Editorial: Ignoring cheat accusations bad for cricket

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A stream of denials followed a British newspaper's allegation that some New Zealand cricketers have been involved in match-fixing.

NZ Cricket chief executive David White said he had "complete confidence that the claims made were baseless and had no credibility".

The Players Association's Heath Mills said they came from "people of ill-repute, known criminals, and we're not taking them seriously at the moment".

Even national coach John Wright felt compelled to stand by his players.

All three, however, were in no position to comment with any degree of confidence. Their statements owed more to wishing and hoping than dispassionate analysis.

The claims made in the Sunday Times were based on the work of undercover reporters posing as bookmakers, who were told by some of India's most influential bookmakers that match-fixing was rife.

One claimed to have fixed games with two New Zealand players - whom he named - in 2010. Other players from England, the West Indies, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh were said to have been recruited to throw part or all of international fixtures.

It is easy, of course, to doubt and damn the word of Indian bookmakers. They would appear towards the bottom of any list of trustworthy characters. But it is far less easy to ignore evidence that appears to underpin what they are saying.

This includes the imprisonment of three Pakistani cricketers last year for conspiring to bowl no-balls in a test, and, more recently, the four-month prison term imposed on English county player Mervyn Westfield for receiving $11,400 to concede at least 12 runs in the first over of a game.

There is every reason to suspect the apparent hiatus in fixing that followed the lifetime bans for several players, including Hansie Cronje and Salim Malik, is well and truly over.

Much of the blame for this surely lies with the increased dominance of India in world cricket, the huge popularity of the relatively new Twenty20 game, and the amount of money flowing around the likes of the Indian Premier League.

Cricket offers more opportunity for fixing than most sports because of the individual games within a game. Add in the huge rewards and the fact that it attracts more betting than any other sport and the resurgence of spot and match-fixing is no surprise.

Former Black Cap Iain O'Brien was refreshingly forthright this week when he observed that he had seen "dodgy" on-field happenings in India, England and Australia.

It is, therefore, idle to dogmatically rule out the involvement of New Zealand players. Equally, however, it is very difficult to prove that a few have been lured by bookmakers.

Apprehending players involved in fixing is rather like catching drug cheats. They must be caught red-handed, with illegal drugs in the system or in the sort of newspaper sting that exposed the three imprisoned Pakistani players. Anything else and the situation becomes a fruitless one of allegation and denial.

For the game's governors, the most dispiriting aspect of the new claims must be that even court-imposed jail terms do not seem a total counter to match and spot-fixing. Possible imprisonment raises the ante for players, but hardly deters those who reap the greatest reward from their cheating. The worst thing cricket authorities can do as the game's reputation suffers is to bury their heads in the sand.

- NZ Herald

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