Cricket: One nation mourns its betting slip

Cricket's Betting Scandal: Greed and secrecy have cost Australia the game's high ground.
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The Independent Online
THEY THOUGHT the deed had been executed with splendid precision. Shane Warne and Mark Waugh had sold their reputations for a mess of potage in Colombo in September 1994. Within six months the Australian Cricket Board believed they had resolved the difficulty. And hardly anyone knew about the terse disciplinary hearing that had been held at an airport hotel in Sydney in February 1995.

The Australian cricket team were on their way from New Zealand where the pair had confessed to receiving $A11,000 from a bookmaker from New Delhi, flying first to London and then on to the West Indies, where they would play a crucial series that would decide the unofficial world championship of cricket.

The last thing the ACB wanted was a public admission about the affair, says Mark Ray in an authoritative account of the affair in the Melbourne Age. Warne and Waugh were fined $A8,000 and $A10,000 respectively, and all the participants appreciated that the best thing was to keep mum.

The only outsiders who were told happened to be passing through Sydney at the time; they were the president (Sir Clyde Walcott), and the chief executive (David Richards) of the International Cricket Council, an organisation with its headquarters at Lord's, where no one knows how to spell the word transparency.

Ray reports that a year later, in 1996, the Age received anonymous information that Waugh had been fined by the ACB. The chairman of the Board at the time, Alan Coward, the then chief executive Graeme Halbish and Waugh himself refused to comment. Halbish said that there were lots of rumours about illegal betting and he was not prepared to discuss rumours. Halbish stands guilty of being economical with the truth.

Coward explained the reason for the cover-up to AAP, the Australian news agency, last week: secrecy was adopted, he said, because the public would assume something worse was involved if the case became public. How right he was; Coward's judgement has proved no less "naive and stupid" than Warne's and Waugh's.

There are, of course, commentators who say that we shouldn't be too hard on the boys; they messed up and paid a penalty. But these commentators are mostly former cricketers such as Bill Lawry and Ian Botham, for whom to know all is to forgive all, and their reaction is a distortion of the reaction in Australia, which has been of anger and disenchantment.

The story still led the television evening news on Friday night, when the Prime Minister, John Howard, feeling the pressure for a government- linked investigation, made a public statement ruling this out. I happened on a friend from Sydney. He is a man of the world - with no illusions about the cupidity of some contemporary sportsmen who earn a lot of money and for whom it isn't enough - but the affair has spoiled his summer.

Warne, who is well paid for playing cricket, also has sponsorship deals with Nike, Channel 9, Foxtel, Just Jeans, Gunn and Moore bats, Sony Music, Nicorette - who will pay him $200,000 if he gives up smoking - the Melbourne Age, and, until Thursday, our own Mirror, who are said to have paid around $150,000 for a column covering the Ashes and the World Cup. These millions were apparently not enough.

Both players are reported to have been angered by the revelations. When I watched them read their statements and sidle away in Adelaide on Wednesday, I thought Warne looked sheepish and shifty at the same time; Waugh seemed fearful. He may have reason to be. The booing that greeted his long walk to the wicket on Friday was considered significant enough to make the front pages of Saturday's papers, and when he walked back to the pavilion, caught and bowled by Peter Such for seven after being brutally softened up by Darren Gough, there was an unsympathetic silence. There was more booing yesterday when he came on to bowl, though the volume was well down.

The reason for their fear and shame should be clear from the fact that when Warne and Waugh accused Salim Malik of offering each of them $200,000 to lose matches during a tour of Pakistan, they claimed the offer had come only one month after we now know they had taken the bookmaker's sweetener.

The proximity of these two events suggests to their captain Mark Taylor, and to most people who can read a timetable, that they might well be connected. After all, why should a bookmaker, even one operating illegally in India, offer acceptable sums for meagre information about the state of the pitch and the weather?

Taylor and Waugh, who gave evidence in the Pakistani match-fixing inquiry in Lahore on 7 October 1998, were instructed by the ACB to tell the whole truth.

They were, says Taylor, mightily relieved not to be asked about the Australian inquiry and the subsequent fines. But surely only a very cynical judge would ask the accuser whether his evidence has not been tainted by similar, though not such serious, charges.

This hypocrisy ought to mortify the grandees of the ACB, who have been adopting a superior position about the alleged transgressions of the game in the subcontinent, and about the impotence of the international administrators at Lord's.

In a front-page comment in the Age, Patrick Smith wrote: "We stand now embarrassed and humiliated in front of the world. On Monday we were the pious fighters against illegal bookmaking, match-fixing and bribery in international cricket. Now we are implicated, if only by innuendo. For all its table-thumping, for all its court evidence, Australia is the only country to have any players found guilty of dealing with bookmakers." I turned to a colleague after the Warne/Waugh confessional to check the spelling of Schadenfreude.

By the end of the week the Australian authorities were full of remorse. Denis Rogers, who succeeded Coward as ACB chairman, appeared on television on Friday to apologise to the Australian people, then explained that standards have changed since 1995, the main difference being that transparency is inescapable in 1998, though only if you are caught. (The ACB's cover- up was exposed by a journalist - Malcolm Conn of the Australian).

Rogers admitted that the Pakistani inquiry has reason to feel aggrieved; and he accepted the need for a formal inquiry to discover whether other players have been implicated. All 25 players contracted to the ACB will be questioned by the inquiry, and the Adelaide Advertiser reported on Saturday morning that several players are poised to confess that they have been approached by bookmakers, but rejected their offers. Rogers said that when the ICC meet in New Zealand on 10 January, he will propose consideration of an international disciplinary body - cricket's International Court of Justice - with powers to discipline players who conspire with bookies. It is almost too late. Corruption is becoming easier. Because a player need only fix his own performance, spread betting makes it easier for a cricketer to deliver a result to a bookie.

In this year's Wisden, Matthew Engel, the editor, wrote that cricket's administrators ought to spend less time marketing the game world-wide and pay more attention to what is going on in the gutter.

Clearly, the Australian authorities already have an intimate acquaintance with the gutter.