Monday, 26 May 2014

SHANKAR PART 2: VIRTUAL REALITY (OR, THE WEBSITE THAT ADRIAN BUILT)




Come on, admit it – who hasn’t embellished their CV from time to time for the purposes of attaining the job of their dreams? Isn’t that what putting those falsified A-level grades or exotic hobbies is all about? Presenting a forged passport is a serious matter, no doubt, but so is telling ABC Credit that you’re into spelunking, viticulture and playing the flugelhorn. A question of degree, rather than nature, is it not? That said, to lie on a CV is one thing, but to conjure a whole tournament into existence seems quite something else entirely – the work of a budding Baron von Münchhausen. Or Walter Mitty. Only this was non-fiction. Well, you know what I mean. 

Anyway, with Worcestershire concerned about the veracity of Adrian Shankar’s story and belatedly tapping him on the shoulder for confirmation (“I say old chap, you know those papers you gave us, and that tournament you mentioned…”) the day after his ‘knee injury’ – I say belatedly, because the county signed him without having seen his documentation – off Mr Shankar hobbled to try and figure out a way to convince them it had all actually happened. I suppose it would be something to do while convalescing, break up the Sudoku marathon. What had previously only been adornments to a fabricated CV now had to be materialised in some way – or rather, they had to exist in a more convincing representation. The following day, such a representation appeared. More convincing, if not very convincing. 


Sixth-form project it may well look, but ask yourself this question: what’s the best you could do in 48 hours if your employer was questioning several parts of your CV? A few yeah-buts and ums? “My dog ate the Internet,” maybe? But could you, while sliding headlong toward abject humiliation, build a basic website supporting your claims? No, thought not. 1-0 Shankar. 

Thus, on Sunday, May 22, a website purporting to cover the Mercantile Twenty20 Tournament emerged on a rudimentary Google platform. It was apparently constructed by one ‘John Winton’ – incidentally, the same name as an author of naval stories (real name: John Pratt), the first of which followed the fortunes of a character named ‘The Artful Bodger’. Anyway, returning to matters more germane, this website featured, among other things, news items, statistics, and a statement of the tournament’s ‘vision’. There were also a couple of scorecards from the two semi-finals (quite a low number of cards for an eight-team, round-robin tournament, you’d think), and just two player profiles. 

There are no prizes for guessing who one of the Chosen Two might have been, but what would ‘Our Vision’ turn out to be: to build something out of nothing, perhaps; or to make all your dreams become reality? Here’s what “The Chairman of the Mercantile T20 tournament, Ravi de Silva” (try finding him in a Colombo telephone directory!!) had to say: 


Given that the central purpose of building this site was a last desperate attempt to persuade Worcestershire as to the truth of his claims – although, thinking about it, it’s unclear why he didn’t build it in advance, and, y’know, have a proper job done – it might reasonably be expected that the player profile for Adrian Shankar were effusive in its praise. Indeed, it duly gushes that “the stylish right hander adapted his game quickly to cope with the local conditions” (we will see later just how capable a player of spin he was), thus “firmly putting himself in the shop window ahead of the Premier League in August”, which raises the interesting (if purely hypothetical) question as to whether Worcestershire would have been happy for him to leave just as the domestic English season was climaxing. 

It is curious, David Leatherdale and ‘Bumpy’ Rhodes may or may not have reflected upon the tardy appearance of this website (if indeed they did see it), that a player profile came to be written after the tournament – that is, after the adaptation of his game to local conditions, after the locals (those that were remotely bothered, at least) had become familiar with his story – when it would stand to reason that the need for such a profile was, by then, almost redundant. Particularly for the leading batsman in the competition. 

Anyway, besides all this we learn that the Colombo Reds man was born on May 7, 1985 and that he “has an interesting pedigree, becoming one of the youngest ever captains of Cambridge University in 2003 and forming part of one of the first intakes in the Arsenal Academy in Arsene Wenger’s tenure” (second only to Patrick Vieira in the significance of the club’s newcomers that year, I’d hazard). Also, while running the rule over “the Lancashire batsman”, the profile mentions that “he missed a large chunk of the season” yet somehow neglects to clarify that, having been released, he no longer played there. He was an ex-Lancashire batsman. A Lancashire player no more. Lancashire player ‘e ‘ad ceased to be. 

 

The other interesting thing with this profile is that there’s no photograph of him “limbering up before the first game in Jaffna”, as per the caption – and not because he may have done himself an injury in sad warm-up. (He didn’t; he was the tournament’s top scorer). Compare this to the profile of his counterpart, the tournament’s leading bowler, Sachith Pathirana, about whom we learn – again in a manner more common to a report than a profile introducing – that “he was instrumental in Dambulla’s semi final victory, restricting the strong Colombo Reds batting line up with subtle variations in pace” [italics added]. 

Crucially, lest anyone might be wondering why there appears to have been a media blackout around this tournament, even to the extent of reporting the blackout rather than the cricket, the profile concludes by speculating that “[he] is likely to be sought after by one of the franchises ahead of the official Premier League T20 tournament in August”. Oh, the official one. (Presumably, by then the marketing people will have got to work on the franchise names, jazzing up the rather unimaginative colours theme to Kandy Krush, Galle Bladders, Colom-bo Selectahs…) 


Also high on people’s lists for the official tournament in August would be the stellar cast of leading batsmen and bowlers presented on the Statistics page: the likes of Tharanga Paranavitana, Thilina Kandamby, Isuru Udana, Shaminda Eranga, and current limited-overs off-spinner, Sachichthra Senanayake


As for the ‘Recent Site Activity’ tab that’s highlighted in the above image, there was a comment, hastily deleted, below the Statistics page – something along the lines, I imagine, of “Shankar was the cricket God. He pumped it”. 


So, made-up statistics, player profiles laced with fabrications, invented tournaments. All this fantasy cricket evoked my pre-adolescent days, when Grandpa showed me how to play imaginary cricket with a six-sided pencil (later modernised to two heavy hexagonal barrels). To play, you would simply shave two bands of lacquer from around the top with a penknife, allowing you to write on the wood beneath. On one you inscribed: dot, 1, 2, 4, 6, Howzat (the game moved forward exceedingly quickly, like a sort of proto-T20); on the other, redundant until activated by a ‘Howzat’, was: ct, b, lbw, not out, st/ro, no ball. 

I used to play whole Test series between rival World XIs, sometimes in a single day, although even the New Zealand side of Wright, Edgar, Snedden, Coney, Cairns, Chatfield et al were ineffably glamorous back then. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with the ‘badger gene’, but how might it all pan out if you were part of the imaginary tournament? 


Well, you’d more than likely have a key role in the semi-final. Thus, A Shankar caught the Dambulla Greens’ top-scorer, MK Gajanayeke during the first innings before top-scoring in the run chase with 69. Malinda Warnapura (14 Tests, 3 ODIs) chipped in with 45 and NT Paravitana (sic) made 23. But they fell eight short, the Reds, which may have given the Men of the Tournament adjudicators something to think about. (Again, for the stattos and badgers and other fastidious folk reading this, Dambulla would lose the final.) 


All good fun and games, but we must not lose sight of the fact that this website was designed to prove that Shankar had been blazing a winter’s trail all the way from Manchester to Worcester via Colombo. You’d imagine that it would therefore need to attain a degree of plausibility – balance of probabilities might do it, beyond all reasonable doubt preferred – even though he would have been well aware that Worcestershire’s very recent track record with meticulous due diligence was not blemish-free. 

Unfortunately, however, time was his enemy and so one or two errors – some unlikelinesses and implausibilities – inevitably slipped through the net of his vigilance. Such as the fact that eight of the 44 players appearing on the two scorecards happened to have been playing first-class matches in different parts of the island on the very same dates given the Mercantile semi-finals (March 18 and 19). Oops. 

The players involved in three-day matches taking place between March 18 and 20 were the following: 

Chilaw Marians vs Sinhalese SC: Lahiru Weragala, Mahela Udawatte, Tharanga Paranavitana, Thilana Kandamby (batting at No4 for SSC, rather than No10 [ten] for ‘Kandy Blues’ on the same day); 

Saracens SC vs Nondescripts CC: Ishan Ratnayake; 

Bloomfield CAC vs Lankan CC: Chinthaka Jayasinghe, Saliya Saman (Jeewantha)

Then, starting a day later, there was a three-day game between Colts CC and the famous Colombo CC. In theory, this start date allowed for the availability of players from Shankar’s Colombo versus Dambulla semi-final on March 18 – i.e. Nisal Randika, Kithuruwan Vithanage, Sachith Pathirana, Malintha Gajanayake and Malinda Warnapura (whom the T20 bash may have helped notch twin centuries in the following three-dayer) – but it is highly improbable that ARS Silva could simultaneously have batted at No5 for Colts and No3 for Kandy Blues on March 19 in the other semi-final. (Improbable rather than impossible, because GA Gooch, I believe, once took part in two games on the same day: a Test match that was wrapped up early, then a Sunday League game for Essex that afternoon…) 

Meanwhile, the Galle Indigos team featured barely anyone who could be tracked down on Cricket Archive. Nine of them couldn’t be found anywhere in its legion of scorecards great and small – and, let’s be honest, if you’ve played for your Primary School under-11s (here in the UK, I mean, not in Sri Lanka where inter-schools cricket is still a big deal and draws crowds) or in a Pub League, then you’re going to feature. 

Gunasekera (centre) for Canada 'Reds'
Of the other two Galle players, skipper R Gunasekera might have been the one from the World Cup, the one that skippered Canada. They were involved in the tournament until March 13, however, so he might not have been able to play too many of the Mercantile T20’s group games (although, again, the site carries no information or dates regarding said matches). The other man, Dilshan Rupasinghe, was a bona fide player, it’s true. I’ll grant that. But he had played his last professional game in 2002. 

In fact, of the 43 players other than Shankar, a total of 25 could not be traced on Cricket Archive. Of the 18 who were genuine players, only eight could feasibly have played. 

It was, as cover-ups go, pretty slapdash, almost as though time suddenly became a factor and, in a rush to get the site finished (“Erm, Adrian, is there any chance you could show us that proof you mentioned?” “Yeah, sure, but the site’s down”), he simply chucked in a few common Lankan-sounding names, being careful to avoid the polysyllabic time-consumers like Richie Benaud’s favourite, Wijegunawardene, or your Samarasekeras, your Kuruppuarachchis, your Bandaratillekes. So, in were lobbed a Silva, a Dias or two, but he might also have thought about a couple of Pereras (of which there are one or two) and Fernandos, not to mention a de Silva… But some of the names he opted for were just, well, made up. Made-up made up, I mean. There are some surnames that don’t find a place anywhere in Lankan cricket, perhaps not even the Lankan Yellow Pages: Torisawanna, Katani, Sawalty, Altazar, Luswalla (phonetically, perhaps, ‘Lose-Wallah’) DS Bowala. 


Also ever so slightly peculiar is the fact that, Shankar aside, there were no other overseas players in the tournament (except Gunasekera, that is). Well, not in the semi-finals. Nor among the leading batsmen or bowlers in the stats. Odder still is that, within hours of these discrepancies being put to the club – on the afternoon of Monday 23 May – the dates on the scorecards for this chimerical tournament had been altered, as could be easily verified by clicking the ‘Recent Changes’ tab. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to screengrab this before the site disappeared and that afternoon the site was promptly taken down, never to be seen again… 

Of course, it was all too late. Indeed, the whole idea of building the website was all too late. It was, frankly, a colossally ill-judged move – the iceberg had been hit, the Titanic was going down, and rather than try and find a lifeboat, Shankar went about rearranging the deckchairs.  


The end for Shankar was, in a way, all redolent of the last days of Hitler as marvellously depicted in Downfall (Der Untergang). Holed up there in his Berlin bunker, the unearthly paranoid energy with which he infused the wehrmacht still crackling and fizzing away while the Reich, the physical expression or manifestation of that fantasy, collapsed around about him. Only, Shanks had no cyanide pill. One can only imagine the acute anxiety, the incipient panic he must have felt at having the whole charade definitively exposed (definitively because it was still, even at this advanced stage, only an allegation – the fire could be extinguished, the Reich saved...). But it was all too late. Men with whom he had been shaking hands on a deal only two weeks earlier – and oh to have been a fly on the wall during their initial meetings! – now knew he was an overreaching fraudster. Every waking moment Shankar must have been stalked by this very fear – the fear of being exposed as a fake – and now here it was on his doorstep, banging with a bailiff’s intent. 


Intro | Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7



1 comment:

Karl Glendenning said...

Fascinating Scott and some unbelievably good badgering.