On a grim day for English cricket, Mervyn Westfield, a former Essex player, was sent to prison at the Old Bailey yesterday for corruption. The 23-year-old, who was sentenced to four months for spot-fixing in a county match, is the first English player to be jailed for such an offence.
Westfield had pleaded guilty last month to accepting £6,000 to concede 12 runs from an over in a Pro40 game against Durham three years ago. In sentencing him at the Old Bailey yesterday, Judge Anthony Morris QC said: "If because of corrupt payments it cannot be guaranteed that every player plays to the best of his ability, the reality is the enjoyment of many millions of people around the world who watch cricket will eventually be destroyed."
Yesterday also saw Danish Kaneria, the Pakistan Test player, named in court as Westfield's corrupter. Kaneria denies any wrongdoing, but it was suggested by Westfield's defence team – and accepted by the judge – that it was Kaneria who first approached Westfield. Essex police have passed their case files to the England and Wales Cricket Board, who will decide next week whether to open an investigation into Kaneria. The police have no plans to re-open their own investigation as they do not believe there is sufficient evidence for a criminal case. What will also have alarmed the English cricket authorities yesterday was the suggestion that knowledge of what Westfield had done was widely held around the Essex dressing-room for six months before any action was taken. Judge Morris said in sentencing that Kaneria had made "similar approaches to other Essex players, who had laughed them off as a joke".
Statements taken from players claimed Kaneria had spoken widely about match- and spot-fixing, including in front of the former England wicketkeeper James Foster and the county's captain Mark Pettini. Paul Grayson, the county's coach, said he knew of rumours around the club of Kaneria wanting to introduce players to his bookmaker.
Judge Morris imposed a custodial sentence in part as a deterrent to others against getting involved in such practices. It follows the imprisonment of three Pakistan players, Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, last year, also for spot-fixing.
The match against Durham took place on 5 September. Westfield told Palladino, after the two players had been for a night out on 14 September, what he had done. Westfield emptied a plastic bag containing £6,000 in £50 notes on his bed. Palladino did not go to the authorities until the following March "no doubt out of a misguided sense of loyalty to you," said Judge Morris. He did tell team-mates Chris Wright and Adam Wheater before the matter was finally reported to Grayson in March as the players began training for a new season. Westfield was arrested on 29 March. Kaneria was questioned but never charged.
Judge Morris said in sentencing: "You told Palladino that Kaneria had approached you and told you he had a friend who would pay you money if you conceded more than a certain number of runs in your first over in the Durham match, that you were to receive £6,000 and Kaneria £4,000."
Since 2010 the ECB has introduced an extensive education programme and set up its own anti-corruption unit. In December Chris Watts, the former policeman who leads the ACU, said that the greatest corruption threat "may lie" around the county game. That is in part due to the relatively modest sums county players are paid. Westfield earned £20,000 a year at Essex.
The ECB's disciplinary committee is expected to meet next week to decide whether Kaneria should be investigated. He is now playing domestic cricket in Pakistan for Habib Bank and Sind. He has taken to the courts in Pakistan in an attempt to clear his name.
Essex County Cricket Club released a statement last night. It read: "This is a very sad day for all at the Club. It is going to take a while for us to fully digest the comments of the judge."
It also emerged in court yesterday that Kaneria had been warned by the ICC, cricket's governing body, in 2008 over his association with a known illegal bookmaker, Arun Bhatia.
Westfield is expected to serve two months. He has also had the £6,000 confiscated.