Growth of one-day game invites corruption

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The Independent Online

While South Africa waits to see if further revelations will deliver the head of Hansie Cronje on a silver platter, the impression that the International Cricket Council may again be dragging its feet over the controversy has enraged many in the cricketing world.

Tim May, one of three Australians who accused Salim Malik of offering them money to play poorly during a Test series in 1994, has been particularly critical. Now head of the Australian Cricketers' Association, May said: "If we look back to 1994, it was important then that cricket deliver an efficient and effective investigation into match-fixing. Given this is six years down the line, it's pretty easy to say that cricket hasn't done a very good job."

In the past, the ICC's reticence to stamp on any allegations of match-fixing and forecasting has been due to constitutional loopholes. Until 1997, they were not allowed to interfere in a member country's affairs, a situation not unlike the one which exists between the England and Wales Cricket Board and the counties. When that was changed, the first whiff of legal action was usually enough to send them and their good intentions scurrying back to St John's Wood.

It was this threat of lawyers which prompted the ICC to set up the Code of Conduct Commission under Lord Griffiths last year. Indeed, it is at their behest that the United Cricket Board of South Africa have been asked to set up their own independent inquiry into "Cronjegate".

Should that prove unsatisfactory, the CCC can then hold their own inquiry into the matter. The same will presumably apply over Justice Qayyum's recent findings in Pakistan, which appear to be gathering dust on a politician's desk in Lahore.

At present there are no plans for the kind of large-scale inquiry called for by the likes of Imran Khan and Barry Richards. According to an ICC spokesman, Ralph Dellor: "You don't go around pouring water on every clump of trees everywhere, just because a forest fire breaks out in a certain place."

With their hands constitutionally tied until recently, the ICC are not perhaps as guilty of inaction as is popularly claimed, though with the CCC now in place they have no more excuses to fall back upon. However, what they most definitely can be held culpable for is the proliferation of one-day internationals around the world.

Like pond life in the tropics, limited-over cricket turns up wherever favourable conditions prevail, which these days is pretty much anywhere at any time. Ten years ago, 66 one-day internationals were played around the world, and that was a huge hike from the previous year. Last year there were 153, including the World Cup. This year, including the one in Durban between South Africa and Australia yesterday, there have been 56 so far.

This type of cricket is extremely popular with spectators and essentially bankrolls the game as well. Should all thetittle tattle over the years turn out to be true, it also finances an illicit multi-million dollargambling business.

It rarely inspires the players to the same extent because of the immense workload and travel. Add to that the mainly paltry pay and prize-money and it is not difficult to see why indifference over results could set in and pave the way for bookies and their boxes of sweeteners.

Despite the strong words of their president, Jagmohan Dalmiya, who promised the ICC would get to the bottom of this by "weeding out the black sheep", a blanket of suspicion now exists. In places like Sharjah and the subcontinent, every spilled catch and reckless shot elicits a raised eyebrow and a chuckle from local reporters.

After a hiatus of 13 years, England tour Pakistan and Sri Lanka this coming winter with a clause in their contracts barring them from betting on matches in which they are involved - though that has been there for some time. They are also bound to report to the team management any illegal approach, and failure to do so will result in punishment.

The ICC can never stop gambling, but it can reduce the number of "hit and giggle" matches around the world. One way may be to play the World Cup every two years. That is the suggestion of the Wisden editor, Matthew Engel, who reasoned the competition was prestigious enough and every player would be trying to win it.