If athletics, swimming and cycling have been infested with drugs, and football corrupted by betting and match-fixing, why should cricket have believed it could stay pure? From such a cynical stance, the admission by Shane Warne and Mark Waugh that they pocketed a bookmaker's money has minimal shock value. So a cricketer can be as greedy as a footballer or an athlete? So what?
But it is the accompanying revelation that is so damaging. The Australian Cricket Board knew all about the affair because the two players owned up. Which would have been fine had it happened last week and been followed by an immediate and public punishment. But it happened four years ago and the ACB hushed it up.
More startling than that, the International Cricket Council - the supposed governing body of world cricket and guardians of fair play - knew about it too and willingly joined in a conspiracy of silence.
Much as the ICC officials, in their defence, might spout off about "limited powers", there is no escaping the most damning revelation of all: that after years of rumours, suspicion, accusations and denials, they had before them hard evidence of a link between cricket and illegal gambling and chose to say nothing about it.
The ICC stand accused, therefore, of being unfit to run the game; certainly, of being unempowered. Next month, when the ICC meet in Christchurch, New Zealand, the pressure to take decisive action, not just over gambling (and its inherent links with match-rigging) but over that other thorny and badly handled issue, ball- tampering, will never have been greater. To do so should be straightforward enough, given the seriousness of the crisis facing the game. But before making such an assumption it is necessary to understand the nature of the ICC.
The body should not, for example, be compared with Fifa. Whereas the governing body of global football has hundreds of employees - not to mention considerable authority - the ICC have fewer than 10 full-time staff. They have had a chief executive only since 1994 and he - as has been protested many times - is simply the paid servant of the amateur delegates of the nine member nations. In effect, ICC is little more than a gentlemen's club at the head of a network of gentlemen's clubs.
Their powers are dependent on what those delegates wish to be contained in the Code of Conduct, a document which reflects the tendency among the member nations to pay lip service to the need for a world cricket authority but to keep serious matters in-house.
The extraordinary circumstances of the fines on Warne and Waugh coming to the ICC's notice are an example of just such attitudes.
In 1995, there was an ACB inquiry into newspaper revelations that Warne, Waugh and Tim May have been offered bribes by the Pakistan captain, Salim Malik. Warne and Waugh confessed, in private, that they had provided an Indian bookmaker with advance information on pitch and weather conditions. With the Australian team en route from New Zealand to the Caribbean, the two players were summoned to a hotel room during a stop-off at Sydney to receive their punishment. By coincidence, the chief executive and then chairman of the ICC, David Richards and Sir Clyde Walcott, were passing through Sydney on the same day. ACB officials decided to tell them about the fine, but only in the strictest confidence.
Richards said last week: "At the time, the structure of the ICC wasn't what it is now. Historically, each country has had the sovereign right to deal with its own players on discipline. It is only since 1991 that countries have agreed to give up some limited powers to the ICC referees system, which was introduced under the Code of Conduct. Later, in 1995, the Code of Conduct was strengthened to have a specific provision for players involved in gambling, directly or indirectly, or speculating on the outcome of a match.
"When the ICC board meet in January for the annual meeting, there will be further proposals to strengthen their powers in this area."
The ICC will have to move a long way, however, to be deemed an effective ruling body. At the moment, the maximum penalty for misconduct is a ban for three Tests or six one-day internationals, hardly appropriate at a time when such a distinguished commentator as Matthew Engel, the editor of Wisden, has talked about "what could be the biggest scandal cricket has ever known".
But the member nations have been notoriously slow to cede power over the disciplining of players and there is no provision yet for dealing with contact with bookmakers between matches or tours.
"There is the possibility of a lengthy ban for anyone found guilty of match-fixing," Richards added, although no action will be taken until the current judicial inquiry in Pakistan, into the allegations against Salim Malik and others, is concluded.
When the way does become clear, no country will support the need for tough new powers more strongly than the Australians, deeply embarrassed about the way the cover-up reflects on them. Given that their delegate, Malcolm Gray, is likely to be the next chairman of the ICC, an Australian-led plan to clean up the game could not be more timely.
HOW THE ICC FAILED THE TEST
1977: THE PACKER AFFAIR
KERRY PACKER, the head of Australia's commercial Channel Nine television network, approaches the Australian Cricket Board with a substantial offer for exclusive rights to Test matches. The ACB decline the offer, at which a furious Packer sets about recruiting 35 of the best players in the world to take part in his own competition, to be televised on Channel Nine. The ICC hold an emergency meeting and agree to meet Packer, but when he reiterates his request to televise Test matches, talks collapse. The ICC take a hard line with players, threatening bans, but the players in turn sue for restraint of trade and win, costing the ICC and the Test and County Cricket Board pounds 250,000 in legal bills. Within two years, Packer is granted exclusive Test rights.
1992: BALL TAMPERING
DURING a one-day international between England and Pakistan at Lord's, at the height of the controversy over reverse swing, umpires John Hampshire and Ken Palmer change a damaged ball, believing it to have been tampered with. They show slits in its casing to Don Oslear, the third umpire, who wants to disclose their suspicions. According to Oslear, match referee Deryck Murray at first agreed that the ball appeared to have been damaged deliberately. Later, the umpires are told that "officially" the ball merely went out of shape. After several unkept promises of statements to the media, the ICC announce that the umpires' report is "confidential". The ball remains locked in a Lord's safe and the Pakistanis have been neither convicted nor exonerated.
1994: DIRT IN THE POCKET
IN THE First Test against South Africa at Lord's, the England captain Michael Atherton is filmed by television cameras apparently taking dirt from his pocket to roughen up the surface of the ball. The umpires declare there is no case against him because the condition of the ball has not been altered. None the less, Atherton is asked to explain his actions to the ICC match referee Peter Burge. Later, the ICC announce that Atherton's explanation has been accepted, but they refuse to say what that explanation was. Later still, Atherton admits that he had told Burge he had nothing in his pocket. Raymond Illingworth, the chairman of the England selectors, fines Atherton pounds 1,000 for having dirt in his pocket and a further pounds 1,000 for lying to the referee.
1995: BRIBERY CHARGES
THE Sydney Morning Herald reveals allegations of bribery attempts made during Australia's 1994 tour of Pakistan, which followed the visit to Sri Lanka. Warne, Waugh and Tim May say they were offered around pounds 30,000 each to throw a match. In a second story, the Herald says Pakistan captain Salim Malik offered the bribes. Inquiries are launched by both the Australian and Pakistan boards. The ACB publicly support the three players, although it is now known that Warne and Waugh were fined after admitting contact with the Indian bookmaker. The ICC are asked by Australia to intervene but say they have no authority to do so, declaring the allegations to be a domestic matter outside their jurisdiction.
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