ECB throws support behind Stewart

Damning report paints dark picture of cricket's underworld as authorities prepare to investigate allegations of corruption
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Alec Stewart was given the full support of his employers yesterday after he denied receiving £5,000 from an Indian bookmaker for match information. The England and Wales Cricket Board defended the former national captain after the publication of a damning 162-page report which painted a picture of widespread corruption in the international game.

Alec Stewart was given the full support of his employers yesterday after he denied receiving £5,000 from an Indian bookmaker for match information. The England and Wales Cricket Board defended the former national captain after the publication of a damning 162-page report which painted a picture of widespread corruption in the international game.

Stewart was one of nine cricketers from outside India named in the document released by the Indian government after a wide-ranging inquiry into match-fixing by its Central Bureau of Investigation. The list includes many of the game's highest achievers in an astonishing, yet matter-of-fact, account of a network of illegal bookies who sought introductions to players to offer them bribes.

Several Indian players were also identified, including their former captain, Mohammad Azharuddin. If his name was widely expected, it did not diminish the breathtaking nature of his alleged misdeeds.

There appears to be an underworld mafia which can be expected to take control of the huge betting racket in India "if not checked immediately". But it seems possible that not a single player will be brought to book.

While the ECB's backing for Stewart is predictable, it was felt that it might have pulled him off the England tour of Pakistan, not least because of the uncompromising stance on match-fixing taken by its chairman, Lord MacLaurin, who had previously called for the suspension of players under suspicion. The board might also have established its own inquiry in accordance with preferred International Cricket Council practice, but it has done neither. Stewart will stay on tour and any investigation will be mounted not by the Board but by the head of the ICC's anti-corruption unit, Sir Paul Condon.

The unsubstantiated claims about Stewart were rebuffed in a 16-line statement. It was 1pm in London and 5pm in Rawalpindi when the ECB's media man on tour received the statement by fax from his bosses at Lord's.

This said the board had spoken to Stewart about allegations made by the Indian bookmaker, Mukesh Gupta in the report, Match Fixing and Related Malpractices and Stewart had fully co-operated and "categorically denied" taking money from Gupta or anyone else for providing information on matches. In fact, he denies ever knowingly having met Mr Gupta."

The Board is proposing to ask Sir Paul Condon to investigate not only the Stewart allegations but the claims made against players from other countries, on behalf of their boards, "to see if there is any evidence to corroborate any of them".

Condon said in London yesterday: "I don't see this as a witch-hunt. The CBI is thoroughly professional and this is a comprehensive report." He said a CBI representative would come to the ICC's headquarters in December for a meeting of everyone involved in similar investigations into cricket.

Condon added: "I hope to have a new regime in place running the [anti-corruption] unit in time for the 2003 World Cup. This new regime would make it more difficult to corrupt cricketers and more difficult for cricketers to be led astray."

Stewart decided he had nothing to say beyond his denial. His appearance in the report is brief but he is mentioned by two of those interviewed. He crops up first in the deposition by Manoj Prabhakar, the former Indian all-rounder who told the inquiry that he introduced several players to Gupta, known as MK, after first meeting him in 1990 "and confessed that he had money".

According to the report: "He accepted that he introduced Mark Waugh to MK in Hong Kong during a six-a-side tournament. He also admitted introducing Brian Lara, Salim Malik and Alec Stewart to MK."

Gupta, in a racy narrative of his long dealings, apparently confirmed this. The report says: "In 1993, England team visited India and MK requested Manoj Prabhakar to introduce him to Alec Stewart. He paid a sum of £5,000 to Alec Stewart who agreed to give MK information about weather, wicket, team composition, etc, whenever the English team played. Stewart refused to fix any matches for him." England did not win a game in the Test or one-day series. Stewart captained England for the first time in the second Test.

The other non-Indian players mentioned to the CBI are Brian Lara, Mark Waugh, Aravinda De Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Salim Malik, Dean Jones, Martin Crowe and Hansie Cronje. Lara is alleged by Gupta to have been paid $40,000 (£27,000) after "he offered to under-perform in two one-day matches". Waugh was, allegedly, paid $20,000 for information on team morale and team meetings. Gupta claims he paid De Silva $15,000 after he and Ranatunga agreed to underperform in a Test.

The ECB response was no surprise. The evidence contained in the CBI report is sketchy and comes largely from those who have benefited from trying to corrupt the game.

Stewart is not playing in England's first four-day match in Pakistan and spent some of the day by the hotel swimming pool. He had, he said, a sleepless night, after some segments of the report had been leaked.

All day there was speculation that he would be sent home pending investigations, if only because of MacLaurin's previous comment. It was made about Wasim Akram, who was named in a Pakistani judicial report on match-rigging that found insufficient evidence against him. MacLaurin said: "It's ridiculous. If someone is under suspicion he should be removed from the game until his case is heard and his innocence proven. If an England player was involved that's what would happen."

Now that one is, it is not happening. The Board got round this by explaining that MacLaurin had said only a player under suspicion who refused to co-operate with an official inquiry should be suspended.

Lieutenant-General Tauqir Zia, MacLaurin's Pakistani counterpart, said he did not wish to get involved in another board's business, clearly referring to MacLaurin's interference in his. "I should say they should conduct their own inquiry."

No matter what becomes of any of the players named in the report - and the CBI thinks Indian law will be unable to nail any - it paints a grim picture of a game which has been in crisis since Cronje first admitted taking money from a bookmaker for "match information" back in April.

The CBI castigates the Board of Control for Cricket in India for not acting when it must have had suspicions about the massive betting racket, which took off in the early 1990s.

It concluded: "The crisis facing cricket today is very different from and far more sinister than the 'Bodyline' controversy. Both inducements and threats are bound to increase. Major corrective steps need to be taken to put cricket back on the rails." Whatever happens now, the game has first to recover from dying a bit more yesterday.