Zimbabwe was also a target market of a match-fixing plot exposed by Al Jazeera in a sting operation that has rocked world cricket and shaken the game’s integrity to the core.
Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit has unearthed a web of corrupt activity in which Indian citizen Robin Morris, among other match-fixers and collaborators, were filmed by an undercover agent using secret cameras — revealing how they corrupted players, grounds curators as well as officials and pocketed millions of dollars from betting on the fixed matches.
Morris, a 41-year-old Mumbai-born ex-cricketer, appears in the documentary released on Sunday revealing how he allegedly influenced the two-and-half-days Test match between host Sri Lanka and Australia in 2016 by tampering with the pitch.
The syndicate, which also includes crafty Dubai-based Indian businessman Gaurav Rajkumar, was in the advanced stages of forming a Twenty20 United Arab Emirates (UAE) League, where collaborating players would be paid thousands of dollars to spot fix sessions of matches, or throw the entire game.
The Al Jazeera documentary discloses how certain sessions of matches involving Australia, England, India, and Sri Lanka could have been fixed while a scheme to doctor the pitch for England’s Test in Sri Lanka in November was well on course.
And Zimbabwe, which hit headlines late last year after match-fixing fears were raised at both international and domestic levels, was also in line to host fake T20 tournaments organised by the criminal syndicates for match-fixing and betting purposes.
“We don’t want to start a tournament in Dubai and finish it there,” Morris told the Al Jazeera undercover journalist David Harrison, who disguised as a British businessman on a mission to invest in the fixed matches.
“We want to play those things in Dubai. Then we can do it in Hong Kong, then Zimbabwe.”
Morris, described as a handy limited overs cricketer who played 42 first-class and 51 List A matches in his career, spoke on: “My plan is I just don’t want to do it once and f***k off.”
The stunning Al Jazeera exposé seems to cast further suspicion on a proposed money-spinning Zimbabwean Twenty20 tournament, the Zimbabwe Premier League (ZPL), which an Indian marketing firm, Infinity Sport, was eager to launch in this country this year.
Match-fixing fears in the tournament arose after wealthy Indian businessman Gaurav Rawat, who has previously faced fixing allegations in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, travelled to Zimbabwe last October at the same time an Infinity delegation was in the country to pitch its ZPL proposal to Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) officials.
Infinity owner Gautam Sharma was however quoted in the Zimbabwe Independent in December, distancing himself from Rawat and any criminal syndicates. He claimed the proposed tournament, worth an initial $1.5 million in its first year, would be clean of match-fixing and illegal betting.
Meanwhile, top sources have claimed that no Zimbabwean players are suspected to be part of the fixing network, despite startling remarks by an Indian match-fixer, Aneel Munawah, that the syndicate work with players from “every international team.”
Munawah, who appears in the 54-minute Al Jazeera documentary, operates in the match-fixing division of Indian firm D-Company, said to be one of the most notorious mafia syndicates in the world.
“We have serious doubt if any of the Zimbabwe players are involved,” said an insider in the Zimbabwe set-up.
“But we still we need to be very careful because in cricket, the syndicates mainly go for spot-fixing, which is very difficult to prove because it targets one or two members of the team and a few selected sessions of the game. In some cases, the spot-fixing doesn’t necessarily influence results of games.
“Look, it’s up to the chosen players if they want to cheat or not. But as much as Zimbabwe’s players are the lowest paid of the ICC full members, the risk just too much for Zimbabwean player to be involved in match-fixing.”
The only local to have been sanctioned for match-fixing is former ZC board member Rajan Nayer, who was banned in March for 20 years by the ICC after being found guilty of match-fixing.
Nayer was initially suspended and charged for approaching Zimbabwe captain Graeme Cremer with an offer of US$30 000 to influence the outcome of a game during the hosts’ Test series with the West Indies in Bulawayo last October.
Meanwhile, the top cricketing nations implicated in the Al Jazeera documentary have leapt to the defence of their players, with England the first to react.
In a statement, the English Cricket Board (ECB) said that there is “nothing we have seen that would make us doubt any of our players in any way whatsoever.”
Cricket Australia said it wasn’t aware of any “credible evidence” linking two of its players to match-fixing.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) made a statement vowing to “zero-tolerance approach” towards match-fixing, but will wait for due process before taking any action.
Only Sri Lanka have immediately responded with sanctions. Sri Lanka Cricket suspended curator Tharindu Mendis and professional player Tharanga Indika, who featured in the documentary talking about doctoring pitches.
Mounting pressure has been piling on the ICC to take decisive action following the Al Jazeera film, which has laid bare the dark side of the gentleman’s game.