ECB is partly to blame

The tiny matches — T20 games, 40 and 50-over English league and knock-out games — have resulted in betting scams, bribery and fixing in inverse proportion to their importance. Millions of pounds are being won and lost. By Ted Corbett.

More evidence has come to light that my warnings in the past few months are true. Cricket corruption is alive and flourishing at a ground not too far from your front door.

That evidence is provided by the great investigative reporter Mazher Mahmood who has found a berth in another newspaper since the demise of the journal which carried his tale of the spot-fixing — in a Test at Lord's of all places — that resulted in three Pakistani players going to jail.

Mahmood captured the front page by describing how the dirty tricks continue, not at the highest level, but in unnoticed games played in mid-week in England but, more importantly, televised on the sub-continent.

These tiny matches — T20 games, 40 and 50-over English league and knock-out games — have resulted in betting scams, bribery and fixing in inverse proportion to their importance. Millions of pounds are being won and lost.

It was in one of these games that Mervyn Westfield, a fast bowler, earned £6,000 for conceding 10 runs. He boasted to his mates and is now in jail as well.

Mahmood quotes one bookmaker as saying: “English county cricket is a good new market. They are low profile matches and nobody monitors them. That's why good money can be made there without any hassle if we can get the players to play for us.”

The England and Wales Cricket Board claim that they have an eagle eye on these games, that they have warned and educated players and that since the successful prosecution of Westfield a number of players have come forward with tales of attempted corruption.

I wonder how many cricketers famous and unknown have slept uneasily in their beds since these latest revelations. What the ECB must do is to haul enough players and their bookmaker friends to court to make an example of them and so stamp out this growing menace.

The ECB is, of course, partly to blame. They need money to pay players, bring their grounds up to date, install new equipment and add to their staff. So they sell their matches — from Tests to women's games to T20 knockabout — to broadcasters who recoup some of their outlay by relaying these matches to overseas TV stations.

Cricket history is so full of stories of giant-killing, fantastic comebacks, heroic deeds and shock results that it is difficult to detect wrong doing.

The trouble for those of us who have viewed cricket every working day of our lives is that when the stories of match-fixing began 10 years ago it became difficult to see an unusual event and not imagine it was evidence of corruption.

Sport is notoriously cheap on TV and cricket fills hours of broadcast time, particularly if the broadcaster repeats it endlessly.

This television has given the bookies around the world a wonderful opportunity but, not content with using their own judgement or hiring former cricketers as experts who can predict the result of matches consistently they have added a degree of certainty.

They have bribed cricketers to get out cheaply, to bowl badly and to concede runs unnecessarily.

I refuse to believe that many matches have been fixed. It is too difficult because cricket is a complex game and what one or two players undo another great player can repair. Too big a risk even though 20 years or so ago it may have been attempted.

My guess is that bookmakers got their fingers burned and thought: “It would be much simpler to fix a single batsman for instance and offer high odds on his success and reap our reward when he gets out cheaply.”

Mahmood claims that the bookies used pretty girls to act as go-betweens — after all not an eyebrow would be raised if a good looking young cricketer was seen talking to an attractive lady — and that players around the world have been recruited to these nefarious schemes.

The world of professional cricket is divided as usual. The old school will refuse to believe a word of the new allegations, young cricketers will whisper behind their hands that they were dreadfully suspicious during a match when a bowler who rarely turned his arm over had to bowl 10 overs on the trot and naturally went for 70 or 80 runs.

These stories grow, provide a moment of light relief in various dressing rooms and are forgotten. After all, despite the white clothing, the politeness, the old-fashioned conventions that are an inherent part of cricket, it has sometimes been shot through with double dealing, trickery and outright cheating for 200 years.

The captain who does not want to decide whether to bat or bowl will snatch up the coin as it hits the ground and say: “You lucky man; you've won the toss again. What are you going to do?”

Another will throw one delivery a week — “so that no one notices.” Another will walk at 101 but stay at the crease if he is not yet off the mark. Shout “I took that on the half volley, umpire” and he will think you an honest second slip and accept your word the next time you appeal.

No, it's not always the honest game it claims to be.

When money, the root of all evil, is added to the mix, there are any number of men of renown who will take the cash and convince themselves that they are doing no more than pull a fast one.

It's time they were stopped.