MacLaurin changes tack to heal split with Pakistan

Lord Maclaurin, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, yesterday signalled a change of policy with respect to players suspected of involvement in match-fixing.

Lord Maclaurin, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, yesterday signalled a change of policy with respect to players suspected of involvement in match-fixing.

Given that England had described this as a bridge-building tour 13 years after the last one, which suffered from a heated dispute between the umpire Shakoor Rana and England's Mike Gatting, MacLaurin had gone a long way to burning most of those bridges with his assertion that any player suspected of corruption should be suspended, especially since his comments appeared to be aimed specifically at Pakistan's Wasim Akram.

Accusations of hypocrisy by angry Pakistani officials and players followed when Alec Stewart was permitted to remain with the England party earlier this week, after claims by an Indian bookmaker that he had been paid money for "information". MacLaurin, however, claimed that his original statement had been misinterpreted in an apparent attempt to repair relations.

"I am very sad about that," he said, "because I know the Pakistan administrators very well indeed. I was with them in Nairobi just a few weeks ago at an ICC [International Cricket Council] meeting and they are very honourable people. I get on very well with them and it would be very sad indeed if remarks are misinterpreted by journalists, for one reason or another, trying to put a wedge between ourselves and Pakistan.

But with the Test series less than a fortnight away MacLaurin has denied he was guilty of hypocrisy in allowing Stewart to remain on the tour despite what he had said last month.

"If Alec Stewart had not co-operated with us fully on Wednesday morning when we had a very long conference call with him, my board and I would have suspended him," insisted MacLaurin, who has been one of the prime movers trying to clean up the game.

"As soon as we contacted Alec he made his declarations to us quite clearly, therefore we had no reason to ask him to go home. If there is suspicion against any of our players and they fail to talk to me or my colleagues, they will be suspended."

The report into match-fixing commissioned by the Indian government and compiled by that country's Central Bureau of Investigation accused five Indian and nine international cricketers, among them Stewart, either of accepting money from bookmakers for "information" or of fixing matches. However, most of their evidence seems to rest on the testimony of one Indian former bookmaker, M K Gupta.

Stewart has denied the allegations, but the five Indians, among them Mohammad Azharuddin, the country's former captain, have been banned from all domestic competition by their state associations at the request of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. According to the CBI, Azharuddin has admitted to fixing matches, but the player has yet to comment on the allegations.

Other players have admitted to approaches, the latest being Sri Lanka's Aravinda de Silva, but he said that, having been approached by bookmakers with offers to fix cricket matches, he had never accepted any money.

De Silva was one of two Sri Lankans named by the CBI as having allegedly taken more than £10,000 in 1994 to lose a Test match against India in Lucknow. The other player named, Arjuna Ranatunga, has denied the charges.

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