At the end of the first day’s play against Australia during the second Test in Canberra, Avishka Gunawardene, Sri Lanka’s stop-gap batting coach, was in the team hotel when two International Cricket Council (ICC) anti-corruption officers walked in and asked for his mobile phones. They said they were following instructions from headquarters. He did not [...]


Avishka vs ICC: Battle is on


Former Lankan opener had a blooming career as a coach, and was even hinted to take over Sri Lanka

At the end of the first day’s play against Australia during the second Test in Canberra, Avishka Gunawardene, Sri Lanka’s stop-gap batting coach, was in the team hotel when two International Cricket Council (ICC) anti-corruption officers walked in and asked for his mobile phones. They said they were following instructions from headquarters.

He did not hesitate. He led them to his room, and after telephoning his wife in Sri Lanka, he handed over both phones. One was personal. The other was provided by his employer, Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC).

This was during the first week of February. Three months later, he was publicly humiliated after being charged for allegedly fixing a 2017 domestic T10 tournament in UAE. He was suspended from his official duty as an SLC coach and is now embroiled in a battle to clear his name, which he says has never before been tainted in a three-decade-long career.

Gunawardene is charged with two counts of violating the Emirates’ Cricket Board (ECB) Anti-Corruption Code: directly or indirectly soliciting, inducing, enticing, instructing, persuading, encouraging or intentionally facilitating any participant to breach [the anti-corruption] Code; and failing to disclose to the Anti-Corruption Unit (without unnecessary delay) full details of any incident, fact, or matter that comes to the attention of a participant that may provide evidence of corrupt conduct under the Anti-Corruption Code by another participant.

He has denied the charges outright. A former Sri Lanka opening batsmen, Gunawardene is one of the country’s highest rated coaches and has done a sterling job with the Sri Lanka A team for several years.

After returning from Australia when the Test series ended, the ICC Anti-Corruption officer stationed in Colombo summoned him. He met Steve Richardson at a leading Colombo hotel with his counsel. He was extensively questioned on a single over bowled by spinner Sachithra Senanayake in which the right-arm off-spinner conceded 21 runs. The ICC suspects fixing.

This was the opening match against Maratha Arabians in which Team Sri Lanka conceded a five-wicket defeat with Senanayake’s only over of the match—the fourth of the innings—conceding 21 runs including a six and a boundary.

“When I met the ICC Anti-Corruption officer in Colombo with my counsel, he questioned me continuously about this particular over,” Gunawardene said. “I will go to any extent to defend my good name.”

The charges against Gunawardene are reportedly based on the “confession” of a player with links to a political family made during the ICC’s 15-day amnesty in January, his lawyer said. This player has had multiple disciplinary issues both on and off the field. He was one of four people alleged to have participated in a closed-door discussion at the team hotel regarding the alleged fix. The others are Gunawardene, Nuwan Zoysa and Sachithra Senanayake. Two coaches have allegedly promised financial rewards to the bowlers in return for the bowlers conceding over 15 runs in the two overs.

“The charges are denied by both Avishka and Nuwan Zoysa,” said Chrismal Warnasuriya, their counsel referring to the alleged meeting. “Sachithra has also reportedly claimed he never said they discussed the fix. That leaves just one player.”

“So, although the charge sheet refers to two overs bowled by two people, we were never questioned on the second over. We are now wondering whether they reached a deal with the fourth person to fix the two coaches,” Warnasuriya said. Sachithra is now a witness in the case. The ICC has, therefore, dropped the charges against him.

The counsel asked why the ICC did not charge the two players who had allegedly delivered the two ‘fixed’ overs. “Have they come to a deal with the players to say you give evidence against these two coaches so that ICC can justify that they did something?” he questioned.

Avishka’s Counsel also questioned the process followed by the ICC.

“One is innocent until proven guilty,” Warnasuriya said. “But here, they have publicly ridiculed my client by issuing a press release with the purported charges. This is to bring pressure on the accused, then start a negotiating process in which they bear upon him to admit to the charges in exchange for a reduced sentence. I think all cricketing nations should rebel against this tactic.”

Warnasuriya said that they will lodge appeals, including in Sri Lanka’s courts, challenging the entire process and insisting that ICC cannot maintain these charges on “such frivolous evidence”.

“We are appealing to the Minister to make a decision, because he has the supervisory jurisdiction under the Sports Law over all sports bodies,” Warnasuriya said. “He can see whether the SLC has taken the right decision in this instance. We are considering even going to the appellate body CAS (Court of Arbitration of Sports) on jurisdiction to see whether there’s any merit in these charges.”

In 2015, the ICC wrongly accused Sri Lanka’s Kusal Janith Perera of doping but was forced to withdraw the charges when the player successfully challenged ICC.

Question marks over team ownership  
Though the Team Sri Lanka was representing Sri Lanka Cricket at the T10 League, two people have staked a claim, saying they have paid US$ 1 million to the league owners to buy it.

On the official twitter account of the T10 league on November 13, 2017, two individuals, Kashif Shahzad and Vijay Vyas, posed for a photograph with League Chairman Shaji Ul Mulk and the caption “Team Sri Lankan Cricket directors with League chairman”. It also said @Chandi_17 will be leading the lions.

This is only one such instance of these two individuals claiming the ownership of the Sri Lanka team. They have given several press interviews, including on video, saying they were the co-directors of Team Sri Lanka. SLC now denies it.

The Sunday Times learns that Vijay Vyas has met with the Sri Lankan team on their arrival in UAE and had wanted to get into the team bus enroute to the hotel. Baffled by his claim, the team management had resisted entry, but had agreed to meet the businessman at the hotel premises.

At the hotel, Vyas has invited the team management to come to his suite. Having refused the offer politely, they met him at the hotel’s coffee shop. He explained how he had got the ownership of the team and how he wanted to come to Sri Lanka one month before the tournament to launch the team jersey to create hype.

“I told the manager to clarify this with CEO, Sri Lanka Cricket Ashley de Silva and we told him, we cannot talk to him until, we get a clarification from Sri Lanka Cricket with regard to the ownership because he was asking for team combinations and all sorts of other information,” Avishka Gunawardene said.

“The next day we got instruction from CEO saying SLC has not come to any such agreement with a third party with regard to the team ownership.”

Accordingly, the team management has advised Vyas to keep away from the players but he has been there wearing the Team Sri Lanka T-shirt along with a group of cheerleaders supporting the team.

The T10 League was organized by the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) with the approval of the ICC, the world governing body, which has given ECB the exclusive event sanctioning rights in accordance with the ICC’s event sanctioning regulations in force at that time to conduct the tournament. However, the ICC had no role in assigning and contracting the umpires and match referees and had provided anti-corruption services to the event on ECB’s request–acting as a service provider to the ECB.

Team Sri Lanka was represented by the winner of the Inter-Provincial Tournament, Western Province, during the tournament. SLC said they agreed to a participation fee of US$ 25000 to the team. It was later distributed among the team members.

However, according to the League brochure, the organizers have fixed a salary cap between US$ 10,000 to US$ 40,000 for the players. But no Sri Lankan cricketer got paid according to the approved payment plan by the organizers—leaving many unanswered questions about who benefited by sending a team for the tournament that has put the careers of several Sri Lankan cricketers in jeopardy.

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