Cricket: Cover-up by the board was totally irresponsible

Australian cricket has never been good at taking its medicine, and most of those involved would rather swallow a bag of rusty nails than admit to hubris
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The Independent Online
IT COULD have been the Tweedledum and Tweedledee show, though both tended towards the dumb, with their matching statements and deadpan deliveries. Twenty-four hours earlier, Mark Waugh and Shane Warne were the leading lights of an Australian team bathed in a golden glow. Now, here they were, a leak later, like little boys lost, forced to own up in public to a past misdemeanour.

Providing what the players claim in their statements is true - that they merely provided pitch and weather conditions to a man on a phone - the hypocrisy of the Australian Cricket Board is the real issue here. An issue that has brought them severe embarrassment.

Covering up the truth is one thing, but withholding it, particularly from an inquiry as serious and thorough as the one going on in Pakistan, and where players if found guilty could end up in gaol, is totally irresponsible.

If it is curious for a wrongdoing to have been punished four years before it was admitted, cricket clubs - which is essentially what the ACB is - have long been notoriously bad at considering the public interest. Indeed had this episode not been leaked, nothing but a shadowy rumour would have marked the spot.

Confessionals are all about being called to account. But if the players have at last come clean, the ACB still has not offered a satisfactory explanation - other than it was policy to do things in private - why it covered up the episode. Similarly, the Board's claim that both players had been "full and frank" is also disingenuous and was only given after they knew the game was up.

Of course, the offence committed by the two players is hardly a candidate for crime of the century and people in the media provide much the same information on pitches and weather for spread betting companies all the time. In fact, as a player I willingly passed on the same information without a second thought to a friend who worked for Ladbrokes.

Mind you, he was a pal and no payment, other than the odd beer, was ever offered. If it had been, especially in line with the pounds 2,500 and pounds 2,000 paid to Waugh and Warne, I would like to think some alarm bells would have rung.

Like most who judge in hindsight though, the "ifs" are always hypothetical and I doubt that when the pair were approached on their tour of Sri Lanka in 1994 either knew betting was illegal in India.

If people find that hard to swallow, the discrepancy in the size of the payments received by the two players, as well as the severity of the fines (pounds 7,200 in total is hefty) is even stranger, particularly as it was going to be kept secret.

However, the most perplexing and inexplicable aspect was the need for the bookie to have two highly expensive weather and pitch reports. But if the economics do not make sense, perhaps this was a bookie who did not want to do things by halves and, like a true professional, wanted a batsman's, as well as a bowler's, point of view before making his market.

That Waugh and Warne are two of the three that accused Salim Malik of offering them bribes to throw matches, is also intriguing. Bookies, especially those operating out of Bombay and other places in India, have a close network and Salim, if he were guilty of the allegations, might have sought them out because he had been told of their previous dealings with bookies. After all, a nod and a wink is how most brethrens work.

Malcolm Speed, the chief executive of the ACB and the only man allowed to be grilled by the media on Wednesday, assured everyone present that neither Waugh nor Warne had ever placed a bet on a cricket match, presumably relying on the word of the two players.

Perhaps most disturbing is that neither Aussie coughed to their own dealings after fingering Salim. Incredibly, in what the ACB claims was a thorough investigation into the matter at the time, the bookmaker at the centre of the affair was not interviewed. All Speed would say on the matter was that they were aware of his first name and that he came from Delhi.

Australian cricket has never been good at taking its medicine, and most of those involved would rather swallow a bag of rusty nails than admit to hubris. Not satisfied that a monstrous impropriety has been committed on their part, the buck is now being passed to the International Cricket Council, who they claim knew of the misdemeanour soon after the ACB fined the two players in 1995.

Perhaps, in their wisdom, the ICC - who were told to treat the matter as confidential - felt that telling the inquiry in Pakistan, headed by Judge Mohammad Qayyum, would further muddy the waters and aid those close to being implicated. If they did, they too were guilty of perverting the course of justice.

In the next week or so, Judge Qayyum - following months of laborious testimony and effort in Lahore - is going to make his findings public. If cricket is to benefit from the effort, he must have every assistance from the ICC and its member Boards in pulling the strands together. Anything less and the tarnish now sticking to the game, will be impossible to shift.