Cricket Continues To Be Tainted by Corruption

Jon GemmellCorrespondent IJune 2, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 20:  Lord Paul Condon, who is stepping down as the Chief of the ICC Anti Corruption and Security Unit  talks to the press during a press conference at Lords on May 20, 2010 in London, England.  (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)
Tom Shaw/Getty Images

It seems that every other advert on Sky Sports at the moment is for gambling. There is an array of ways that punters can lose their money, with one commercial bizarrely ending in fits of laughter as two protagonists fail to comprehend just what they have bet on.

Bookies used to deal almost exclusively with horse and dog racing. Now new technologies provide a wider range of sports to bet on, and inevitably football and cricket have become popular for those who enjoy a flutter.

These sports have the advantage over horse racing because you don't just gamble on who wins.

The more lucrative spot-fixing refers to the numbers of runs scored, wickets taken, maidens bowled, etc, and there are few sports that can compete with cricket for its huge range of options.

However, gambling on the number of wides, runs scored on the leg-side, or dropped catches makes the sport vulnerable to those who seek to exploit it for monetary gain.

Match-fixing is synonymous with the disgraced South African captain Hansie Cronje, who is one of the few to have confessed to accepting money from book-makers.

In reality though, we are not talking about match-fixing, but wider corruption because to rig a whole match involves the collusion of a few players. Individual performance is a lot more susceptible to form, having a bad day, and dishonesty.

Like with many unsavoury aspects of life, the exposure of Cronje in 2000 was neither a beginning or end point to deception. Paul Condon who has recently retired from ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit warned that "one or two [players] are still mixed with the wrong people."

Questions of integrity have been raised in relation to the IPL, to the death of Pakistan-coach Bob Woolmer, and every time a weaker nation defeats one of cricket's elite sides. This is the problem with corruption: innuendo and suspicion become a facet of the sport.

Two Essex players, Danish Kaneria and Mervyn Westfield, were recently arrested by Essex police and have been released on bail pending an investigation into alleged spot-fixing.

Another county cricketer reported an approach from an Indian businessman worth an incredible £5m. India is the centre of betting on cricket and English limited-over games are televised live. At least two more players and one official have contacted the Professional Cricketers’ Association.

Westfield was suspected after he conceded 60 runs in seven overs in a 40-over game against Durham, including four wides and two no-balls. Going at nine an over is not that extraordinary in today's game. Three days later he bowled just as poorly against Somerset in a contest that is not under suspicion, showing how difficult it would be to prove complicity with bookmakers.

Meanwhile, the entire Pakistani team are under official scrutiny after an horrific tour of Australia.

This threatened pandemic could be seen as a sign of the current game. Certainly the increase in the popular 20 overs cricket provides the best opportunity yet for the unscrupulous, while cricketers fare poorly to their footballing counterparts and are considered easier prey.

However, this contemporary twist ignores the key role played by gamblers in the origins and early development of the sport. Gambling was associated with cricket's wealthy patrons.

Lord Frederick Beauclerk admitted that cricket was worth about 600 guineas a year to him. In 1751, a £1,500 wager plus side-bets totalling £20,000 were at stake in a match between Old Etonians and "England."

In his account of the early Hambledon Club, John Nyren says that they always played for stakes of at least £100. Gambling was so endemic that umpires were not officially banned from betting until 1835.

The historian, the Revd James Pycroft wrote that those associated with horse racing could be found at cricket matches.

Cricket had existed in many local forms, but competition for high stakes required standardization of contest. It has been suggested that the first average tables were motivated by the need for an accurate form guide.

Gambling was also the catalyst to the first set of rules governing cricket. The 1727 Articles of Agreement included, alongside issues relating to substitutes and the powers of umpires, guidelines relating to the sums of money that could be made from betting.

These rules were drawn up by the White Conduit Club, whose membership was drawn almost entirely from the gentry. This body would soon evolve into the MCC, the elite organization responsible for determining the regulations of cricket for the next 200 years.

The sport then seems to have come full-circle. The contemporary fixation with commercialism propels the gambling industry into an arena where right and wrong, legal and illegal are blurred.

During the Ashes series of 2005 the television adverts began and ended with the promotion of betting. In the previous year the cricket was accompanied by the slogan: "It matters more when there’s money on it."

In the late 1970s the Australian media-magnate Kerry Packer paid the world's top cricketers to perform in unofficial matches. Justice Slade established that "a professional cricketer needs to make his living as much as any man."

But what, asks cricket historian Gideon Haigh, "if the highest bidder for your services is a bookmaker?" Does the professional not have a right to sell his services to the highest bidder? Is this not the way of the unrestricted market? If bankers can do it, why not cricketers?