A test of commitment and resourcefulness

Partners in crime…Salman Butt (left) with Mohammad Asif. Sentencing them to prison for spot-fixing had a greater effect on the cricketing community than the bans the ICC had enforced.-AP Partners in crime…Salman Butt (left) with Mohammad Asif. Sentencing them to prison for spot-fixing had a greater effect on the cricketing community than the bans the ICC had enforced.

To think that the rest of the cricket world is isolated from fixing — that it is a Pakistan-centric problem — is to be naive, or disingenuous. The ICC has to tackle the problem at the domestic level with its associates: it is here that the standards are lax and accessibility easier, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

A sport's most precious asset is the trust its followers invest in it, the faith that what they are seeing unfold is organic, unscripted, uncorrupted.

Hardly had cricket regained some of its credibility — so cruelly shattered by Hansie Cronje's revelations a little over a decade ago — when it was confronted by the allegations of spot-fixing in the fourth Test between England and Pakistan last year.

It was a determining time. The first match-fixing scandal had bred cynicism. But the game — more because of the unconditional love it still evoked in millions of fans than any action by the International Cricket Council (ICC) — survived it.

On this occasion, the governing body, which former South African cricket boss Ali Bacher said had lived in denial, was keener, nimbler, and firmer. Not only did it suspend the three Pakistan cricketers involved, but it also worked with the Crown Prosecution Service, which had separately charged Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Amir. This co-operation is particularly significant: one facet of what must be a multi-pronged approach to contain fixing, a criminal problem, involves the ICC liaising with law-making and investigative agencies.

As ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said, sporting bodies need the aid of legislative oversight. “We are not a law-enforcement agency, so if there are ways in which nations' legislative framework can help us maintain cricket's integrity then naturally we would encourage and support that,” he said.

Australia has taken the lead in this regard. Fixing matches or elements within them will soon be illegal in the country, perhaps as early as March next year. The Australian federal and state governments are poised to formulate a specialised legislation that will include penalties of up to 10 years' jail for those found to be involved in match-fixing. There is also a proposal to draft formal integrity agreements between sporting bodies and betting firms.

Paying the price. Fast bowler Mohammad Amir was sentenced to six months in prison for his involvement in the fixing scandal. Young, impressionable cricketers will doubtless have taken notice of it.-AP

The ICC will do well to ask its other member associations, many of whom contain influential people, to lobby their governments to follow Australia's lead (if they haven't already).

The ICC is aware that Pakistan is especially vulnerable — hence the measures that require the country to not only toughen its approach to corruption within the game but to also work alongside the ICC's task force on Pakistan “to carry out any reforms which may be deemed necessary to restore confidence in the administration of the game”.

But to think that the rest of the cricket world is isolated from fixing — that it is a Pakistan-centric problem — is to be naive, or disingenuous. The ICC has to tackle the problem at the domestic level with its associates: it is here that the standards are lax and accessibility easier.

The debate as to whether jail terms are sufficient deterrents will continue. It's clear, however, that the sentencing of Butt, Asif, and Amir to prison had a greater effect on the cricketing community than the bans the ICC had enforced.

Young, impressionable cricketers will doubtless have taken notice. They have been educated about corruption — it's one of the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit's (ACSU) few successes — but actually witnessing what the 19-year-old Amir is going through will have had a deeper impact.

Some have called for life bans (in addition to prison terms) for any involvement in fixing. Once a cricketer is hooked, he can never attain release, is the argument. A persuasive argument, for that's how illegal betting syndicates are known to operate, through blackmail and death threats. It's something the ICC will have to consider — it makes a cricketer less valuable as a pawn. Player agents have to be monitored as well. A system of accreditation, which the Pakistan Cricket Board has now introduced, is a step in the right direction.

The ACSU needs the most attention. England captain Andrew Strauss, a measured, intelligent man, called it a toothless tiger: “They can't get into the real depth of it all because they haven't got the resources available to them”.

Lord Paul Condon, the unit's former head, admitted that it was extremely hard to detect and to establish causality with fixing unless one gathers the kind of corroborative video evidence the News of the World obtained.

But there's news that the ICC is taking steps to improve the ACSU. The Telegraph (London) reported that the unit will soon employ officers with better knowledge of the game, officers who are better placed to detect suspicious incidents during a game; there's also talk of a new measure pertaining to “unexplained wealth” — once the unit has uncovered such a discrepancy, a cricketer will not be selected unless he can justify it.

Lorgat told The Age that the ICC was considering “setting up our own approaches to players, to see if they report it”. Clearly, the ICC is doing more than it has done in the past to control the menace. Its commitment and resourcefulness will be severely tested in the times to come.