No let in the skulduggery

Cricket has been criss-crossed by betting, bribery and every other form of nastiness for more than two centuries and that it makes no difference that other sports are beset with the same evil. It must be stopped, writes Ted Corbett.

I often feel that these dishonest guys — those who fix it for a noted batsman to get out for nought or 49 or on the verge of breaking a record — are laughing at the rest of us, the romantics who once believed cricket was the most honest game in the world.

I did for the first 50 years of my life. It rarely, if ever, crossed my mind that somewhere in the universe’s undergrowth, lay a crook who might sneak up to a Test all-rounder, or an opening batsman and suggest he should get out for a score that would make the sneaky one a fortune.

Not just me. I guess the majority of the cricket village — you should remember the numbers are far from vast — thought as I did, that cricket was as straight as Father Christmas, that all those apparently nice lads in their clean white shirts, their bright logos and their orderly, well-ironed and creased trousers could not be anything but honest.

That is why, after the first breakthrough, after the Hansie Cronje confession, the unmasking of Shane Warne and Mark Waugh and the disgrace of Mohammad Azharuddin and Salim Malik, most writers and therefore many fans still refused to believe that matches were being fixed.

Nothing of the sort was happening. Instead star players, really well known batsmen, were being persuaded that getting out for a score less than might be expected, was somehow excusable. “Here is a few bob,” said their tempter, handing over a dark brown envelope stuffed with elderly notes, “and all you have to do is get out at, let’s say 45. Or fewer.”

The odds on him making 50 were hiked above the norm, the observant punter handed over a few of his hard-earned coins and never felt ill done by when his hero made 5 or 10 fewer than the 50 they expected.

It is still going on and, from the revelations brought out by the New Zealander Lou Vincent, we know it will continue.

The disappointment for the romantics is that already there are a thousand excuses for the state of affairs that might make a strong man weep. “Not as bad as in other games,” I read from one correspondent the day after Vincent’s revelations. “This news is a cause for celebration, not grief,” said another and by the end of 24 hours, carpets had been raised and the dirt swept straight underneath.

Much the same happened when the three Pakistani Test players were caught red-handed by the News of the World. (That paper has since closed, more’s the pity.)

Within a day or two there was an outcry because one of the villains was a teenager. Old enough to play for his country, old enough to know right from wrong, surely. Some people seemed to want to heap all the blame on his captain. Some blamed the News of the World.

Others seem to have been forgiven. I saw Azharuddin in an honoured place in Mumbai the last time I attended a Test in India.

All these facts point to the fact that cricket still cannot bring itself to acknowledge that betting fraud continues, that unpunished bookmakers walk free, that rogue cricketers sleep easily .

Mostly it shows that the public are being cheated, that the ordinary man with a few shillings or rupees or dollars in his pocket cannot rely on what he sees and hears and reads as he places a portion of his earnings on his favourite cricketer.

When these stories first emerged, almost every player I knew had a story of a strange result. Some, of course, were just part of normal play but some sounded very odd. “I bowled 10 overs off the reel,” one opening batsman told me. “I had never bowled more than a couple of overs in a one-day match before. I had not got the stamina for it and, not surprisingly, I went for nearly a 100 runs and we lost against all the expectations.”

I saw catches dropped, matches lost, strange decisions given. Looking back, it is now clear to me that they were not all down to calculated decisions by men who had been bribed. Some were simple errors; some were due to incompetence, some because the sun came out from behind a cloud at the wrong moment.

The most notorious case, long before the general revelation that there was a vast collection of crimes to be unearthed, came when an overseas player put on a bet, in front of his team-mates, on the phone in his own dressing room. Against his own team.

He was more fool than criminal I suggest just as Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh were men who could not resist a bet at long odds one afternoon of Test shocks at Headingley.

None the less I have an idea that those who feel they can laugh whenever spot fixing is mentioned, those handing out the silver dollars, those with the guilty secrets while they roam free are still plotting, still keen to earn more,

They will continue to ply their evil trade because, at the moment, there are too many good honest cricketers, and writers, and people in the stands who do not wish to believe that cricket can be mixed up in anything bad.

Just let me remind them that the game has been criss-crossed by betting, bribery and every other form of nastiness for more than two centuries and that it makes no difference that other sports are beset with the same evil.

It must be stopped.