Wanted: Hero to clean up the world

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If David Richards was harbouring doubts, they remained concealed. Months hardly come tougher than the one just experienced by the chief executive of the International Cricket Council. He has seen the sport he is paid to oversee become a synonym for deviousness and dishonesty, he has witnessed his organisation being reviled and routinely accused of uselessness, he has listened as each new day has brought forth some new possibility of foul deeds.

Yet Richards can still talk about the game as an old-fashioned idealist. Actually, he insists on it. When he mentions the adage "it's not cricket" being usurped there is sadness in his voice. The twang is still Australian but the feelings are all romantic. There is nothing to suspect that until a few weeks ago Richards did not sincerely - and maybe somewhat naïvely - believe that his game was largely untainted by rogues and ne'er do wells.

"So many of the allegations that have been made have not been backed up by evidence and evidence is what we need," he said. "But, yes, in the wake of events I have had to revise my opinions. The vast majority of players play the game as it should be played. We have seen, I believe, a marked improvement in behaviour and observation of the spirit of the game. There may be a very small proportion of players, however, who have not been as scrupulous as they should have been."

He was eager, it was clear, to be balanced, to try to douse the forest fires which have been sweeping through the game. Well, checks and balances are important, but this was surely the public Richards. True, the unsubstantiated innuendo and gossip which are anathema to him have hardly been useful to any investigation but neither Richards nor anybody else can now seriously disbelieve that there has been a long history of sharp practice. And improved behaviour? Perhaps international players have become more solicitous in inviting their great-aunts to Sunday tea.

Richards was speaking shortly after his maligned organisation had announced that they would appoint an independent investigator to act on their behalf throughout the world of cricket in an attempt to pin down the truth about match-rigging. The chief executive will spend the rest of this month hunting down the right character to lead this. The chosen one will be unconnected to cricket and probably have a legal or investigative background. Life bans, two- year bans and Draconian financial penalties will be handed out to anybody found guilty, whether player or official. It is said.

The sort of man Richards is looking for will have to be a composite of Sherlock Holmes, Kavanagh QC and Dirty Harry if he is to succeed in the murky world he is being urged to enter. Richards has promised that he will be given all the resources he needs, though presumably the ICC will have to draw the line at a small army and a supply of truth drugs. "You can't say that money is no object in this, of course you can't. But we are prepared to do what it takes and are absolutely determined to get to the bottom of this. There will be no skimping in it and the whole body is completely unanimous about what must be done."

Unanimity has been a key word in the wake of the ICC declaring their hand. So anxious were they to express it that you were almost tempted to suspect that there must have been divisions on the usual lines: the old guard v the rest. But Jagmohan Dalmiya, the president, Lord MacLaurin, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, and Richards were unanimous about it. They stuck together and Richards issued a stonewall defence of allegations against Dalmiya that he had siphoned off money during television contract negotiations on the subcontinent. It could not have happened, Richards insisted, because Dalmiya was not present at the negotiations. Richards was.

The state of play now is that the ICC are intent on appointing their man by next month with a view to his starting shortly afterwards. He will set his own terms of reference. His inquiry will be separate from the inquiries being conducted in the two countries which have been thesubject of the recent scandal.

It all began, you may recall, when Hansie Cronje, South Africa's captain, came clean(ish) about taking money from a bookmaker. It was that one concession, that he had received $8,200, while denying trying to alter the course of a match, that set off the whole chain of events. This week, after some irritating prevarication, the South African inquiry will at last begin. The appointed chairman, Judge Edwin King, has promised a draft report by the end of June. If that sounds like quick work, then it should be recalled that the initial promise was for a report by the end of May.

Meanwhile, the Central Bureau of Investigation in India have begun trying to gather evidence against a multitude of players past and present who, it has been said ad tedium, have been in cahoots with undesirables. In Pakistan, the long-awaited report from Justice Qay-yum, which names names and recommends actions, is said to be almost upon us. We have heard that before. If it is at long last published and action is at long last taken against those named then there will be a semblance of hope of making progress elsewhere, of true unanimity. In this country, a Scotland Yard investigation is ongoing.

But the ICC's hawk will be his own man. He will have carte blanche in his actions and will report to Lord Griffiths, chairman of the Code of Conduct commission, who in turn will report to the ICC. The ICC will then act.

This threatens to be a long and arduous procedure and it requires an optimistic view to assume that bans will be handed out to the guilty parties. Lord MacLaurin candidly acknowledged that public confidence in cricket would be restored only when somebody was bannedfor life. Richards, as on most other matters, was far more sanguine. The evidence had to be gathered.

"I do think that there are other points to address. I happen not to consider that the number of one-day games leads to corruption. But at our annual conference next month that is something that could come up. The point of remuneration may also be mentioned."

The last issue will grow in significance. Players are going round the world in a continuous one-day circus for a perceived pittance. Pay them properly (and remember television is consuming these matches), runs the new thinking, and these games will not only grow in importance accordingly in the players' minds but will also negate any temptation to take extra cash from bookies, legal or otherwise.

Incidentally, there was a stout defence of the English bookmaking fraternity this week by Graham Cowdrey, the former Kent batsman now working with the spread-betting company Sporting Index. Cowdrey said that they would go to the nth degree to get information but certainly would never approach a player. One wonders if this also excludes asking, say, a reporter who has gleaned his information from a player. It is a thin dividing line between corruption and passing the time of day with your chums.

"We will leave no stone unturned," said Richards. "We mean this. We are guardians of this great game which we have to pass on to future generations, nothing other than that." Amen to that, but they need their hero to come riding into town quickly.