“News from the centre here is Monaragala Hornets have won the toss and decided to bat first. Live action is coming up all the way from Badulla Cricket Ground…”
The commentary on YouTube on June 29 morning was purportedly of a cricket match of the Uva T20 league being played in Badulla in Sri Lanka. Only, it wasn’t.
The game was played at a ground in Sawara village, 16 km from Chandigarh off Punjab State Highway 12A. No Sri Lankans were playing, only unknown cricketers from Punjab, wearing masks over their faces and colourful, numbered jerseys.
The Uva cricket association told The Indian Express that it was running no such tournament. Big names like Farvez Maharoof, the former Sri Lanka allrounder, denied they were involved, as had been claimed in the list of squads published on some online cricket sites.
The game at “Badulla” was covered live by FanCode, whose parent company Dream Sports has Dream 11 as one of its brands. Dream 11, a fantasy sports platform, is a sponsor of the Indian Premier League. Indian sports sites such as Sportskeeda ran a live scorecard.
Camera angles were basic, positioned near the two sightscreens, and there were occasional shots from the third man region. Pictures were typically long shots; when they zoomed in occasionally, it was frantic and jarring, and it was difficult to see faces clearly.
The commentator usually did not bother to identify players, and said things like “someone should catch that, and I can see a guy getting under it”.
The Uva Province Cricket Association (UPCA) based in Badulla denied any involvement in the T20 league. “I can categorically assure you that no such tournament was approved or held by our association. We are investigating this matter and are in discussion with Sri Lanka Cricket and other relevant authorities,” UPCA assistant secretary Bhagiradhan said.
A FanCode spokesperson said they were in touch with Sri Lanka Cricket, and were helping in the investigation.
“FanCode follows a strict process for shortlisting and screening potential league partnerships for live streaming of matches. Even with this event we were in touch with the organisers who provided us with the Letter of Sanction from Uva Province Cricket Association along with an email from the official email ID of Sri Lanka Cricket that provided confirmation of the tournament. After Day 1 of the tournament, where we streamed two matches, the legal team of SLC reached out to us and informed us that the matches are not approved by them and the documents that have been provided to us were probably forged. As soon as we received this intimation, we immediately stopped streaming these matches on our platform,” the spokesperson said.
When asked about the connection between FanCode and Dream 11, the spokesperson said: “Dream Sports, a sports tech company, is the parent company of FanCode. Dream 11, DreamX, DreamSetGo are the other brands from the Dream Sports portfolio.”
A BCCI official said streaming or broadcasting T20 leagues on websites or channels is vital for organisers of games because it allows anyone sitting anywhere to watch and place bets, which in turn helps bookies make money when they fix a passage of play or even the result of a game in connivance with players. “This is their known modusoperandi,” the official said.
The chief of the BCCI’s Anti-Corruption Unit said the police must investigate the organisers of the Uva T20 league. “As far as we know, no BCCI-registered player has played in it. If it is done for betting, it is for the police to investigate. It is a criminal offence under the laws against betting. It could be anything, they could even be showing footage of an old match. It is a matter of finding out where it happened, who organised it, what was the purpose… apparently it is betting,” Ajit Singh told The Indian Express.
Late on Thursday night, two people were arrested on charges related to cheating and gambling. Mohali Senior Superintendent of Police Kuldeep Singh Chahal confirmed the arrests.
The match commentary started with a fairly accurate description of the ground. “It’s a grassy ground and we can see everywhere, grass. No chance of any fielder getting injured and fielders will enjoy,” the commentator said, just after the toss in the first game between “Hornets” and “Wellawaya Vipers”.
There were pictures of paddy fields surrounding the playing arena. Cloth banners of purported sponsor “Dialog”, a Sri Lankan telecom company, hung on barbed-wire fences.
The founder of Sportskeeda, one of the sites that carried the reports and called it “Uva T20 league” of Sri Lanka, said they covered it because it was broadcast on FanCode. “It was broadcast on FanCode. We cover all events when they are broadcast by a big broadcaster,” Porush Jain, founder of Sportskeeda, said.
The academy ground is 500 metres from the main road at Sawara village, amid lush fields, homes, and a factory. Bright lights have been put up on poles around the ground to hold night games. In the earlier tournaments held in March, an Indian flag could be seen fluttering from the tallest pole – the flag was absent in the June 29 match.
The ground is owned and administered by people behind the Strokers Cricket Association, based in Sawara village. “I don’t know about any Uva T20 league. One of my friends took the booking for the matches on Monday,” Rinku Nehra, an official of Strokers, told The Indian Express. “We don’t know who came to the ground, and other such details. A day after the match, police came and stopped further matches. We don’t know who was organising this match. Even we were not allowed inside. They had blocked the view with tents around the ground.”
People who live in the neighbourhood caught some of the action. “20-30 players aye si match khedan is somvar nu. Tent te sound system vi laya si te sham nu kafi raula paiya si. Ek din bad police ayi te match rukwa te (20-30 players had come to play this Monday. Tents and sound system were arranged, and in the evening, there was a lot of partying. On Tuesday, the police came and stopped the matches),” said a resident in his 80s who declined to be identified.
SSP Chahal said police were investigating.“We came to know that they were holding the matches using Sri Lanka’s name, we shall take necessary action after the inquiry,” he said.
The two persons arrested on Thursday night have been identified as Raju and Pankaj. A case under IPC Section 420 (cheating) and relevant sections of the Gambling Act has been registered at Kharar (Sadar) police station.
With Sriram Veera, Nihal Koshie and Jagdeep Singh Deep
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines