Cricket's rulers warned: This could be the tip of the iceberg

Tapes, lies and a break the game has waited for

In this millennium there have been 60 limited-overs internationals. After the staggering events of last week it might be worth seeking odds on how many have been rigged, manipulated or otherwise artificially distorted. Not all, obviously, probably not most, but any betting men out there, and there are plenty, would doubtless be unwilling to err on the low side.

Since the erstwhile captain of South Africa, Hansie Cronje, confessed on Tuesday that he had made a gross error of judgement and taken money from a book-maker - though insisting that he has never been involved in match-fixing - allegations and counter-allegations, many of them unsourced, have been changing quicker than the odds in a one-dayer. Among the most prominent is one involving the final Test match against England and why Cronje wanted to prevent it drifting towards a draw.

One phrase has cropped up repeatedly as the game has tried to come to terms with the shocking realisation that one of the most respected and trusted of all professionals, an icon in his own country, had been on the take. It has been heard in South African government circles. It has been heard from the Indian police who broke the scandal when they announced that they had taped evidence of Cronje speaking to a bookie and implicating three other South African players. It has been heard from the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board and maybe even in the corridors of that disparaged body purported to run the game, the International Cricket Council: to wit, that the revelations so far are merely "the tip of the iceberg".

It is now the consensus that messing around with one-dayers is rife, and in the maelstrom which followed Cronje's hangdog, grudging admission the unquestioned view was that if he could do it, then what the others could be up to was boundless. Some of the most illustrious names in the sport have been mentioned perfectly casually as being habitual cheats in thrall to illegal subcontinent bookies.

The ICC have been castigated as toothless and moribund, and that was from their friends. Two main charges have been levelled against them. Firstly, they are accused of having stood idly by for six, maybe more, years, since the spectre of match-fixing came to haunt the growing international game. Secondly, and what brought the reaction against them to a feverish pitch, they appeared to be abrogating their responsibility by the seemingly perfunctory announcement that despite the new evidence and Cronje's guilt, there would be no worldwide inquiry.

"The game is hurting all right and there is undoubtedly a crisis of confidence," said David Richards, the ICC's chief executive, thus placating those who suspected his organisation thought the game might not be hurting. "But the logistics of such an inquiry taking in the whole world have to be borne in mind. There have been many claims, but little evidence. If anybody out there has evidence then we want to hear it. If players have been approached they should say so immediately. Tell an umpire, their manager, even the press. It doesn't matter as long as it comes out."

Well-meant words, but Richards would find few in his corner after suggesting there was no starting point for a world inquiry. He has spoken to Lord MacLaurin, the ECB chairman, who has called for a summit of all the ICC's nine full members - "with a worldwide investigation at the top of the agenda" - and appreciates the concern. Anybody looking from the outside sees that they could begin by hauling Cronje up before an appointed beak and asking who gave him the money and what for. One lead could lead to another. This, surely, is the break they have been waiting for.

The procedure for dealing with breaches of the ICC code of conduct was put in its present place only two years ago, and Richards is satisfied with it. There is a procedure for appointing an independent inquiry whose report then goes in four dir-ections: to the board concerned, to the ICC, to the chairman of the Code of Conduct Commission and to the public. All well and good, but nobody has yet been brought to book.

The plethora of one-day internationals has been blamed for the increase not only in betting but for the opportunity for fixing. "My own view is that players don't just go through the motions," said Rich-ards. The full house who attended Friday night's one-dayer in Cape Town indicated that the public have not had enough, shady or not.

If the ICC have a valid point it is that the bookies who are the heart of the corruption do not come under their aegis. The ICC can work with the police, but it is difficult to see how they can prevent players, of whatever hue, consorting with bookies. Put a 24-hour watch on them?

Draconian penalties are an obvious answer. It can be seen now that Shane Warne, one of the five cricketers of the century, and Mark Waugh, one of the batsmen of the decade, got off lightly in being fined for taking money (respectively, A$8,000 and A$10,000, a few dollars more than they were paid), albeit for innocuous information, from a bookie known only as John. Those fines were hushed up for three years.

It was stupidity and naivety more than an attempt to influence the course of a match by foul means, perhaps. But had it come out at the time it might have deterred others far more, as well as affecting the size of Warne's vote in the century poll. That long conspiracy of silence makes a nonsense of Richards' call for matters to be out in the open.

The Cronje affair still represents a chance for the ICC to make amends. If only for what the player has owned up to so far, decisive action is demanded. The issues became increasingly blurred as the week went by. After the New Delhi police announced eight days ago that they had the evidence of Cronje's own taped voice (there are actually 14 tapes, it is now said) the player was robust in his denial. Then the bombshell exploded: Cronje confessed. But he was not confessing to, indeed still denies, any jiggery-pokery in the one-day series in India which is the target of the police inquiry.

Precisely $8,200 (which equates to 50,000 Rand for those mystified by the amount) was paid to him at the start of the triangular one-day tournament involving South Africa, England and Zimbabwe. One of the theories doing the rounds, one which Graham Abrahams, spokes-man for Ngconde Balfour, the South African sports minister, said would be thoroughly investigated, is that the payment relates to the final Test between England and South Africa, which was reduced, sensationally, to one innings a side after rain had washed out three full days. This had never happened in Test cricket before. Cronje made the offer - and was hailed as a hero at the time for salvaging the match and the sport's fuddy-duddy reputation - but it has now been alleged that he did so to ensure there was a positive result.

A draw was inevitable, it had been backed considerably and the bookmakers stood to lose a pile. Cronje, it is being said, was not trying to lose the match, but to win it. But either way the draw was avoided. Thus, the allegation is that he was on the take before whatever he did or did not do in India. Sympathy continued to grow for him at home yesterday as the initial shockwaves receded apace. Abrahams said: "Whatever he has done or not done we must all recognise that we all have human fallibility. Support for him is increasing."

Hence the possibility was already being raised that he could yet play international cricket again, when the immediate response from all pundits last week had been that he was finished. A judge to head the South African inquiry, announced by the board with clear government influence since, is expected early next week. Their initial findings are promised by the end of May.

Whatever the sympathy for human frailty and Cronje's disaffection with so much one-day crick-et, a harsh example must surely be made. And the ICC must act. As one current Test player said: "This isn't the first concrete example. When you've got four dead bodies on the living-room floor it's probably wise to launch a homicide inquiry."

The 61st and 62nd one-dayers in the 106 days of the millennium start today.

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