ICC hits back at claims that its anti-corruption unit is ineffective

Governing body rejects calls to disband taskforce as Pakistan trio set to learn fate
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The Independent Online

As if it did not have enough on its plate, the ICC was assailed yesterday about its failed attempts to clean up the game. The governing body was clearly enraged by the suggestion that it was standing by while corruption among players went unchecked.

With three Pakistan cricketers at the centre of corruption claims meeting government officials today following allegations of nefarious activities in the fourth Test against England, the ICC's role was questioned.

As the trio left the team's base in Taunton for London, doubts continued to be expressed about the work of the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit. There were veiled suggestions that it had dragged its heels and outlandish claims that it should be abolished.

Pakistan's tour seems set to continue and the warm-up game against Somerset will proceed. But the completion of the seven limited overs internationals – two Twenty20s in Cardiff and five 50-over matches – may depend on the fate of the men who have become the focus of attention.

Salman Butt, the Test captain, and the fast bowlers, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer, are due to see Pakistan's High Commissioner to discuss the potentially damning allegations made in the News of the World last Sunday. The report said that Asif and Aamer had bowled deliberate no-balls in the fourth Test against England at Lord's with the encouragement of Butt.

They were reported to be acting at the behest of a fixer called Mazhar Majeed, an agent to some of the players, who claimed to have links with illegal betting markets on the sub-continent. Majeed was arrested by police on Saturday night and released on bail without being charged on Monday.

It is clear that England, who have maintained an official public silence since the end of the fourth Test in gloomy circumstances last Sunday, want the limited-overs matches to proceed without the trio. Although moves to suspend them appear to have been abandoned, the feeling in the home dressing room is that the matches would be a laughing stock among the public if they were allowed to play.

Pakistan is taking the issue seriously but it also has a history of reacting furiously to claims of misdeeds among their players and then backtracking later. However, the involvement of the High Commission suggests that a compromise is probable. The trio might not be formally suspended because the police investigation is continuing but the expedient policy would be to overlook them.

As the players left the Taunton hotel yesterday morning, Aamer, for whose plight there has been widespread sympathy, was jovial. Butt, captain of the side for five Tests, and Asif, were more restrained, although Butt, when asked if he thought he would be returning, replied: "Why not?" They will definitely take no part in today's match. Their colleagues practised in public yesterday after doing so behind closed doors on Tuesday.

The case and its fallout has brought criticism on the ICC's policy for dealing with match-fixing. The organisation established its ACSU after widespread match-fixing was exposed 10 years ago. Players from almost every team in the world were named at one time or other but the most serious charges were laid against Hansie Cronje, Mohammad Azharuddin and Salim Malik, captains respectively of South Africa, India and Pakistan.

An ICC spokesman made it clear yesterday that it was not amused by comments about the ACSU's ineffectiveness. Australia's opening batsman, Shane Watson, said it had not dealt with corruption properly and the former Pakistan player and selector Basit Ali said it should be disbanded.

But the feeling at the ICC is that the problem of match rigging and spot-fixing – whereby certain sections in a match are tampered with – would have been much worse without the unit.

The ACSU is headed by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, former head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and has five regional security managers attached to the leading countries. In England, Ronald Hope has been a regular, though barely noticed sight, at matches.

"Players are given briefings before every series about what they should do," said an ICC spokesman. "They are informed about the anti-corruption code but there is very little that can be done if they depart from that." Aamer, while being only 18, from a background of poverty and easily influenced by his superiors in the team, did not go into the fray in total ignorance. Like all players in Test countries he was told about the anti-corruption code. More worrying may be the fact that the ICC seems unable to do anything about players it already suspects. It has been made clear that Butt and Kamran Akmal were suspected of wrongdoing in matches but still both have been virtually ever present in Pakistan's side recently.

Akmal was dropped during their calamitous tour of Australia last winter after missing four chances of varying difficulty in the second Test match at Sydney which they lost by 36 runs after leading by 206 on first innings. That has now fallen under renewed suspicion following the NOTW report. But Akmal, though fined by the Pakistan Cricket Board for being a disruptive influence, was recalled for their visit to England.

Butt, it seems, was already under scrutiny when he was appointed captain in June following the sudden resignation of Shahid Afridi when Pakistan lost to Australia at Lord's by 150 runs. Not everyone was happy with Pakistan's dual collapses in that match but Butt was the top scorer in both innings.

If the ICC was thinking of fingering him it must have been alarmed when Pakistan made him captain. The organisation is talking a good game but if it cannot act decisively it risks respect for cricket ebbing away, beginning this weekend.