As befits a qualified accountant, Haroon Lorgat measures his words carefully.
The chief executive of the International Cricket Council admits that the first time he heard of spot fixing’ was when he joined the sport’s governing body two years ago.
So when he took a call from the News of the World on the Saturday evening of this summer’s Lord’s Test, to say that they had video evidence that Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt had taken money deliberately to bowl no-balls, how did the man running the world game feel?
“I was surprised,” he says. “It was not something we wanted to hear.”
But was it something that Lorgat had feared? “I don’t want to comment on that because, prior to that, we were dealing with certain individuals.”
In the Pakistan team? “Let me not make comments on that.”
Measured responses indeed. Back in 2008 when Lord Condon, who then headed the ICC’s anti-corruption unit, had warned the board about spot fixing, the former Metropolitan Police chief got the impression that certain members, particularly from the sub-continent, were ignoring him. Does this not suggest, I ask Lorgat, ICC complacency?
“I wouldn’t say the warnings were ignored,” insists Lorgat. “Lord Condon was cautioning us not to become complacent. Because nothing had happened for years, it is human nature perhaps to become complacent. He wasn’t saying we are complacent.”
This is a sensitive subject. Just before I met Lorgat, an insider told me how, during the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup in England, illegal bookmakers pretending to be bat manufacturers had approached Sri Lankan and Australian cricketers, who informed the ICC and the plot was foiled.
“Well,” says Lorgat with pride. “That is the prevention system working.”
So why did it not work with Pakistan? How did Mazhar Majeed, the man videotaped by the News of the World as having allegedly offered bribes to the three Pakistani players, get access to them?
He was so close to the team that, before the story broke, he had invited prominent members of the local Pakistani community to attend a restaurant he was opening in Tooting on the day of the Lord’s Test, promising guests that the Pakistan team would be present that evening.
“He was an appointed players’ agent, appointed through whatever means the Pakistan Cricket Board have,” Lorgat explains. “This gave him access to the players and, if a player wants to get involved in something and not report it, then we don’t know. There are limitations to what we can do. We can’t arrest, we can’t do sting operations. We can ask players for phone records, bank records but we cannot seize the records. We have to wait for that information to be provided. We are not a police agency.”
Indeed, Lorgat reveals, the involvement of the Metropolitan Police has severely affected the ICC’s investigations. “The police cautioned us to be extremely careful. There is an ongoing criminal investigation. Our investigation must come second to that.
“It makes it so much more difficult for us to conduct an investigation. So we have not been able to engage with any of those players so as to avoid prejudicing the criminal investigation.”
This means the ICC have been, as Lorgat explains, confined to “sifting through reams of papers, audio and videos”. Not only have the ICC investigators not been able to interrogate the players but Lorgat accepts the three may soon be back playing cricket.
Their appeal against the suspension will be heard in Doha on 30 October by Michael Beloff QC and Lorgat admits: “If their suspensions are overturned by the tribunal, we can’t prevent them playing, and that would include the World Cup.”
If this casts a shadow over the tournament due to be held next February in the sub-continent, Lorgat’s hope is that this winter’s cricket will lift the gloom.
He adds: “We’ve got a lot of good cricket before the World Cup: the Ashes series and India going to South Africa — two teams which are number one and two in Test rankings.”
As Lorgat spoke, behind him gleamed the ICC World Cup. He had planned his trip to London to promote the tournament but the cricket corruption crisis so altered his agenda that Lorgat was drawn into trying to broker peace between England and Pakistan.
The England and Wales Cricket Board were threatening to sue Ijaz Butt, the Pakistan cricket chief, over his accusations that English players took money to throw the third one-day international. The meeting Lorgat helped arrange did lead Butt to withdraw the allegations.
“I had no evidence to support any suggestions that English players did anything untoward,” Lorgat points out. “It is disappointing for the ECB to be treated in that fashion after they have made a home for Pakistan.”
Not that the Butt allegations ever threatened to bring a premature end to the tour. “In my conversations with Giles Clarke [ECB chairman], there was always a clear intent to complete the series,” he says.
As Butt’s allegations were based on the tales he had from Indian bookmakers and, since cricket betting is illegal in that country, shouldn’t he have reported the bookies to the Indian police?
“That is exactly what we have said to him,” he adds. “He should have also shared that information with us.”
As for the Pakistani’s claims that the ICC acted improperly and are conspiring against Pakistan, Lorgat says: “Quite frankly, I don’t subscribe to that view. We were provided with evidence. We felt there was a case to answer.
“I have sat before Mr Butt on more than one occasion and shared all of this with him. I think there is room for Pakistan to play a leadership role on this particular issue.”
Instead of leadership, Lorgat found Butt in denial. “He told me that, having spoken to the players, they were innocent.”
And the Pakistani High Commissioner, turning into some sort of sub-continental Hercule Poirot, interrogated the players and also declared they were innocent.
Lorgat, though, has some sympathy with Pakistan, having seen how his native South Africa refused to accept Hansie Cronje’s guilt.
“People have got an emotional attachment to their own players,” he explains. “But all of us have a responsibility to the game to ensure it is clean. It requires us, particularly those in the sub-continent, to be responsible leaders.
“Pakistan has a system where the president of the country appoints the chairman. So, by definition, there is political interest. I would prefer ex-cricketers running the game, independent representation on the board and real qualified skills in that mix.
“That makes good governance. But that is the ideal scenario and we don’t have that in many countries. And we cannot prescribe to members their domestic governance.” The cricket corruption crisis has not been helped by the fact that, last winter, doubts were cast when Pakistan lost the Sydney Test to Australia from a seemingly impregnable position. However, here Lorgat absolves the Pakistan cricketers.
“We looked at that particular Test match,” he confirms. “But there is no evidence to suggest there was anything untoward. The conclusion that the anti -corruption and security unit came to was that it was a dysfunctional Pakistan team. There were lots of internal challenges within the dressing room.”
The corruption crisis could not have come at a worse time. The 50-year-old South African has seen many changes in life and cricket.
Growing up under apartheid, his ethnic origins meant he had to live in an Indian township and accept that many cricketing doors were closed. After Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow nation emerged, some of these opened wide enough for him to become chairman of the South African selectors but he was removed and was not the first choice as ICC chief executive.
Lorgat has since been keen to project himself as a reformer and make sure that Test cricket is still relevant. Last week’s India-Australia Test in Mohali, which India won by one wicket, could not have been more gripping but the ground was far from packed.
“That’s why we need a context for Test cricket, where you are playing towards something,” he says. “We have bilateral series with limited third-party interest. But, if you’ve got a model where the top four qualify into a final, that will give a context. The plan is for a Test championship of the top four countries playing at a particular venue every four years.”
He is also keen on day/night matches where: “More people could come and watch. But we need to find the right ball that can work under the conditions.”
Indeed, the two-day ICC board meeting that started in Dubai this morning was meant to endorse those plans. Instead, at the first meeting since the devilish summer with Butt and Clarke back in the same room, corruption will cast a long shadow.
However, Lorgat believes that this crisis is not a return to the dark days of the Cronje affair.
Then, a meeting of the ICC board held at Lord’s just after the crisis broke, saw all the board members signing a document saying they were personally honest. “In my view it is a case of a few rotten apples, it is not widespread,” he says. “People are very complimentary about our infrastructure and other sports see us as leaders.”
Lorgat agrees that the long-term solution, as Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the new head of the anti-corruption unit has said, is for betting in the Asian sub-continent to be legalised.
He adds: “It is certainly something that is exercising our minds.”
The minds being exercised include the current ICC president, Sharad Pawar, a prominent member of the Indian cabinet. “I have discussed it with him. But it is a complex issue.”
Lorgat would also like to look at cricket becoming an Olympic sport and remains optimistic that his sport can survive all the latest controversy.
And ask him if he is enjoying his job and his first response is: “Difficult question.” Then he adds: “But the answer, of course, is yes.”