Essex players hit by police investigation

Click to follow

A dark shadow was cast across the first day of the new county cricket season yesterday when it emerged that two Essex players are the subject of a police investigation over allegations of "match irregularities".

The two players have not been named and neither the club nor the England and Wales Cricket Board would make any comment beyond saying they are co-operating fully with Essex Police. The county, who were promoted to the First Division last season and began their campaign in the top flight against Hampshire at Chelmsford yesterday, have not suspended any of their players.

A statement from Essex Police said: "Following allegations received about two Essex County Cricket players involved in match irregularities, we have initiated an investigation and are working closely with Essex County Cricket Club and the English Cricket Board."

After the close of play yesterday, the Essex team were spoken to in the dressing room by the county's chief executive, David East. It is believed that the county have been aware of the investigation for a month. Paul Grayson, the head coach, said: "I am not allowed to comment on the matter."

The allegations are thought to revolve around betting on matches. The sport has long been blighted by attempts to fix games, although more usually at international level. Hansie Cronje, the former captain of South Africa, was banned for life after admitting accepting bribes to fix games and providing information to bookmakers. Two former captains of India and Pakistan, Mohammed Azharuddin and Salim Malik, also received life bans for similar offences a decade ago.

The ICC, the sport's global governing body, set up an Anti-Corruption Unit in 2000. Their initial focus was on the international game, but they have expressed concerns in recent years over the Indian Premier League being targeted by illegal bookmakers. There had been no fears voiced over the English domestic set-up and the move came as a huge surprise to those involved with the county circuit. Interest in the domestic game in England has grown with the rise and rise of Twenty20 cricket and the shorter form of the game is much more easily influenced by the actions of a single player.

It is not the first time that allegations of match-fixing have been made of the county game and Essex in particular. In 1994 the county were investigated after Don Topley, their former seamer, claimed that Essex and Lancashire had colluded to determine the result of a Championship and Sunday League game in 1991. The ECB investigation found no grounds for Topley's complaints.