As three Pakistan players began their suspension on match-rigging charges yesterday, the International Cricket Council denied that corruption was rife in the game. The reassuring words are one thing, the reaction from a sceptical watching world may be another.
Haroon Lorgat, the ICC's chief executive, acted decisively on Thursday night by sanctioning the provisional banning of the trio from all cricket for their alleged part in a rigging scandal during the fourth Test against England. Salman Butt, the captain, and the fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer have been charged under Article four of the world governing body's anti-corruption code and could face a life ban.
Pakistan's High Commissioner in London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, continued to imply that the players were being victimised and that the ICC "was playing to the public gallery." He also suggested that there was an anti-Pakistan policy at play.
The ICC's inquiry into the offences can only take place after the criminal investigation being conducted by Scotland Yard. Detectives became involved last weekend when the News of the World reported that the two bowlers, with the collusion of their captain, bowled no-balls to order during England's innings in the match at Lord's.
The newspaper, which is promising further revelations tomorrow, paid £150,000 to a middleman, Mazhar Majeed, who claimed to control seven players in the team. Asif and Aamer then appear to have bowled the no-balls when Majeed said they would do so.
But yesterday Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the recently appointed head of the ICC Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, said he did not believe that malpractice was widespread in the game.
"I do not see this as the tip of an iceberg but I think it is something from which we must learn," he said. "It's not a contagion." At a joint press conference at Lord's, Lorgat reiterated his statement of the previous night that there would be zero tolerance from the ICC towards corruption.
The trouble for those hearing this is that something similar has been said before. Although there is no question that cricket is much more aware about the infiltration into the game of bookmakers and the amount of money that they and those who would seek to swindle them are prepared to offer players, the evidence of this week suggests it has not been stamped out altogether.
Some of those who have been singled out in the past are still involved in the game, and although England have clearly adopted a high moral tone this week they could easily be accused of double standards. Their spin bowling coach is Mushtaq Ahmed, yet 10 years ago when match-fixing first swept across the game, he was named.
In the far-reaching Qayyum Report, commissioned in 2000 by the Pakistan Cricket Board, only parts of which were implemented, the author, Justice Malik Qayyum, said of Mushtaq: "There are sufficient grounds to cast strong doubt on Mushtaq Ahmed. He has brought the name of the Pakistan team into disrepute with, inter alia, associating with gamblers. This commission therefore recommends that Mushtaq Ahmed be censured, kept under close watch and be not given any office of responsibility [selection or captaincy] in the team or on the board."
Lorgat confirmed that the ICC's member boards were reminded on a regular basis about some of the names that had been labelled in the past. "It's not within our power to preclude them," he said. England's coach, Andy Flower, said yesterday that Mushtaq was a lovely man.
The case of the Pakistan Three is likely to take months rather than weeks to be resolved, according to Sir Ronnie. Initially the players have 14 days to lodge an appeal against the provisional suspension. Although the ICC refused to designate the specific charges that the players face, they are all contained in Article two of the anti-corruption code.
They include: fixing, or contriving in any way, or influencing improperly the result, progress or conduct of an international match; seeking, accepting, or agreeing to accept a bribe to affect the match; and failing, for reward, to perform to one's abilities. It is fair to presume that Butt, Asif and Aamer will be charged under those three sections.
It was confirmed that they are being charged only in relation to events in the fourth Test. Sir Ronnie dismissed the suggestion that the ICC could have acted earlier, or that corrupt players were going unpunished. He said that the ICC had to observe its own code before acting.
"We cannot act arbitrarily and we cannot, just because we have a feeling, suggest that a person be suspended, or actually act to suspend that person," he said. "We must have a basis where we have a charge within our code to prefer against that person before we can engage in provisional suspension. We engage in provisional suspension amongst other things to protect the integrity of the game."
But Sir Ronnie acknowledged that illegal gambling was a problem for all sport round the world. He intends to speak to his counterparts in other sports to see if a united front can be organised to combat betting rings.
"We're concentrating on cricket here but there is perhaps a much wider problem in terms of betting and the regulation of betting worldwide," he said. "I have already been in touch with colleagues from other sports and perhaps together we can look at the problem of betting and the regulation thereof, and examine what lessons there are to be learned and what lobbying jointly we can bring to bear on governments to tighten up regulations relation to betting and gaming."
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