We have had a few instances of T20 Leagues taking place on overseas turf. For instance, in 2009, the Indian Premier League took place entirely in South Africa, and then in 2014, the first few matches of the 7th edition of the tournament took place in the UAE. In fact, according to the officials in the BCCI, there is a good chance that the tournament might take place outside India this year as well. The Pakistan Super League’s first few editions took place entirely in the UAE as well. We have had a few Caribbean Premier League matches take place at Florida, the Afghanistan Premier League take place in Sharjah as well. But, we haven’t heard of a T20 tournament take place in a different country, without the knowledge of the tournament organisers, the country’s Cricket board, or in fact, without a single local player, have we?
That is exactly what is happening at the moment in Mohali, according to a report in the Indian Express. The Uva Premier T20 League, initially approved by Sri Lanka Cricket, was scheduled to take place at Badulla in Sri Lanka. Four teams- Wellawaya Vipers, Monaragala Hornets, Badulla Sea Eagles and Mahiyanganaya Unilions, consisting of marquee names such as Farveez Maharoof, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Thilan Thushara, Dasun Shanaka and Ajantha Mendis were to take part in the week-long tournament. It started off in a controversial note, as firstly, none of the big names were part of the first two matches, and then, the SLC legal team decided to unauthorize the tournament, making it the second tournament that got cancelled in Sri Lanka over the last few days. Earlier, the PDC T10 League was cancelled, in which the likes of Nuwan Kulsekara and Ajantha Mendis were set to participate.
As it turns out, it was not just the big names that were not a part of the Uva T20 League in the first two matches. The two matches, streamed by FanCode, took place at a Cricket ground in the village of Sawara, 16km away from Chandigarh, located at the northern part of India, miles away from where it was supposed to be played. None of the Cricketers were from Sri Lanka or had any Sri Lankan connection; they were all local, unknown Cricketers, not even recognized by Punjab Cricket Association, literally masqueraded and sported colourful, numbered jerseys.
Even the commentators seemed to be deluded of the action, as one of them spoke the following words on the opening day of the tournament, “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. It’s a grassy ground and we can see everywhere, grass. No chance of any fielder getting injured and fielders will enjoy.” It almost seemed like two random people with a fair grasp over the English language and not much knowledge about the game or how to narrate the action were summoned to commentate.
There were instances where the commentator did not bother identifying players, using phrases such as, “someone should catch that, and I can see a guy getting under it.”
FanCode, who were streaming the tournament, is being run by Dream Sports, who 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 were keeping us updated with scores.
Other than the masks, the camera angles also helped in the viewers not being able to catch a glimpse of the faces of the players. There were two basic camera angles 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.
To add a little more Sri Lankan flavour to the whole scheme of things, there were Cloth banners of purported sponsor “Dialog”, a Sri Lankan telecom company, hung on barbed-wire fences.
The Uva Province Cricket Association, based in Badulla, denied any involvement in the T20 League. In a conversation with the Indian Express, Uva Province Cricket Association’s assistant secretary Bhagiradhan said, “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.”
FanCode, who were streaming the league, are apparently in touch with Sri Lanka Cricket, and are helping with the investigation. A FanCode spokesperson said, “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.”
“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,” he added when asked about the connection between FanCode and Dream11.
Ajit Singh, BCCI’s Anti-Corruption Unit chief said that they have left it to the police to investigate the matter. He told the Indian Express, “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.”
Porush Jain, founder of Sportskeeda, who were covering the league by providing live scores and reports under the name of Uva T20 League, clarified they did so only because it was streamed by FanCode. He said, “It was broadcast on FanCode. We cover all events when they are broadcast by a big broadcaster.”
The academy ground, located 500 metres away from the main road at Sawara village, is owned and administered by people behind the Strokers Cricket Association, based in Sawara village. Rinku Nehra, a Strokers official, told the Indian Express, “I don’t know about any Uva T20 league. One of my friends took the booking for the matches on Monday. 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.”
An old resident of the village narrated some of the action which was spotted by people living in the neighborhood. The resident spoke in Punjabi, saying, “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.”
SSP Chahal said, “We came to know that they were holding the matches using Sri Lanka’s name, we shall take necessary action after the inquiry.”
Two people, identified as Raju and Pankaj, were arrested last night. A case under IPC Section 420 (cheating) and relevant sections of the Gambling Act has been registered at Kharar (Sadar) police station.