben Johnson, Roger Clemens, Floyd Landis, Barry Bonds, Hansie Cronje, Pete Rose, Jayson Williams, Mark McGwire and Lenny Dykstra. Steve Smith’s ball-tampering is kids’ stuff in comparison.

‘Great’ is not a license to do wrong. But that’s a separate issue. History does not count. Stature does not count. It’s the act that matters. And that is what needs to be established. It has not been established as of now. Politicking will not shed light but in fact can only obscure. Our heroes don’t need it.

This article was published in 'The Morning' in two parts on July 7 and 9, 2020

Other articles in the series titled 'The Interception' [published in 'The Morning']

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