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The top bosses of the International Cricket Council were warned two years ago that the game faced real dangers of corruption re-emerging and that they were becoming complacent about illegal bookmakers seeking to subvert players. However the warning did not go down well with all the members of the ICC executive board.

The verbal warning was given to the highest authority charged with running the world game in June 2008 by Lord Condon. The former head of the Metropolitan Police had been brought in to set up cricket’s anti-corruption unit in 2000 when, following a Delhi police investigation on an unrelated matter, it emerged that the then South African captain Hansie Cronje had taken money from Indian bookmakers to fix matches.

Sources present at the ICC meeting have told me that Condon warned that the heady cocktail of Twenty20 cricket, in particular the IPL bringing in celebrities, money and razzmatazz, had created conditions where cricket corruption of the type that scarred the game in the 1990s could re-emerge. This time, Condon felt that the danger was not from match fixing, as during the Cronje scandal, but spot fixing like the deliberate bowling of no balls Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif are alleged to have done during last week’s Lord’s Test.

Condon felt that spot fixing was all the more difficult to police as cricket is a game of many discrete events such as no-balls and wides on any of which a crooked bet can be placed. Condon also warned that the fact that there had been no major scandals since the unmasking of Cronje had led to a worrying belief at the highest level of the ICC that nothing similar could ever besmirch the sport again.

Condon’s chilling words came within months of the Indians having launched the first edition of the IPL, a Twenty20 version of the game which seemed successfully to marry Mammon to movies with many Bollywood stars owning cricket franchises. For the first time a domestic cricket tournament with wide appeal was produced in the lucrative Indian market. That year’s IPL had not been monitored by the ICC’s anti-corruption unit.

But the Indian representatives on the ICC board, aware that India controls the game’s purse strings and luxuriating in the knowledge that the launch of the IPL was radically changing the face of cricket, did not take kindly to Condon and challenged his conclusions. The Pakistanis, who were then on good terms with the Indians (their cricket relationship has since all but collapsed) were also not convinced. Earlier this year when Condon handed over charge to Ronnie Flanagan, the former head of police in Northern Ireland, he felt obliged to air his misgivings publicly saying, “If the ICC and world cricket get complacent about spot fixing then corruption could spread all over the game like a rash.”

But in the last two years under David Morgan’s chairmanship the ICC code of conduct was re-written allowing players to be suspended pending an inquiry as has happened with the two Pakistani bowlers and the captain Salman Butt. The enhanced code means that the ICC can also demand that players submit their telephone and banking records.

The ICC, which feels that the three Pakistanis have a case to answer, will also have to determine how these cricketers fell into the alleged trap. Like all international cricketers, they had been given extensive warnings about strangers trying to lure them. International cricketers are told they must inform the ICC’s anti-corruption unit of any approach they receive. For the Pakistanis these warnings are given in Urdu, the national language of the country.

It was such whistle blowing by an Australian and two Sri Lankan cricketers during last year’s Twenty20 World Cup held in this country that prevented spot bet fixing during the event. The cricketers were approached by a couple of individuals pretending to be bat suppliers. However once the cricketers had blown the whistle the ICC’s anti-corruption unit was able to step in and stop the attempted fixing.

In this case Mazhar Majeeb, the 35 year old alleged fixer, got so close to the Pakistani cricketers that some of them were seen with him at the bar of their London hotel. Indeed such was the friendship Majeeb had struck up with the team that he also invited some prominent members of the local Pakistani community in this country to a restaurant he was due to open in Tooting in south London last Monday night. The invitation specifically mentioned that the members of the Pakistan team would be present. Monday would have been ideal as it was the scheduled last day of the Lord’s Test. However by then the News of the World revelation showing Majeeb counting their money as he promised to deliver no balls had so changed the entire landscape that the cricketers were on their way to Taunton and Majeeb was being released on bail after being questioned by the police.

ICC investigators are well aware that policing Pakistani cricketers is all the more difficult as they unable to play at home because of security concerns and are now nomads. Matters have not been helped by the fact that Lt Col Nur Khawaja, the ICC security officer who looked after Pakistani team ever since the Cronje scandal broke, died in January. A former military man and highly respected, he was well liked by the players. It has not gone unnoticed that many of the allegations surrounding the team have emerged since Nur’s passing, starting with Pakistan’s disastrous tour of Australia last winter, particularly the Sydney Test when, from a seemingly impregnable position, Pakistan unaccountably lost.

The Pakistani board had hoped that the appointment of Salman Butt, who was educated in an English speaking school and comes from the well off middle class elite of the country, would be able to provide guidance to a team often split along regional, tribal and economic lines. But the Pakistani top brass have themselves not helped matters by staying in a different hotel to the team, seemingly emphasising the class differences in their nation’s cricket.

Butt, Amir and Asif were only moved to the same hotel as the top brass after the scandal broke, by which time Pakistan cricket was on the back foot both domestically and internationally.

      

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