Stephen Brenkley: England has cheats too. That's the lesson

 

Until the dramatic turn of events at the Old Bailey yesterday, match-rigging was something that was perpetrated by people from other countries. Perception and reality changed as soon as Mervyn Westfield admitted in court to taking bribes to bowl badly.

His plea of guilty after two years of denying all wrongdoing made him the first English cricketer to be convicted of such a crime. It was somehow appropriate that the case should be heard at the most famous court in the world.

Westfield, 23, will be sentenced on 10 February and faces a prison sentence. He was accused of accepting £6,000 in return for leaking a guaranteed number of runs in two NatWest Pro40 matches for Essex – against Durham and Somerset – in September 2009. Two months ago, three Pakistani cricketers were jailed after being found guilty of cheating in a Test at Lord's in return for money. Westfield's offences were committed a year before Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were involved in a plot to bowl no-balls at Lord's but the trial was delayed by legal wrangling.

It is a salutary lesson for English sport. The world of county cricket is not cosy – England would not have become the best Test team in the world if it were – but it has always given the impression of being pleased with itself, of being a bastion of continuity and solidity in a rapidly changing world.

When the Westfield case first broke, it was evidence that the domestic professional game was a target. A Pro40 game at the fag end of a long season might not stir many hackles but many of these matches are televised. They attract betting, not least in the Indian subcontinent, where the market on cricket shows no sign of diminishing. This is partly because there are so many aspects to bet on, such as the number of runs scored in an over, which is what Westfield's case hinged on.

He took the money after agreeing to ensure that the first over of his spell in the match at Chester-le-Street would go for 12 runs. In the event it went for 10. It was, ironically, at Chester-le-Street where Westfield had made his first-team debut for Essex as a promising fast bowler, a month past his 17th birthday, in 2005. The world was before him then.

It is to cricket's credit that it acted quickly. Since Westfield was accused, the Professional Cricketers' Association has increased its educational programmes for young cricketers. These explain not just what is wrong but the sort of approaches that might be made.

They also stress the need for players to report any untoward activity. That is what happened in the Westfield case. It emerged at a pre-trial hearing that he had told his team-mate Tony Palladino about the fix and shown him the money. Palladino reported the matter and was due to be a prosecution witness until Westfield changed his plea yesterday.

Cricketers are thought to be vulnerable at the beginning and end of their careers, first when they might not be earning much money and then when they feel they have nothing to lose. The PCA is anxious to promote an atmosphere in dressing rooms where approaches are always rebuffed. The PCA's chief executive, Angus Porter, said: "I am sure there are people willing to make approaches. We have to make sure we lock our doors, turn on the burglar alarm and make the burglar go away because it's not worth bothering."

Full details of Westfield's case will be revealed at the hearing next month and a man who allegedly corrupted Westfield will be named. Judge Anthony Morris said: "The alleged corrupter is a man known to me and many people interested in cricket."

Granting him bail, the judge said he could hold out no promises for Westfield when he returns to court. The likelihood is that illegal activity in county cricket is not widespread but when a young player is handed £6,000 for a dodgy over, nobody can be sure.

Cricketer guilty, News, page 7

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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent