Shame and blame belong to the ICC

A game in crisis: The players are in the dock but governing body stood and watched as corruption took hold
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Towards the end of the gripping volume Match Fixing and Related Malpractices, the authors finally address the causes of the shameful misdeeds they have related. At this point, those running the game should have hung their heads in shame. The International Cricket Council might have drawn their curtains and gone into a long period of mourning, or purdah. Or both.

Towards the end of the gripping volume Match Fixing and Related Malpractices, the authors finally address the causes of the shameful misdeeds they have related. At this point, those running the game should have hung their heads in shame. The International Cricket Council might have drawn their curtains and gone into a long period of mourning, or purdah. Or both.

They did not commit the litany of sins chronicled in the publication, but they stood idly by while the game they were supposed to run was corrupted. The story, until this climactic moment, is one of astonishing yet routine skulduggery, involving, if the writers are to be believed, several of the age's most illustrious players in league with bookmakers.

The appearance of Alec Stewart, one of England's most experienced and venerated cricketers, has stunned the country. The document names him as one of a multitude of players who met and took money, in his case in 1993, from the bookie Mukesh (MK) Gupta, also known as John, a man who stalked cricketers more fervently than do autograph collectors but with something less innocent in mind.

The report makes it plain that "Stewart refused to fix any matches for him". But it states that Stewart was paid £5,000 for agreeing to give information about "weather, wicket, team composition, etc". Whether he accepted the cash or not - and he has categorically and vehemently denied doing so, as well as "knowingly" meeting Gupta - Stewart's is but a bit part in this vast panoply of greed and betrayal. Yet if it could not have been prevented, it could have been curtailed.

Since the 162-page document, detailing the investigations of the Central Bureau of Investigation in India, app-eared last Wednesday, having been leaked the previous day, the soul-searching has been matched only by the denials.

If Stewart, the sole England player named, was swift to repudiate the document's contents, at least as far as he was concerned, he was not alone. Only those who were thoroughly examined and found to be bang to rights admitted to anything. Indeed, "the cricketing fraternity, generally, maintained a conspiracy of silence", the report states.

Nobody could now believe that one-day internationals (ODIs) were not casually distorted for more than a decade, and the CBI give the reason. They cite as "direct contributions" to match fixing "frequent tours to controversial venues like Sharjah, Singapore, Toronto etc" and "thoughtless increase in ODIs".

The effect those factors have works in two ways: "The players are more exposed to betting syndicates in non-regular venues and a surfeit of ODIs results in lower levels of motivation for players who may get a feeling that there is nothing wrong in throwing an occasional match". In which the prize money is inevitably lousy, you feel the report'sauthors wanted to add.

Too many meaningless games. Simple. Life could have been made considerably harder for the bookies. But as recently as last May, when the ICC were working themselves into a tizz after Hansie Cronje, then the South Africa captain, spilled a fistful of beans, but no more, about his insidious connections with gambling rackets, the organisation's leading officials refused to concede the point.

Sure, they finally set up an Anti-Corruption Unit, but this did nothing to eradicate the conditions in which bookies, bent players and rigged matches thrive. The ICC chief executive, David Richards, rejected the suggestion out of hand. "Players representing their country would not act like that."

They would, they have. Richards' intransigence on this point stood out, but it was not a lone view. The ICC were regularly advised for years, from the moment it became clear in the mid-Nineties that something was up, that there were too many matches.

Cricket gambling has existed in India for years, the report concludes, but it took off after the national team won the World Cup in 1983. Two other things - three if you count the ICC's unforgivable passivity - have helped the gambling network to burgeon: the increase in television coverage and the advent of the mobile phone. And greed, of course.

Five Indian cricketers are prominent in the CBI report and there are nine foreigners, the majority of them purportedly having had dealings with Gupta. Of the total, nine had captained their country and, horrifyingly, six of them did so in the 1999 World Cup.

Match Fixing and Related Malpractices (the title is not nearly as compelling as the text) has naturally had the effect of trying to pin down fixed matches and their turning points, and exercised minds on how the guilty should be punished. The Indians are Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Manoj Prabhakar (a poacher who tried to turn gamekeeper but has been thoroughly exposed), Ajay Sharma and Nayan Mongia. They have all been suspended.

The foreigners who might (or might not) have accepted money are Stewart, Brian Lara, Mark Waugh, Dean Jones, Cronje, Aravinda de Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Martin Crowe and Salim Malik. Almost all except Stewart have admitted to having been approached. There is no corroboration at all of the evidence against them.

The CBI merely pass on the narrative as it was told to them. Thus: "Azharuddin was paid a sum of 500,000 rupees (about £83,000) as an advance... Azharuddin promised MK that he would provide the exact information as to when India would win and lose. He does not remember the exact number of matches Azhar did for him in this period."

So it wends its casually factual way. Occasionally it descends into farce, with both Azharuddin and Cronje making promises and taking payment from MK, only for the match not to turn out as expected.

Of all the accused, the most spectacular wrongdoer is Azharuddin. Captain of India, a cricket-mad nation, a Muslim from a poor background, scorer of centuries in each of his first three Tests, one of the most charming batsmen of his generation. And now he is a crook who "has received large amounts of money running into lakhs [100,000 rupees]". A crook clad in Armani, true, but that only heightens his crookedness.

There has been a general running round in circles, a desire to find the guilty and impose punishment. Sir Paul Condon, the head of the ICC's Anti-Corruption Unit, flew to Delhi when the CBI report hit the streets. He is still there, seeking the truth. When he gets back he will have to see Stewart. There is every reason for keeping Sir Paul in place, and it is to be hoped the bribed players are eventually punished (possibly, like Al Capone, through their tax returns), but what is of pre-eminent importance now is to stop it. It is difficult quite to see what too much running backwards through the years will achieve.

Doubtless in England there has been an all-points bulletin issued to find Chris Lewis, the former Test all-rounder, so he can repeat what he was told by a dodgy bookie trying to sign him up about the misdemeanours of three England players. More hearsay.

But it is Stewart who has been the centre of attention, and in Pakistan, where he is representing the England team, things may never be the same again. Nasser Hussain, his captain, said: "I don't know if he will be ready for the First Test. Everyone knows Alec is tough but it's one thing to be a strong character on the field, it's completely different to be singled out in the whole country."

Stewart knows, as he conceded at his hastily arranged, belated, press conference, that it is his word against that of Gupta, or John. John, it may be recalled, was the man who gave money for information to Shane Warne and Mark Waugh, which led to their fines by the Australian board and the affair's concealment for four years. In the absence of better evidence, Stewart must be believed. We want to believe him (though the presentation in the past few days of this hard-nosed, outstanding pro as a model of propriety ill serves him).

In 1993 the world was a different place. The way MK tells it, it would not have been beyond the bounds of possibility for this former bank employee, who is now a jeweller, to ask a player visiting India for "match information".

With the hope of getting some more concrete action later, he might slip him some cash in an envelope and the player might be bemusedly flattered and stick it in his back pocket. But then, when another approach comes seeking something far more sinister, he turns it down flat. And his life goes on.

Fortunately, this did not happen to Alec Stewart.