How Westfield was 'groomed' for match-fixing
Bowler who had £6,000 in his cupboard claims team-mate Kaneria introduced him to men who said cheating was 'easy'
Saturday 18 February 2012
The contrast is acute.
On the one hand a young cricketer struggling to cling on to the coat-tails of a career failing to deliver on youthful promise, on the other a player at the peak of his powers, who had shone and starred across the game's highest echelons. For Mervyn Westfield it seemed a welcome fillip to be ushered into Danesh Kaneria's inner circle, befriended by a man who was at the heart of the Essex side and one considered one of the best bowlers in the game.
By 2009, Kaneria was a fixture in the Essex dressing room, the team's match-winner with his world-class leg-spin. Westfield had been longer with the club but had done little to justify a prediction made by an informed observer during a youth cricket festival that he might one day open the bowling for England. He had managed only a handful of first-class and one-day appearances for the county of his birth; when he was released by Essex in 2010 he had played a total of 15 first-team games.
But, according to Essex team-mates, during the summer of 2009 a friendship began to blossom. Kaneria would invite Westfield to his house, take him out for meals and nights out in Chelmsford. "Merv and Danesh seemed to be hanging around a lot more at the end of the season," said David Masters, the Essex bowler, in a statement read out in court.
According to Mark Milliken-Smith, QC for Westfield, it was no friendship. It was "grooming maybe... targeting it certainly was". Kaneria has always denied any wrongdoing and no criminal charges were brought against him.
Towards the end of the long county season, before Essex embarked on a round of three Pro40 matches in quick succession, against Somerset, Durham and Hampshire, Kaneria rang Westfield and suggested a night out. Kaneria drove to Westfield's house in Chelmsford and then said he'd had a change of mind – why didn't they just go back to Kaneria's house and get a takeaway? There were two other men waiting. Kaneria introduced them as friends from India.
During the evening, Kaneria, it was alleged in court yesterday, took Westfield aside. According to Westfield, Kaneria said to him that "for a young man it was hard to make money these days". He went on to say that these two men would, as Milliken-Smith put it, "pay for cricketers to play in a particular way". The four men went to a nightclub where Kaneria's friends picked up the bill.
Soon after one of the men appeared after a training session at the county's Chelmsford ground and spoke to Westfield. Kaneria, claims Westfield, later said that this was the "quickest way to make money". Before the team left for Durham, Westfield said that he returned to Kaneria's house. One of the men was there and told Westfield that the bets had already been placed. "It's easy," said the man.
Westfield met them again in a hotel in Durham on the eve of the game, which was being shown live in India, Pakistan and the Middle East. The pressure, according to Milliken-Smith, was relentless. Westfield agreed that he would concede more than 12 runs off his first over. "It was," suggested Milliken-Smith of Kaneria's alleged part, "an abuse of power and position to inveigle Westfield into Kaneria's plans".
In the event the over against Durham on 5 September went for 10 runs, but Westfield was paid. Nine days later Westfield and another young team-mate, Tony Palladino, went out for the night in Chelmsford. They returned late that night to Westfield's house with two women. Westfield told Palladino he wanted to show him something and the two men went into his bedroom. Westfield took a plastic bag out of his wardrobe and tipped the contents on to the bed. Palladino later described it as the most money he had seen, £6,000 in £50 notes.
Palladino was shocked. He told two other Essex players, Chris Wright and Adam Wheater, what he had seen and what Westfield had told him. But it was not until the following March that any official complaint was made. Palladino spent the close season playing in Namibia, but by the time the squad reassembled in Chelmsford in March to begin preparations for the 2010 campaign, rumours were spreading around the dressing room.
David Masters, one of the county's more experienced players, had heard the rumours and told Mark Pettini, the captain. Finally the story worked its way up the chain of command through Paul Grayson, the coach, the Essex management and on to the England and Wales Cricket Board.
On 29 March Westfield was arrested. Kaneria too was interviewed by Essex police but not charged. At first Westfield denied any wrongdoing and denied Kaneria had approached him. Further police investigation revealed a savings account in Westfield's name. In the two years after it was opened in August 2007 the account never contained more than £1,500. Then on 11 September, six days after the Durham game, £1,000 in cash was deposited, the following day another £1,000 and in the following days similar sums.
On 14 May Westfield was arrested again and in September he was charged. It was not until the middle of December that he changed his plea to guilty. The police decided there was no evidence to charge Kaneria. But yesterday in court dramatically called into question the reputation of the Pakistan player, and damned the casual attitude around Essex in addressing the issue.
Masters recalled, in a statement, a car journey en route to a game in Somerset with Kaneria, the former England wicketkeeper James Foster and Pettini. Kaneria talked about "people he knew who would pay to influence a match". Masters said Kaneria often "joked" about getting cash to fix a game, but it was generally assumed around the club that it was "friendly banter".
Most tellingly in relation to the path Westfield chose, Varun Chopra, another young player now with Warwickshire, described how Kaneria had spoken to him. "I remember in August 2009, the weekend before a game against Hampshire, getting a call from Danny," Chopra said. Kaneria began by asking about a night out but went on to suggest "you can make a lot of money". "I laughed it off," said Chopra.
Kaneria persisted but Chopra ignored him. This morning Westfield must wish he had done the same.
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