Time to raise the blade

Whatever the outcome of the latest episode in the long running soap opera called Cricket in Crisis, the authorities must ensure that the game that was once a by-word for honesty and straight-dealing confirmed by a firm manly handshake does not become a by-word for easy pickings, writes Ted Corbett.

I ought to be pleased that “spot fixing” — which I have been talking about ever since cricket corruption first reared its ugly head more than 10 years ago — has at last been recognised as the real evil in corrupt betting.

At one time the words “match fixing” were attached to any talk of illegal betting, but that never made any sense. At last the great and good have recognised where the problem lies.

At last they have seen a web of corruption — shown by a newspaper story about the Pakistan bowlers planning to bowl no-balls from specific deliveries known in advance — that has made even the most rigid backer of the “match-fixing” theory think again.

The scene I have always envisaged, over the phone or in the player's hotel room, might have been like this:

Nasty Rich Bookmaker: “How many should you make tomorrow?”

Gullible Top Player: “Oh, 70 minimum. I always make runs off this lot, nice flat pitch, good weather forecast. I was thinking about it last night. I'd say 70 easily.”

NRB: “Here is a packet of money. All you have to do is get out for less than 50.”

The Nasty Rich Bookmaker then goes back to his office, puts up generous odds for the Gullible Top Player to make 50 and watches as the cash from Shrewd Naive Punters rolls in. The GTP strokes a smooth 43 before mis-hitting the ball sky high to cover.

The SNP think (a) he has been unlucky (b) careless (c) stupid; his innocent team-mates console themselves that, after all, he has made more than his ODI average; and the ICC Anti Corruption Unit starts yet another inquiry.

Now the technique has moved on. No-balls, wides, overthrows and dead balls — all within the scope of one man — are the new corruption fodder. For the guy betting in tiny numbers of rupees it is a bit of fun but the bookie makes a fortune and when it all emerges the game looks despicable.

The tales of double dealing, intrigue and money changing hands between corrupt bookmakers and underpaid players fascinated me from the first moment I heard about odd happenings in Sharjah; contacts with Australians in Sri Lanka; and finally that dreadful day in Adelaide when the whole story came tumbling into the public domain.

I wrote a fictional account of an old-time tour of the sub-continent in which bets were fixed. The book happened to emerge on the day yet another scandal burst on to the headlines. Hansie Cronje had manipulated the result of matches but that story did not have the long term effect it might have done.

There was a lull in the corruption but I always had the feeling that somewhere in the depths these betting coups were still being plotted. Now we have the proof.

The ‘News of the World' is to be praised for exposing the scandal. They are rarely wrong, whether they are showing us Royalty's seamy finances, or laying bare the murky side of politics, or detailing the way sportsmen behave out of the spotlight.

My bet is they have more to offer or they would not have devoted 10 pages to their blockbuster story. I hear they have 40 hours of tape of the middle man — on police bail as I write — and they have stirred ICC to promise “prompt and decisive action”.

My fear is that once again ICC will work around the edges of the scandal, fail to touch anyone other than a few Gullible Players and that the ghastly problem will soon be back.

Of course none of the allegations is proven yet and that may take a long time. Policemen, like cricket officials, can also work slowly.

In addition, we should be careful where the charges are laid. Who wants to be the first to handcuff 18-year-old Mohammad Amir? Giles Clarke, chairman of ECB, looked as if he would be pleased to fasten the cuffs at the presentation ceremony, but Mr. Clarke is a hasty man and one day he may have more charitable thoughts.

Amir is a talented child and if he has been tempted by large sums of money a good talking to is a more appropriate cure than a life ban.

I could not but be impressed by the coincidence when Sky News ran a plea for funds for those Pakistanis dying in floods immediately after the corruption story.

If it was deliberate it was misjudged, but on a day when I — like many other cricket lovers — felt sick to the very inner core of my soul I could not help laughing out loud. How much more useful it would have been if the £150,000 given by the ‘News of the World' to the middle man in this scam had gone to the flood relief fund.

We also have to ask why ECB and ICC, and even PCB, have not spent similar amounts to solve the mystery of nasty bookmaking instead of piously hoping the whole nasty business would go away.

Whatever the outcome of the latest episode in the long running soap opera called Cricket in Crisis, the authorities must ensure that the game that was once a by-word for honesty and straight-dealing confirmed by a firm manly handshake does not become a by-word for easy pickings.

That way lies the path to oblivion.