It's just the tip of the iceberg

Scams such as match-fixing and spot-fixing are still going on among the teams who play Test cricket, among thousands of bookmakers on the sub-continent and increasingly in the British Isles, writes Ted Corbett.

Cricket is the most vulnerable game in the world. It is ideal for betting — just think how many bets you can have on a single delivery. With 13 players on the field at any given moment, alongside two umpires, there are any number of alternatives for the many with loose change in their hands and an itch to gamble.

It has always been so. Go back into the early 19th century and you have no difficulty in finding stories about betting coups, single wicket matches — what were they but extended betting opportunities? — and now, as the technology grows quicker, as various parts of the world have access to one another and as modern men and women grow greedier there are even more ways in which a man can lose his money.

The inevitable end of this morality tale came in a London courtroom when three Pakistan Test cricketers — Salman Butt, the captain last year, Mohmammad Asif, just about the world's cleverest swing bowler and 19-year-old Mohammad Amir — were sent to jail with their organising agent Mazhar Majeed for a scam which involved bowling no balls at specific moments in the match at Lord's so that punters in the know could make a winning bet.

Sadly, for a game that takes pride in its reputation for fair play, for obeying the umpire and for setting an example to the rest of the world, it was just the tip of the iceberg.

In my opinion and that of a number of people who should have the experience to know such scams are still going on among the teams who play Test cricket, among thousands of bookmakers on the sub-continent and increasingly in the British Isles.

Sir Ian Botham, a man who has warmed both hands at the fire of life, is just one who has spent most of his existence either on the pitch or the nets or, as now, watching from the TV gantry and who believes the evil of matching-fixing and spot-betting is still deep inside the game. He wants action from ICC, the world governing body which reigns from a remote city in the Middle East, and in particular from their Anti-Corruption Unit, headed by a famous British policeman, Sir Ronnie Flanagan.

Flanagan was head of the Northern Ireland police during their riotous times known locally as The Troubles and you can imagine that, even in his retirement, he is no fool.

He reckons: “I would not say these incidents were totally isolated. We must be ever vigilant and never be complacent. But corruption is certainly not rampant in the world of cricket. It is engaged in by only a tiny number of people. I don't think these corrupt and evil people who seek to make unlawful amounts of money stick necessarily to one sport. It is important we share our intelligence with other sports.”

Botham, an all-rounder, a vibrant personality and a Test captain, got up to all sorts of stuff while he was at the top for around 20 years, but not a whiff of corruption ever attached itself to him. Rather he won his knighthood — and I spoke to him the day it was announced and saw his pride and the joy with which he received the plaudits of the crowd that afternoon — for charity work and in particular for his long distance walks.

I cannot imagine him stooping to fix a match or an event within a match. He is too big, too much a man's man with or without the attraction of money. Nor has he ever fought shy of calling a spade a shovel as he did after the jail terms had been announced.

He said: “I thought the sentences would be tougher. I think it is the tip of the iceberg and the ICC now need to get off their hands and start acting. They are the police of the game and from my point of view they have done very little. ICC must follow up on all the names that were thrown around in that courtroom. There are a lot of people out there who should be rather nervous right now. We know it is all over the place, we know it is endemic. Now is the time to attack it.”

Bob Willis, Botham's captain and team-mate, made the same point: “I can assure you that there will be a great many recent and former cricketers thinking ‘There but for the grace of God go I.' This has been rampant and rabid in our game since before the Hansie Cronje affair and at last custodial sentences have been handed down. I am sure this will help eradicate spot fixing and match fixing in the UK.”

I am not sure it will kill match or spot fixing. There have been rumours from prominent cricketers of attempts to get players to fix results even in the T20 leagues.

The Cronje case showed what vast amounts of money were available to those who were willing to take the bookmaker's shilling and surely even those sleeping in the comfort of the ICC sun must wonder why so many of these stories can be traced back to Pakistan and how, when their team is said to have been cleaned up the habit of the fixed match is still prevalent.