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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

India vs Sri Lanka 2017 Test in spotlight for pitch-fixing

Sting operation claims that strip for 2017 Test match in Galle between India and Sri Lanka was fixed; ‘facilitator’ Robin Morris claims innocence.

Written by Devendra Pandey | Mumbai | Updated: May 27, 2018 9:20:57 am
According to Al Jazeera, the first Sri Lanka-India Test in July 2017 and a 2016 match involving Australia were played on a doctored pitch at Galle. (Source: PTI File)

Mumbai’s former first-class cricketer Robin Morris, who figures in Al Jazeera’s undercover investigation that casts doubts over last year’s India-Sri Lanka Test at Galle, says he has done no wrong and was just playing the translator of what he thought was a movie. However, in the teaser released by the Doha-based news channel a day before Sunday’s online telecast, the 41-year-old one-time Ranji Trophy winner is seen talking about how he has “about 30 players who will play what I tell them to” and also “make the pitch do whatever he wants”.

Speaking to The Sunday Express, Morris said, “It’s all for masala, let me see what they are going to show. I have done nothing wrong.” He further clarified that he was given the impression that the channel wanted to produce a cricket movie. “They asked me whether I knew other cricketers because they wanted to conduct one tournament.”

In total contrast, a report on the Al Jazeera website says their investigative unit had “revealed how criminals fixed two Test matches and were planning to fix a third.” It goes on to add: “The two fixed matches were Sri Lanka versus India in July last year and Sri Lanka versus Australia in August 2016. The match-fixers also said that they were planning to fix England’s game against Sri Lanka, also at Galle, in November this year.”

Meanwhile, the ICC has taken note of the report. Alex Marshall, head of the ICC’s anti-corruption unit, has said: “We will take the contents of the programme and any allegations it may make very seriously.”

At Wankhede on eve of the IPL final, Morris figured in most conversations. A few said they could never imagine that a boy from Shardasharam School – whose alumni include Sachin Tendulkar, Vinod Kambli and Amol Mazumdar – would appear in a fixing sting.

Besides being a regular member of the star-studded Mumbai side of the 90s, he played for India A in Wills XI, followed by Duleep Trophy and Deodhar Trophy outings. He was later signed up by BPCL but he quit job in 2007 and joined the Indian Cricket League. Morris later took BCCI’s amnesty offer to the players who were part of the rebel league and was back in the fold.

A couple of months ago, he launched an academy in presence of his old Ranji mates. For sometime, there have been whispers about his lifestyle and the red Mercedez he drives. “I’ve taken the Merc on loan. I left BPCL, as I didn’t wanted to do 9-5 job. We do cashewnut trading. It’s on a small scale,” he added.

When asked how he landed in Sri Lanka, Morris said: “I told them I don’t know any current cricketers but I knew former players. For that, they took me to Doha and Sri Lanka. One of my friends in Sri Lanka has played league cricket. So I introduced them to my friend. They asked if we know any curators who can make pitches. So my friend introduced to a normal groundsman in Galle. The groundsman doesn’t know English and someone translated it. They even paid the groundsman some 200-300 US dollars. I want to see what they have put in the video before reacting,” he explains.

‘Can make a pitch do whatever we want’

After the news of his Al Jazeera documentary spread, Morris has been keeping to himself and avoiding phone calls. He has even deleted his Facebook account. In the documentary, Morris says the groundsman — Al Jazeera identifies him as Tharanga Indika, assistant manager at the Galle stadium — “can make a pitch to do whatever we want it do to.”

The website report further quotes Indika on the India-Lanka game. “In that five-day match, we prepared the wicket poorly without using a roller. That way, we made a spinning wicket. The ‘bowling pitch’ ensured that the game would not last for the full five days and so the game would not end in a draw. Batsmen were out quickly and the match was over in less than two and a half days. A Test match can last for up to five days.”

It wasn’t an entirely ‘bowling pitch’, however. Batting first India scored 600 in the first innings, with Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara hitting big hundreds.

When Morris was asked about this conversation, he dropped his voice and said, “Let’s see what they show tomorrow.”

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