Cricket: Australia shocked by Warne and Waugh

Cricket: A proud country embarrassed and its heroes tarnished in an affair which may produce more revelations
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THE FAMOUS baggy, green cap of Australian cricket sits atop a face which is beetroot red today after embarrassing revelations that the game's governing body kept quiet about fines imposed on Shane Warne and Mark Waugh for accepting payments from an Indian bookmaker.

In a special broadcast, recorded standing next to the national flag, the Prime Minister, John Howard, called the disclosures "deeply disturbing". Richie Benaud, doyen of commentators and a former Test captain, called for a full inquiry lest young cricketers lose confidence in the way the game was being run. He also urged consideration of "all the cricket lovers who pay their money at the turnstiles and keep the game going. I would like to see an inquiry to let them know exactly what has happened."

The Wisden editor, Matthew Engel, told public broadcaster ABC, which devoted the opening 10 minutes of its evening news to the affair, that this could be "a very small part of a very big story" and cricket's "worst crisis since Bodyline".

The two players were presented to waiting reporters at a news conference yesterday in Adelaide, where the Australian team has gathered for tomorrow's third Test against England.

Both agreed their actions had been "naive and stupid". Flanked by Warne and Waugh, the current Australian Cricket Board chief executive, Malcolm Speed, glumly conceded that "Australian cricket's very high reputation has been damaged by this incident".

The leg-spinner Warne, currently recuperating from a shoulder injury but expected to return to Ashes action later in the series, said: "I was approached by a man who I later discovered to be a bookmaker from India." Warne had provided information, he said, about the pitch and weather conditions during Australia's tour of Sri Lanka in 1994.

Warne added: "I am very disappointed and sorry for my actions" - sentiments echoed by Waugh, who is expected to bat at No 4 against England. Waugh had been paid the equivalent of pounds 2,500, and Warne pounds 2,000 - payments the ACB heard about some time later from an unnamed source. The fines (pounds 4,000 for Waugh and pounds 3,200 for Warne) were imposed in February 1995 but never made public. Alan Crompton, then chairman of the ACB, said: "The risk was that the public could take a wrong mental leap and assume or believe that the players could be involved in other activities. They clearly were not."

But neither Crompton's statement nor the ACB media offensive could lift scepticism over why such generous payments were offered, and fines imposed, for the provision of information as seemingly mundane as pitch and weather reports - a version of events both players took the precaution of writing out in their own hand for their statements to the news conference. Jonathan Agnew, the former England and Leicestershire bowler now commentating for the BBC, said: "I think there's more to it."

Indian bookmakers are re-nowned for taking a detailed interest in such matters, but they usually consult professional forecasting organisations. The Queensland Weather Bureau reported receiving as many as a dozen calls from the subcontinent during the first Ashes Test in Brisbane, where storm clouds gathering over the Gabba eventually burst, costing the home team an almost certain victory.

It remained doubtful whether the shadows gathering over preparations for the next Test would be dispelled as quickly, however. During the years since the original incident both Warne and Waugh have traded heavily on their reputations as, in Howard's words, "Australian icons."

Both players gave affidavits in the case against Salim Malik, the then Pakistan captain, over allegations of bribery and attempted match-fixing. The pair, with Test colleague Tim May, said Salim had offered them US $200,000 (about pounds 120,000) each to play badly in a one-day game on the 1994 tour after it moved on from Sri Lanka.

Waugh, with the captain Mark Taylor, flew to Lahore during Australia's last tour of Pakistan two months ago, to reiterate his claims in person to a judge at a special court. The solicitor in charge of the investigation for the Pakistan Cricket Board, Ali Sibtain Fazli, told the Australian newspaper that Waugh's evidence was central to the case against Salim, which could now be jeopardised. Salim has constantly denied the charges along with his team-mates Wasim Akram and Ijaz Ahmed, and will now sue his accusers.

"I have suffered so much because of these false charges by these Australian cricketers," said Salim, who has been recalled for the second Test against Zimbabwe starting today in Lahore. "They have spoiled my cricket for the last two years."