Evening Standard

Tim Lamb is no stranger to cricket corruption. He was, after all, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board when the game was rocked by the Hansie Cronje scandal.

A decade on, there is no disguising the pained tone in his voice as we discuss the current Pakistani spot-fixing allegations.

Suspicious mind: Tim Lamb claims to have had doubts about a number of games involving Pakistan, going back to 1999 World Cup. Image courtesy of Evening Standard.

“Sadly, I am fearful for cricket,” he says. “This is a watershed for the game. If it is half as bad as it appears, then match-fixing practices are still prevalent within cricket.

“The game has to get its act together. If it doesn’t, the future of cricket will definitely be put at risk. This could tear the heart out of the sport.

“Why should anybody go to watch it, why would broadcasters want to pay hundreds of millions pounds for being associated with cricket?”

Not that the 57-year-old, who now heads the Central Council for Physical Recreation — the umbrella body for some 100 sports organisations — has been surprised by allegations which led the International Cricket Council to suspend Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif.

“There have been whiffs of suspicion around the Pakistan team for a very long time,” he adds. “There have been episodes which led me to think that things have not been quite right.”

One of these episodes was the Sydney Test between Australia and Pakistan earlier this year, which may now come under investigation by the ICC. Lamb watched as Pakistan, requiring 176 to win and seemingly on course for victory at 50 for one collapsed to lose by 36 runs.

“It struck me then that something may be wrong,” he recalls.

What has worried Lamb since has been the reaction of the Pakistan cricket authorities, their reluctance to suspend the players and even suggestions by the Pakistani High Commissioner that the allegations were a “fix”.

Lamb says if he had been in charge of Pakistan cricket, he would have acted very differently, even though he worries that the level of political interference in the country — the President of the country is the patron and head of the PCB — creates its own problems.

“If this were business, or somebody working as a police officer or a teacher accused of something pretty serious, they would be suspended on full pay,” he argues. “It is not an implication of guilt but it would remove them from any hostility.

“It sounds like colonial arrogance to be saying that is not in our culture. But the way things operate in the sub-continent is different. It certainly makes things much more complicated.

“But the senior people in Pakistan, including politicians and cricket administrators, have to say that they are concerned about cricket corruption. They also have to demonstrate by their actions that they really do intend to root it out.”

As well as his experience in cricket administration, Lamb won a county championship medal with Middlesex in 1976 and also played for Northamptonshire, so is well-qualified to judge when something is not quite right.

“The fact that I had played the game at the highest level meant I had seen incidents in cricket,” he says. “I’ve suddenly thought, Hmm, that looks a bit strange.’”

This includes the game played at Northampton in the 1999 World Cup, when Pakistan lost to Bangladesh having already qualified for the knock-out stages.

“There was a lot of suspicion over that match and I felt something was not quite right,” he says. “In the same competition, in another match, I saw a well-known Pakistani batsman run down the pitch third ball, and get stumped by a mile. I remember thinking at the time, That is a rather strange shot to play.’

“You don’t have to be a good violinist to appreciate a good concert but it helped me enormously in my job as the top man in English and Welsh cricket, that I had played the game.”

But, while Lamb cannot hope to change the culture of Pakistan cricket, he is very clear that the country’s cricket does not deserve special favours because of its present position. Matches cannot be played at home for security reasons and the players are excluded from India’s lucrative IPL.

“It is still inexcusable,” he insists. “Just because you aren’t earning as much as the next person does not mean you can cheat. Does that mean that a League One footballer, because he is paid less than a Premier League player, is excused if he cheats in football?”

Lamb also takes issue with those who feel that, if 18-year-old Mohammad Amir is found guilty, he should not be punished harshly.

“I don’t buy the argument that it was only three no-balls and that they did not have a bearing on the game. I have no sympathy. It is the thin edge of the wedge. I don’t see the distinction between spot-fixing and match-fixing. To me it is all corruption.

“People who behave in that way have no place in the sport. If that means handing down the severest penalties possible then, as somebody who has been involved as a sports administrator for 25 years, I say it has to be done.

“That doesn’t mean just banned for life from playing but banned from coaching. If somebody is guilty of corrupting the game, as it would appear is this case, there should be no way back for them. If these players are guilty and the ICC don’t hand down exemplary punishments, the perceptions will persist that cricket corruption has not been rooted out, as they did in the years after Hansie Cronje.”

One of the reasons for this was that many of the players named in the post-Cronje investigation by Pakistani Judge Malik Muhammad Qayyum have since found their way back into the sport.

Leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed, named in the Qayyum report for his involvement with bookmakers, is now an England bowling coach. The ICC said they would not have employed him but England coach, Andy Flower, has said: “He’s a cricket coach and we’re very comfortable working with Mushy.”

So, had Lamb still been running English cricket, would he have approved of the appointment?

For the only time in our conversation Lamb becomes coy. “I’m going to dodge your question and say that you have to take into account all of the facts of the case,” he says. “But if somebody is unequivocally proven to be a cheat or guilty of corruption then there should be no career for them in cricket. Ever. No redemption.”

Lamb now heads the recently-formed sports betting group, with representatives from horse racing, the Football Association and ECB, and realises that cricket is not the only sport with betting problems.

“Over the last few years there have been suspicions surrounding quite a number of sports,” he adds. “Tennis had the Nikolay Davydenko allegations — case not proven — racing had Kieren Fallon — again not proven. Then there have been various allegations regarding football matches in the lower leagues. Darts and snooker have had problems, even before the allegations surrounding John Higgins emerged.”

The catalyst for this, according to Lamb, has been the explosion in online betting, but he says: “Sport should have picked up on this earlier. Some have been a bit slow to realise the risks and have buried their heads in the sand.

“These are clearly risky bets open to manipulation and devised without any consultation with the sports.”

The solution Lamb’s sports betting group is advocating is to borrow an idea from across the channel.

He says: “France has introduced a sort of licensing system, whereby before you can open a book on a sporting event or a particular incident in a match, the gambling companies have to sit down with the sport and agree what is acceptable and what isn’t.”

In addition to such a contractual arrangement, Lamb is also campaigning that, like the French bookmakers, British bookies should pay money to sport. Apart from the racing levy and a contribution to greyhound racing, betting companies pay nothing to any other sport.

Lamb says: “The gambling industry must recognise they are actually using the intellectual property of different sports. Sports betting is an extremely lucrative, multi-billion pound business and, to deal with the threat of corruption, all sports in this country will have to develop robust policies and that costs money.”


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