The Spot-fixing Mess

The trial is over.  Though we still have the inevitable appeals to come.  The fixer and the three cricketers are now spending their time at the invitation of Her Britannic Majesty as sentenced by Mr Justice Cooke, whose comments are worth reading.

This whole thing has been bemusing, bewitching, infuriating, confounding but above all deeply saddening.  As revelation after revelation was reported on Twitter by @Cricketer_RDJ, Yates could be seen going about his work with looks of all those feelings on his face.  The game Yates loves, the game which stood as a byword for everything right and proper, the game Yates has spent years of his life watching, discussing and following has been betrayed, vilely soiled upon from a great height.

And it may never be the same again.

The great, the good and the not-so good have all reacted to the sentencing and the impact this will have on the governance of cricket and prevention of corruption.  Quite how deep the claws of fixing go into our game is something we may only discover with the progression of time and the involvement of people better able to get results than the ACSU in its current form.

Yates’ thoughts are that Mr Justice Cooke didn’t get the sentencing quite right.  If one takes Salman Butt’s two and a half year sentence as sound then surely Mohammad Asif deserves more than the one year he received?  Asif has a history of infractions – this shows him as someone who has not learned from his previous misdemanours.  Yates would like to have seen two years handed to Mohammad Asif.

Yates has some sympathy for Mohammad Amir.  At 18 years of age Yates was not the most world-wise person around.  In his position would any of us have had the guts to tell the captain of our country where to go when he came over and said here’s a quick way to earn a few quid?  A year in prison is harsh from this corner, 6 months suspended might well have been better.

That said, Mohammad Amir will surely have his second chance once he has completed his ICC ban.  That is assuming he doesn’t turn his back on the game.  There is no doubt he is a prodigious talent – he will be 24 when the ban ends – perhaps he can come back to cricket as a reformed character.  Yates has no such sympathy for Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, who in his opinion do not deserve a second chance in international cricket.

The throwaway comments about cheating Pakistanis made over the years seem to have found an element of truth.  Dodgy umpiring – a spectre now thankfully laid to bed by the excellence of ICC Umpire Of The Year Aleem Dar – ball tampering and erratic performances often led to questions.  Yates can’t be the only one who hoped that Kamran Akmal was just a bit crap.  The trial testimony suggested that he was on the take.

The testimony of Mazhar Majeed seemed like a crazy mix of Walter Mittyesque delusions, utter bulls**t and boasts pulled from the air to try and impress people.  How much if it was true?  How much of it was complete guff?  How much of it exaggerated?  The claims Majeed made need proper and through investigation.  But herein may lie the problem.

The apparent lack of action from the ICC,  ACSU and PCB needs to come under critical spotlight here.  Yates is no fan of tabloid rags but why should it have been a tabloid rag that unc0vered this scam and not the ACSU?  The only thing the ICC did right here was banning the players once the story broke.

Is this the end of the spot fixing mess?  Clearly not.  What, then, is the next step?

Good question.  It is a fact that the Anti-Corruption & Security Unit has uncovered no scams and no players on the take.  The News Of The World has uncovered three players and one fixer, while it was Indian police who uncovered Marlon Samuels’ involvement with an Indian bookmaker.  What, exactly has the ACSU done in the way of investigating and uncovering corruption?

Its education programme is most welcome, if perhaps merely repeating common sense.  Yates believes that common sense isn’t necessarily all that common so that is not a useless pursuit, although it may have failed to educate Mohammad Amir.  Is that the fault of the PCB or the ICC?

The ACSU is an organisation which has had former high ranking police officers at its head.  So why hasn’t it nailed a single corrupt player since its formation?  Lack of specialist knowledge?  Lack of knowledge at all?  Top ranking coppers aren’t exactly known for having their finger on the pulse of the front line, especially in areas outside their usual experience.  Do Paul (now Lord) Condon and Sir Ronnie Flanagan know anything about cricket?  Do the ACSU’s staff?

Scyld Berry’s piece on the ACSU’s future is good stuff and a sound direction for the ACSU to follow.  This particular quote from Scyld is very damning on the ACSU’s knowledge of the spot-fixing world:

Just how remote the Unit can be from illegal gambling was shown when the former chief investigator, Ravi Sawani, who only gave up his post earlier this year after three years in the job, revealed during the trial that he did not know what a ‘bracket’ was.

Is it any wonder the ACSU hasn’t nailed anything?  If this is their standard of knowledge then Kamran Akmal and Wahab Riaz may well be thinking “If they couldn’t bring us to trial then they haven’t got enough evidence to prove anything” as far as the upcoming ICC investigation is concerned.  Our cat’s investigation of his paws, tummy and cathole seem much more detailed than anything the ICC can manage.  He tells me that he is willing to help the ICC for a consultancy fee of two crates of tuna.

Ultimately the ACSU needs to be a lot harsher and a lot more proactive.  If it needs more and better staff to do this then as Capt Jean-Luc Picard often said, “Make it so!”.  Yates doesn’t know if the spot-fixing issue is primarily a sub-continental thing.  We don’t know just how far and deep it goes.  Yates fears that the more we learn about spot-fixing cases, the worse our disgust will be.  County cricket has its own spot-fixing case coming up in January – former Essex seam bowler Mervyn Westfield comes to trial in January 2012 on spot-fixing charges.

Another question that comes to mind is how far back does this thing actually go?  Two years? Five? Ten?  Just how busy will the Royal Canadian Mounted Police be with their deleted text message recovery machine?

As far as the PCB is concerned, this is another indictment of the reigns of Ijaz Butt, Shaharyar Khan, Naseem Ashraf as Chairman of the PCB if not others going further back.  Pakistan cricket is now tainted with a very unpleasant stench indeed, one with an odour that will last for a very long time.  Questions will now be asked every time something odd happens or a mistake is made.  Mohammad Hafeez dropped three catches against Sri Lanka in the recent first test – now the viewer’s reaction to something like that is more likely to be “Is he on the take?” rather than “Abu Dhabi’s a real swine of a ground for seeing the ball” or “Everyone has bad days”.

Yates should point out that he likes Mohammad Hafeez (talented chap, should be averaging 45 with the bat though, he has the talent to do that) and is in no way suggesting any impropriety from him.  This is now the chain around Pakistan cricket’s neck.

Is this a watershed moment?  Only the ICC’s future actions can determine if it is.  As the Seventh Doctor said, “Time will tell, always does.”  Yates is sure that there are many who have little faith in the ICC and ACSU to toughen up and get seriously involved in taking spot-fixing seriously.  Yates is delighted to hear that Australia are moving legislation to make spot-fixing illegal from next year and was surprised to learn that former ICC top man Malcolm Speed is at the forefront of this move. So he can do something good for the game after all.  The same report suggests that Pakistan are to do the same thing.

The challenge to the ICC and the ACSU is simple:  Prove me wrong, prove us wrong.  Yates wants you to.  The game needs you to.