If Alec Stewart has a case to answer over allegations that he took £5,000 from a bookmaker for providing match information, it could be just 12 days from collapse. Speaking during the International Cricket Council's annual meeting at Lord's yesterday, Sir Paul Condon said he has given the Indian bookmaker M K Gupta, Stewart's principal accuser, until 1 July to agree to speak on the record or have his claims set aside.
The deadline, which suggests Sir Paul's desire to draw a firm and prompt line under the matter, came after the ICC's executive board had agreed to accept and adopt the 24 measures which he had proposed in his recent interim report into corruption within cricket. But although the emphasis was on future prevention rather than past cures, there are still question marks, like the one hanging over Stewart, that need to be resolved.
Hard evidence though, has been in short supply since Gupta's allegations that Stewart took money from him in 1993 were made public in November last year. The claims, published in a report by India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), named the England player alongside five other non-Indian Test players, including Brian Lara and Aravinda de Silva. Since then Gupta has met with Sir Paul's Anti-Corruption Unit on two occasions, but has been unwilling to commit himself to any of the official hearings now going on around the world.
"Gupta has verbally confirmed to my team all the allegations he made to the CBI," Sir Paul confirmed. "In our terms that is not enough to go forward to disciplinary proceedings. My anxiety is that he must stand up and be counted in the formal hearings going on, or provide some legally satisfactory deposition from within India. So far, he's done neither and my team will be in India later this week reinforcing that message."
In most cases, especially Stewart's, Gupta's testimony is clearly central to the allegations. Apparently his misgivings are over concerns for his personal safety should he have to leave India. Although Sir Paul reckons he has given him assurances over that, there is a growing feeling that the ACU is losing patience with him. "He cannot be allowed to make such claims yet not come forward to the hearings," Sir Paul said. "To my mind Mr Gupta has been given more than enough time to commit himself. In order to bring some closure to this, because it is unfair for it to be hanging over players' heads or cricket in general, I have given Mr Gupta an ultimatum. Unless he lets us know by 1 July that he is willing to give evidence either in India or outside of India, we must assume he is not prepared to co-operate further."
For Stewart, who appears to have been caught in limbo between his lawyers and the ACU, Gupta's reticence is good news. According to Sir Paul, who has still expressed a desire to interview Stewart, there is other evidence to be considered, namely that of the now disgraced former Test bowler Manoj Prabakhar, who claims to have introduced Stewart to Gupta, something the England player denies.
Yesterday, Stewart's solicitor, Gerrard Tyrrell, confirmed that he had been in touch with the ACU, and that a meeting was almost certain within the next fortnight before the first Ashes Test on 5 July, subject to Stewart's cricketing commitments. As this amounts to a Benson and Hedges semi-final after Thursday's redundant NatWest Series match against Australia, there seems little excuse for it to be further postponed.
Once Stewart has met with the ACU, Condon feels it will be a matter of weeks before he hands his report to the England and Wales Cricket Board, who will then have to make their own assessment of the player based on the available evidence.
For those hoping to see the wrongdoers shamed, Sir Paul revealed that he would only be naming the guilty parties to the Code of Conduct Commission chaired by Lord Griffiths. Apparently a "very complex legal environment" and ongoing criminal investigations, such as the TV rights for the 1998 ICC Trophy in Bangladesh, prevent that, despite Sir Paul's belief that a very small amount of matches have been fixed since his unit was set up last year.
"Most of the crassest aspects of match-fixing, things like approaches from bookmakers to players, groundsmen and umpires, which have been embarrassingly easy to do in the past, have been stopped," he said.
"What hasn't stopped is a small number of people involved in cricket, who either because they are frightened to stop or they are arrogant, or greedy, are still dabbling in either seeking to fix matches or events within matches. Sadly a small number of current cricketers have been involved."
If that is worrying news, Condon is confident that the ICC's endorsement of his proposals will provide an infrastructure to prevent that. Measures such as travelling security managers and restrictions on mobile phone calls will make it more difficult for potential match-fixers to contact players during games, while others such as better prize money and wages will hopefully make it a risk too far.
With a new chief executive, Malcolm Speed, due to begin his job on 9 July, the ICC's willingness to implement every one of his proposals, which includes an education campaign for younger players, is not before time.
It was their failure to move when rumours first surfaced in the early 1990s that allowed the rot to set in.
Under the ICC president, Malcolm Gray, a new resolve has become apparent, and cricket's determination to put its petty squabbles behind it and move ahead brought praise from Sir Paul.
"World cricket has faced up to this challenge in a way other sports have not and will have to in the future," he said. "The main event now is to make sure it never has to face it again."
MAIN RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE ICC REPORT
* The International Cricket Council should develop and implement a comprehensive training and awareness programme designed to raise awareness of the risks of corruption.
* Each full member country of the ICC should appoint a full-time security manager to lessen the chance of corruptors gaining access to players and others. Tour accreditation should also be improved.
* The use of mobile telephones should be restricted during international matches to avoid the perception or reality of improper release of information for betting purposes.
* The ICC must realise that the use of neutral venues, eg Sharjah, Canada and Singapore, provide an ideal venue for improper approaches.
* Significant variations in player conditions, remuneration, representation and contractual obligations may have contributed to temptation and malpractice.
* Jealousy and insecurity among players, coupled with the uncertainty surrounding the potential duration of a career at international level, are all contributing factors to the temptation for players to be drawn into corruption.
* The players are not sufficiently involved in the administration of the game and ownership of the problems, with limited recognition of players' representative bodies nationally and internationally. There is considerable scope for drawing players into a more productive relationship with the ICC.
* There should be a more consistent approach among ICC member countries to players' contracts.
* The first round of self-declaration forms, which gave the players and others the opportunity to report improper approaches and behaviour retrospectively, should not be repeated.
* The report repeats proposals for an élite panel of full-time professional umpires, a manager of umpires and increased expertise and professionalism.
* The ICC should investigate the unlawful use by players of performance-enhancing drugs or other unlawful use of drugs and issue guidelines and advice.
* A more co-ordinated and regulatory approach by the ICC. The ICC will be in a stronger position if it continues to evolve from its origins as a loose and fragile alliance into a modern regulatory body.
* The ICC must become more open, transparent and accountable. Consideration should be given to the publication of an annual report.
* The new chief executive should be given the authority and responsibility to put all the recommendations into place before the World Cup in South Africa in the early part of 2003.Reuse content