Stephen Brenkley: The sentence will never end for the man who broke sport's unspoken contract


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The Independent Online

Wherever he goes and whatever he does in the rest of his life, Mervyn Westfield will always be the man who cheated at cricket.

In two months he will be out of prison, having served the sentence imposed yesterday for his part in a betting scam.

But it will not end there and it will never end. Crowded rooms will go silent when he walks in, friends, or those who stick by him, will view him differently. The crime he committed, taking money in exchange for deliberately bowling badly in a match for Essex in 2009, is of a kind always viewed as especially heinous.

Players are allowed to perform indifferently because it is that glorious uncertainty that makes sport worth playing. But to agree to play deliberately badly is to break the unspoken contract between player and spectator. As it happens, Essex won the unsung Pro40 game at Durham in August 2009 when Westfield bowled a duff first over. Although it went for 10 runs when it was supposed to go for 12 he received the £6,000 bribe, perhaps as a down-payment for future days.

Westfield was unlucky. He came under the influence of Danish Kaneria, the Pakistani leg-spinner about whom rumours had circulated for years. Kaneria has not been charged through lack of evidence but he will never play for Pakistan again. He is still playing for Sind – indeed he led them this week in Rawalpindi in the Faysal Bank Pentangular Cup.

The Pakistan Cricket Board feel they can take no action for an offence that is alleged to have taken place under another board's jurisdiction. You can see their point. But there is a feeling that they may make Kaneria's life a little more uncomfortable.

Given the history of match fixing involving Pakistani players, and the scandal that rocked cricket in the early part of the century, Essex's conduct appears to be astonishing. The county issued a mealy-mouthed statement after the case was concluded yesterday. It said: "This is a very sad day for all at the club. It is going to take a while for us to fully digest the comments of the judge, but as the ECB Cricket Discipline Committee has served Mervyn Westfield with an interim suspension as a result of his sentencing earlier today, the club is unable to comment on any aspect of this case."

That is a lack of action which has bedevilled them throughout. The court heard that Kaneria made regular references to spot-fixing but that senior players thought it was banter. Meanwhile Westfield, and possibly others, were being quietly groomed.

Kaneria played for Essex for six out of the seven seasons between 2004-2010 when his colleagues included the man who is now England's coach, Andy Flower, and their one-day captain, Alastair Cook, both men of undoubted probity.