Strauss: Betting scandal has been a 'short, sharp slap' for the game

Cricket still a 'very clean sport' insists the England captain ahead of today's first one-day international
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The Independent Online

Andrew Strauss reflected yesterday on 11 days which have rocked cricket. He will lead England today at the start of a one-day series against Pakistan but he is not misguided enough to assume that form and fitness are the only subjects of attention. Indeed, they may not be on the agenda at all.

"I think every cricketer in the world has received a short, sharp slap in the face about where this game is at the moment and where it needs to be going in the future," he said as England prepared in Chester-le-Street for the first match of the NatWest series.

Strauss has been as perplexed as everybody else by the revelations of corruption which were first published in the News of the World and have led to feverish speculation about the probity of the game around the world. Although there is nothing to suggest that match-fixing is rife, the looming presence of unregulated betting markets overseas has cast a dark shadow.

Three players who would have been in Pakistan's team for this series have been suspended, while a fourth, it was revealed yesterday, will be questioned by Scotland Yard detectives next week. Against this backdrop, Strauss, who has played a Championship match for Middlesex since the astonishing end of the Test series at Lord's, has to try to persuade his players that the game is worth playing.

"Despite whatever allegations have been out there I still maintain that cricket generally is a very clean sport and two teams are playing to beat the other 100 per cent," said Strauss. "If I can allay fears I think there is no chance in my mind that these games coming up will be played in that spirit."

But Strauss knows that suspicion and allegations are likely to continue. The allegation that the fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer bowled no-balls to order in the Lord's Test against England with the collusion of their captain, Salman Butt, and at the behest of a fixer with connections to subcontinental betting markets, Mazher Majeed, has made it open season for bribery allegations. the fast bowler Wahab Riaz will meet police in London next week.

England's glorious triumph in the World Twenty20 last May has now been put under a cloud, though without any evidence. Proof, in the unlikely event of it existing or being found, would tarnish the achievement.

"If things are proven, then it clearly does to a certain extent – whether games that you thought you played really well in were actually strictly as you saw them," said Strauss. "These allegations hurt the game of cricket. Every one of them that comes to light hurts the game.

"As players all we can do is recognise our responsibility and do everything we can to paint the game in a positive light and help people reconnect with the game for the right reasons. I don't worry for the future of the game of cricket. It has survived many controversies over the years and will continue to do so. I do recognise the importance of ironing out any of these allegations because ultimately they are a bit of a cancer that can spread and devalue the game."

This series is undoubtedly already devalued both by the furore and the absences. Yet for both sides it is important in terms of the World Cup next year. England will have only seven matches, against Australia, after this series, so the five matches in the next 12 days are crucial to honing the developments which Strauss and coach Andy Flower have made in England's limited-overs cricket.

Of the World Cup, Strauss said: "I'm very confident. The fact that we've won an ICC event recently gives us confidence, the fact that we've been playing a lot of good one-day cricket recently gives us confidence. Things are shaping up reasonably well. But we're not the finished article yet, we've got a hell of a lot of work still to do and we've only got 12 games or so before the World Cup. So every game we've got between now and then we need to be pushing in the right direction and not letting our standards slip."

The latest improvement to the side is Tim Bresnan's laser surgery, which has cured his short-sightedness. Bresnan was previously at a disadvantage having sported neither glasses, which he felt was too dangerous, nor contact lenses, with which he felt uncomfortable.

Otherwise there will be little experimentation from now on. England have been bitten like that before World Cups previously.

"That's something we're keen to avoid as much as possible," said Strauss. "You need a settled side in the World Cup, you need people who know what their roles are, you need a confident bunch of individuals who are used to winning together." said Strauss. Starting today.

Match details

Teams for today's one-day international Emirates Durham ICG:

England A J Strauss (captain), S M Davies (wk), I J L Trott, P D Collingwood, E J G Morgan, L J Wright, T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann, M H Yardy, J M Anderson.

Pakistan (from) Shahid Afridi (captain), Shahzaib Hasan, Kamran Akmal (wk) Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Yousuf, Umar Akmal, Kamran Akmal (wkt), Abdul Razzaq, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Irfan.

Match referee Jeff Crowe.

Umpires Billy Doctrove (WI) and Ian Gould.

TV Sky Sports 1 & HD 1 (from 10 am).

Conditions The bowlers should dominate in helpful conditions. Overcast conditions are likely, but no rain.