Robin Scott-Elliot: Don't mention the fixing or the absentees

Certain reputations remain in limbo, as must that of the sport itself

Andrew Strauss has entered the lair of the toothless tiger. Next week England will play their first Test since becoming the best in the world according to the official rankings. Their opponents are Pakistan, the venue the Dubai International Cricket Stadium, which stands not far from the offices of the International Cricket Council, the organisers of those rankings and the target of the England captain's considered reproach.

The ICC might have been tempted to fiddle its fixture list as a meeting of these two, when the Test game is on an encouraging and enjoyable high, is loaded with more baggage than a Heathrow carousel. England and Pakistan have history – a large part of which actually consists of some breathtaking cricket – but it is the excess, and recent excesses in particular, that weigh down the fixture.

This already has the air of the Basil Fawlty series: don't mention the spot-fixing. Don't mention that three men who would have been key performers will instead be sitting in British prisons, and certainly don't mention that there are two players in the Pakistan squad who were also supposed clients of Mazhar Majeed, the convicted trio's agent, who was also jailed last November, and whose names featured during the trial.

The ICC, it should be said, has seriously sought to combat the scourge of fixing that has been a grim threat to the sport for two decades now. Other sports have looked to cricket's example when considering how to address match-fixing, which is overtaking doping as sport's public enemy No 1. The jailing of the three players was a significant moment, but it is also significant that cricket's governing body played at best a minor role in what happened in Southwark Crown Court. The ICC's attitude, certainly its public stance, since has not confronted a problem that will not go away. The illegal gambling market is estimated by Interpol to be worth an annual £500m in Asia alone and is unlikely to be resting on its ill-gained laurels.

Cricket is not the only sport threatened. Football's authorities are increasingly concerned – Fifa's life ban for six referees involved in helping to fix two friendly internationals stands as a more impressive response than the punishments handed out to Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir by the ICC. Butt, as captain, should have been banned for life. The Olympics has recently been highlighted as a target for fixers, while tennis too has been on the receiving end.

For cricket it is a problem centred on Asia, where the bookmakers are based in places like Singapore, Mumbai and Karachi, but it is by no means only an Asian problem. The bookmakers have London links, while during the cricketers' trial there was evidence of a party based in Dubai closely involved in fixing.

That it is not only an Asian issue, or indeed one confined to the Pakistan team, will be alleged in London this week when Mervyn Westfield, the former Essex bowler, goes on trial at the Old Bailey on similar charges to those levelled against Butt, Asif, Amir and Majeed. Westfield is accused of taking money to bowl poorly for Essex during a Pro40 match against Durham in 2009. He denies the charges.

Like the previous trial, this is not a case based on action by the sport's authorities. The England and Wales Cricket Board has set up its own anti-corruption unit and the former policeman who heads it has said that it would be "naïve" not to think there is fixing in the county game. No mere cricket authority can combat illegal gambling run by criminal gangs with international reach – the ICC is shortly to meet with Interpol to discuss closer cooperation – but what can be done is to deal properly and fairly with the cricketers themselves, ensure they are educated, protected and made aware of the punishments that will follow if they betray their team-mates, their supporters and their sport. Clarity is vital, which brings us back to England's looming series with Pakistan and, in particular, the possible presence of Wahab Riaz and Umar Akmal.

The names of both featured in the spot-fixing trial. Majeed, the British agent, said they were among his clients. They have strongly denied wrongdoing. Akmal has denied even knowing Majeed, a close associate of his brother Kamran, Butt's vice-captain. Riaz, a talented fast bowler, has not played a Test since last May. When he was chosen for the squad to face England it was described as a return following "an unexplained six-month absence". The Pakistan Cricket Board, having given no reason for not choosing him, said that it had sought assurances from the ICC over selecting Riaz. It did not take long for the ICC to respond, saying the PCB's choice to pick the 26-year-old was nothing to do with the ICC. Selection is a national issue, was the gist of a statement by Haroon Lorgat, the organisation's chief executive. So nothing has been done to clear the dark cloud that hangs over Riaz.

During the trial the prosecution suggested the roles of "Wahab Riaz and Kamran Akmal raise deep, deep suspicions". After the trial ICC investigators were handed the evidence the Metropolitan Police had gathered. Kamran Akmal has disappeared from the Pakistan squad – again unexplained – but others, like Riaz, remain. They have not been charged, let alone condemned, but then neither have they been publicly cleared; their reputations remain in limbo, as must that of the sport itself.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

Hipsters of Arabia

Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

The cult of Roger Federer

What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

Malaysian munchies

With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
10 best festival beauty

Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

A Different League

Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

Steve Bunce on Boxing

Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf