Lankan stars caught up in bizarre fake T20 league and how the Australian Police brought it down

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The Uva T20 tournament lasted two games but is one of cricket’s most bizarre stories – FACEBOOK 

Australia (FoxSports): As the world shut down and international sport dried up, scammers attempted to cash-in last year. Instead, they were found out and caught red-handed.

This is the crazy 10-month-old story that has only just resurfaced, which involved Australian police officers identifying the man behind the fake ‘Sri Lanka Uva T20 league’.

It’s a story that sounded too good to be true, and in the end, it was just that: a fake.

On 6 July 2020, Punjab Police arrested Ravinder Dandiwal in Mohali after being named by the other accused in organising the fake tournament.

Days earlier, Dandiwal had been identified by Victorian Police as the alleged kingpin of a major international tennis match-fixing syndicate, which saw two individuals of Indian ethnicity residing in Melbourne charged.

The investigation by Australian Police ultimately picked up the Indian duo were part of a larger syndicate, which had only just started a fake cricket league said to be playing in Sri Lanka, but was in fact in India. As the Guardian’s Andy Bull brought back to life, in late June, ‘four star-studded teams’, supposedly featuring former Sri Lankan stars Tillakaratne Dilshan and Farveez Maharoof gathered in the Sri Lankan hills to play the opening game of the inaugural Uva T20 League.

On Monday 29, the Monaragala Hornets and the Wellawaya Vipers walked on the field. The toss was had. Pictures were beamed on YouTube and commentators said: “Live action is coming all the way from Badulla Cricket Ground. It’s a grassy ground, so no chance of any fielders getting injured.”

Yet, neither Dilshan — one of Sri Lanka’s cricket’s greats — nor Maharoof were there.

Nor was Thilan Thushara, who took 50 ODI wickets and played 10 Tests, nor mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis, who took a phenomenal 152 wickets at 21.86 over 87 ODIs.

There was an obvious reason though; the tournament was fake. On 28 June, Maharoof responded to a tweet on the eve of the tournament, which highlighted his attendance. “This is fake, no one has spoken to me, and neither am I interested to play the tournament. Please don’t give any publicity,” he tweeted. Yet, with no other cricket being across the globe, the Uva T20 Premier League got underway a day later.

Footage was hazy and disjointed, regularly cutting in and out with no clear picture of where the ball was headed, yet play continued and the Hornets amassed 6/203, but it wasn’t enough as the Vipers chased it down with nine balls to go. Had there been a game in Badulla, it would have been quite the treat for those watching on in Sri Lanka, but the game was in fact being played in northern India, as local police closed in on at the Strokers Cricket Association Academy Ground in the village of Sawara. As the Indian Express later highlighted, the ground had been booked from 29 June to 5 July for the purposes of hosting an age-group tournament.

A businessman booked the ground for $ 580 for the whole week on behalf of the organisers and paid $ 176 as advance.

But as it was later discovered, the ground wasn’t booked for an under-age tournament but rather for an elaborate scam, which included recruiting ‘20 to 30’ locals and using Sri Lankan pseudonyms.

Fake advertising hoardings featuring the names of well-known Sri Lankan companies to give greater credibility to the tournament were found at the Strokers’ ground by police.

The extraordinary lengths the ‘tournament’ organisers went to was because when the world shut down because of COVID-19, scammers were also hit.

Only two UvaT20 matches took place before the tournament folded.

And so ended one of cricket’s most bizarre stories.