MacLaurin sends out conflicting messages

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The Independent Online

The attempt made by the England and Wales Cricket Board to exonerate itself from blame over its handling of the Chris Lewis match-rigging claim promises to create only fresh confusion in the minds of cricket fans who have been trying to follow the story.

Via the columns of the News of the World last autumn and two weeks ago, and in subsequent interviews with the written and broadcast press, the maverick all-rounder has portrayed himself as the whistle-blower who would not be heard, accusing the ECB of not wanting to know the names of England players he had been told were implicated in match-fixing and of neglecting its duty to investigate his claims.

When he was asked to report to Lord's 10 days ago, he was branded a trouble-maker in some sections of the media and was even booed by supporters when taking the field for Leicestershire against Lancashire at Old Trafford.

Lord MacLaurin's letter to the county chairmen - effectively the ECB's verdict both on its investigation into the claims and on accusations from Lewis against board officials - does little but fan the flames, refuting all of the player's statements in unequivocal terms.

Last night, however, as Lewis and his agent were meeting with litigation in their minds, accusing MacLaurin of a "complete reinvention of events", MacLaurin himself gave the story another unexpected twist by leaping to the player's defence.

Asked whether Lewis would now face disciplinary action, MacLaurin chose not to condemn him but to applaud him for his courage. "We have no reason to take action against him," he explained. "He came to us and it showed a lot of guts to come forward. We don't wish to discourage anybody coming to us with information that may be important. We also have no reason to be embarrassed. We dealt with the situation entirely properly and, if we had our time over again, we would deal with it in exactly the same fashion. It's very sad for a sportsman like Chris to put up with jeers from the fans. He should now be allowed to continue his career."

The contrast with the tone of MacLaurin's letter is extraordinary. This 920-word document, issued after an ECB meeting conducted in conjunction with the police had found no evidence against England players "past or present" to stand up match-fixing claims, tore into Lewis with astonishing vigour.

"I'm satisfied there is no foundation whatsoever in the idea that those involved at the board were not interested in the information that was made available by Chris Lewis," MacLaurin wrote. "To suggest that the board did not seek to establish immediately from Chris Lewis the names of the England players allegedly involved as soon as this information was divulged is unbelievable."

MacLaurin also claimed there was "no truth" in accusations of a cover-up and dismissed allegations that the board leaked the original story as "unrealistic and untrue". He claimed only six board members knew of the story. "For the board to have leaked details of this case would only have served to undermine the very investigation which it had instigated," MacLaurin insisted. "The allegations are utterly refuted and I hope this will lay to rest any suspicion that the board has acted improperly."

Last night, however, with Lewis's agent in talks with the player's solicitors, it seemed that these are far from the final words on the matter.

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