ECB meeting seeks to clear the air

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The Independent Online

The Chris Lewis affair, which has seen claim and counterclaim bounced about like a tarnished pinball since it resurfaced 10 days ago, has been given top priority at today's Management Board meeting of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Normally such gatherings are placid events but, with the International Cricket Council's (ICC) summit over match-fixing due to take place at Lord's next Tuesday, the ECB knows its own house has to be in order, and some blood could end up on the carpet as a result.

Lord MacLaurin, the chairman of both the ECB and the Management Board, is said to be particularly angry at the way the Lewis episode has been handled. MacLaurin, instrumental in getting the ICC to respond with rare speed and purpose over the furore stoked-up by the Hansie Cronje affair, could be embarrassed if the situation regarding Lewis is not resolved one way or the other.

Lewis, whose claims that the sports promoter Ashim Kheterpal first offered him £300,000 - which he turned down - to persuade Alec Stewart and Alan Mullally to play badly against New Zealand, as well as providing the names of three England players alleged to have taken money to rig matches, has added to the general discontent. In the wake of his revelations, which he first brought to the attention of Simon Pack and Tim Lamb of the ECB last year, Lewis reckons the board has made a scapegoat of him.

Kheterpal, who has denied the allegations, claims to have filed a writ against Lewis. But if this weakens Lewis's story, other questions - in particular why certain bits of information appear to have been sat on when first handed over last September to Lamb and Pack - have yet to be answered satisfactorily.

Lamb, who as chief executive provides a regular report to the Management Board, will be under particular pressure should Lewis's claims that he handed over names last season prove correct. It will not all be one-way traffic, though, and Lewis's account still has many doubters, not least among the 11 men meeting at Lord's this morning. If fingers are pointed at Lewis, the irony is that there is little those at today's meeting can do about it, other than to complain to the ECB's Discipline Committee. As this is chaired by Gerard Elias QC, one of the men who had a meeting with Lewis soon after the story broke for the second time in a Sunday tabloid, you can see why many are calling for the ECB's structure to be streamlined.

The Management Board could, however, take action over Lamb, who once again may well find himself at the centre of controversy. Two years ago, he dismissed Theresa Harrild after she became pregnant by a colleague. Harrild then claimed sexual discrimination and won, a case that generated a flood of bad publicity for the board.

If the ECB is not careful, the same thing could happen again, which is why Maclaurin, in particular, will want some answers ahead of next week's big inquisition by cricket's top brass.

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