'Bribes' inquiry plans to scrutinise umpires

Cricket in Crisis: New allegations surface against leading Indian players
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The Independent Online

In Cricket, the umpire's word is meant to be final, although that may not be enough to prevent them from being investigated by the International Cricket Council, the sport's world governing body, when it holds an emergency meeting at Lord's in a fortnight's time.

With the rumour mill grinding relentlessly on, dragging more and more names into its murky vortex - India's Outlook magazine yesterday made serious allegations against Kapil Dev, Mohammad Azharuddin, Nayan Mongia and Ajay Jadeja as being involved in match-fixing - the men in white coats cannot claim immunity and Dr Ali Bacher, managing director of the South African board, has said that any inquiry must investigate both players and umpires.

New Delhi police have filed charges against the South African cricketers Hansie Cronje, Herschelle Gibbs, Nicky Boje and Pieter Strydom in connection with a one-day series in March against India, which the hosts won 3-2, but the scope of the affair is widening. Like others on the field of play, umpires are in a prime position to influence those aspects of cricket ideal for spread and line bets, such as runs per batsman and wickets per bowler.

This is not to say that any umpires have been involved, but rumours along with other "Chinese whispers" have been circulating for some time. As some of these have now grown dragon heads, the ICC, especially if it is serious about purging the game of this menace, must include them when the heads of its executive board meet on 2-3 May.

Until then, the stage is ripe for every limelight-seeker to bring a tale to the table - which is presumably why the England and Wales Cricket Board has requested an audience with Chris Lewis, whose revelations that three England players had taken bungs to influence matches appeared in a Sunday newspaper. Gerard Elias, the chairman of the discipline committee, and the international teams director, Simon Pack, will talk to Lewis in London sometime today in an effort to get him to name the trio.

"This is an extremely serious issue," Pack said, "and we shall be meeting Lewis to discuss his comments in detail. As is well known, the ECB sought the assistance of the police as soon as it became aware of match-fixing allegations concerning the England-New Zealand series last summer.

"The ECB co-operated fully with the police in their inquiries which included the full interview of all England players, team management and match officials involved in the series. As a result the police found nothing to implicate anyone in match-fixing."

Lewis, who first floated the story last year, has also been told by former England team- mates Darren Gough and Angus Fraser to name names or keep quiet. But if he will not, Outlook magazine certainly is.

In a statement yesterday, the publication's editor, Vinod Mehta, claimed he had sufficient evidence against Kapil Dev, Azharuddin, Jadeja and Mongia.

"In the past, the police have always said they didn't have any names," Mehta said. "Well now they do." His magazine produced a list of transcripts of tapes made by the Bombay police when they tapped bookies' telephones in Mumbai when South Africa played India for the Titan Cup in 1997.

The tapes allegedly reveal Azharuddin telling the bookmaker in Hindi that everything is in place and advising him to put his money on the other side, South Africa.

Azaharuddin denies the allegations. "He totally denies being involved," his wife, Sangita Bijlani, said. "This is a vendetta against him."

Mehta added: "We have a Supreme Court lawyer who has also gone on record to reveal that one of the most famous players in Indian cricket has been receiving money, but he only found this out during an investigation into underworld crime. Even so, there is not a lot of faith in the ICC's ability to confront this problem."

He may well be right and the feeling persists around the world that the ICC may have been hoisted by its own petard by not acting sooner. The problem now is that with cupboards being emptied of their skeletons at an alarming rate, the ICC may be overwhelmed with instances but lack the hard evidence to act decisively.

In fact, the situation is in danger of becoming one big mess. India's Information and Broadcasting Minister, Arun Jaitely, certainly thinks so and blames the current glut of gambling misdemeanours on the Australian Cricket Board for its "naïve" handling of the Mark Waugh and Shane Warne affair. Jaitely told the Indian press: "The leniency shown by the ACB only encouraged the misdemeanour."

Unsurprisingly, it was a view not shared by the ACB chief executive, Malcolm Speed, though he did concede that the initial cover-up in 1994, as well as the fine of around £7,000, was "clearly inappropriate".

The outpouring of guilt when the matter finally broke cover 18 months ago forced Australia to strengthen their resolve regarding such matters and Speed claims it forced the antipodeans into having the most "comprehensive programme in world cricket to deal with these issues".

It may not quite be time for the auto-da-fé methods of the Spanish Inquisition, but if fair play is to survive that process needs to be applied in all its scope and power by the ICC when it meets in two weeks' time.

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