As England embark today on their 18th attempt to win a global competition, the spectre of match-fixing has again intruded on the game. It was raised last week in official documents by tax officials investigating the Indian Premier League and it will be mentioned wherever the players go in the World Twenty20 which begins in the West Indies on Friday.
Paul Collingwood, England's captain, said yesterday: "There's speculation all around and I guess where there's money, there's problems. I can only go from my experience and thankfully I've never been involved in anything like that. I know it's all speculation, but it's a horrible thought to even think you might have been involved in a team that could be involved in anything like that."
Collingwood has spent the past month in India playing for Delhi Daredevils in the IPL. The competition was shaken last week after the report of the Income-Tax Department was released, suggesting money-laundering and match-fixing. There is no proof, but anecdotal evidence is beginning to abound and the World Twenty20 will be under scrutiny.
"None of us wants to be involved even in talk of this kind of stuff," said Collingwood. "You have to keep your eyes open as players. You are given anti-corruption videos to watch when you first come into the squad. The players know what it's all about, we just have to keep our eyes open and make sure it does not come into the game."
The ICC's finest achievement – after the rigging scandal was exposed in the early part of this decade – has been the institution of rigorous anti-corruption squads. They will be on alert in the venues of Barbados, St Lucia and Guyana.
England have failed in 17 previous attempts in limited-over competitions covering nine World Cups, six Champions Trophies and two World Twenty20s. There is not much reason to suppose that matters will be altered this time as they enter (but not necessarily finish) the event with their 16th different opening batting partnership, the previous 15 having been used in only 25 matches. This time, honest, the uncapped duo of Craig Kieswetter and Michael Lumb will change things. Kieswetter played three one-dayers in Bangladesh last month, Lumb was the second top-scorer in the domestic T20 last summer (though the top-scorer, Jonathan Trott, was discarded). It seems the new pairing impressed on England's stopover in Dubai on the way to Bangladesh.
"Those guys Lumb and Kieswetter really opened our eyes when we played against them in the A game and proved to us how hard they could hit the ball," said Collingwood. "In 20-over cricket you really do have to use your brains as well. You can go after ball one and think you're going to hit it out of the park but the risk assessment is crucial. It's not just Kieswetter and Lumb – if you look at our order Kevin Pietersen has always been a powerful hitter and I'm starting to hit a few more sixes."
Collingwood virtually acknowledged this new-found power would be used at the top of the order, which places immediate expectations on the new pair. England are unlikely winners but there is no doubting at least that they have a fresh vision about all limited-overs cricket under Andy Flower's coaching. "Having never won one it's something we're desperate to do," said Collingwood. "We're excited about it. The good thing about Twenty20 cricket is that we've got as good a chance as anybody else. Now we're starting to build a team that is becoming very powerful."
The point is, of course, that England are only starting to build the team. It almost beggars belief that they can enter a major tournament (in which they must win both group games to be sure of progressing) carrying two untried players who are expected to give them the required starts. No doubt, as was seen in IPL, they will also use abundant slow bowling, so come in Michael Yardy after three years away.
Collingwood is already in Barbados having flown via the United States from India. Most of the rest of his squad fly from Heathrow this morning. Despite the cloud that has been placed on the IPL in the past few days, he seems convinced of its virtues.
"Until you've actually experienced the IPL you probably don't realise how much you do learn from being involved," he said, although England's two leading bowlers, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, declined to take part. "Eoin Morgan will now be in the same situation as I was last year. He got a few games in and even that small experience that he has had, and watching the other guys, seeing what the IPL is all about, puts you in real good stead for what Twenty20 is all about."
England probably do not know enough to win. Maybe at the 19th time of asking.