Lengthy bans likely for Gibbs, Williams

Just when it seemed safe to assume the sun was shining and cricket was again just an extraordinary game, the dark shadow of recent corruption impinged yesterday. The South African players Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams formally pleaded guilty to agreeing to accept cash to fix a match in India earlier this year.

Just when it seemed safe to assume the sun was shining and cricket was again just an extraordinary game, the dark shadow of recent corruption impinged yesterday. The South African players Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams formally pleaded guilty to agreeing to accept cash to fix a match in India earlier this year.

Coming as it did the day after the astonishing match between England and West Indies at Leeds, the like of which has never been seen since five-day Tests were invented, the convening of the United Cricket Board of South Africa's disciplinary commission was a harsh reminder of murky undercurrents.

Gibbs and Williams had already indicated their involvement during the match-rigging inquiry run by Judge Edwin King in June. They admitted to accepting an offer from their captain, Hansie Cronje, who has since been disgraced, to help to fix a one-day international in Nagpur in March. Gibbs was to get out for under 20, Williams was to concede more than 50 runs.

In the event, it came to nothing. Gibbs scored 74, Williams was injured after bowling fewer than two overs and they received no cash. But the intention had been there. Gibbs, a rising star of the South African team, also admitted bringing the game into disrepute by lying about his involvement when the scandal first broke. It is this that may count most against him.

The proceedings in Johannesburg yesterday were more concerned with mitigation than punishment. The UCB called for exemplary punishments, meaning long bans.

The players' lawyer, Mike Fitzgerald, appealed for clemency. "For all practical purposes they have been suspended for some time already and have suffered considerably," he said. "The appropriate sentence would be one which is suspended on the condition that they don't reoffend."

Fitzgerald told the commission that Gibbs had lost $20,000 (£13,300) in potential wages by missing out on playing for South Africa and $500,000 in lost sponsorships. Williams' benefit with Boland is in jeopardy.

It is difficult to see, despite the almost comical nature of the outcome of their conspiracy, how a lenient view can be taken. Cronje's actions have rocked the game. It has torn it apart on the sub-continent where the guilty and the innocent have been intermingled.

If Gibbs and Williams are not singularly punished by being banned for, say, two years there will be accusations from India and Pakistan of sleaze being brushed under carpets. What the repercussions will be for South Africa's quota system - both players are from the previously disenfranchised - remains to be seen.

A third player, Pieter Strydom, denied charges of breaching the code of conduct and disrepute by looking for a bookmaker with whom to place a bet on the outcome of the Test between England and South Africa in January. All three will be sentenced on 28 August, two days before England and West Indies bring some sunshine into the game again.

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