Suddenly, the glorious cricket of last summer seems a distant memory. Revelations about the alleged involvement of New Zealanders in match-fixing have cast the darkest of shadows over the game in this country. We now know there was, indeed, substance to claims made several years ago, but strongly denied by New Zealand Cricket at the time. As disappointing as this is, it should come as no surprise. It was naive to imagine that cricketers from this country would somehow be immune to the financial temptations that have led to players from five nations being banned from the game for various periods for dealing with bookmakers.
Confirmation of the worst was delivered in a British newspaper article that suggested former Black Cap Lou Vincent was seeking a plea bargain for full disclosure of his involvement in spot- and match-fixing. This was said to have spread across Asia, South Africa and England. Also leaked has been testimony from Vincent's former wife and the current national captain, Brendon McCullum, who said he had been offered up to $200,000 a match to fix games. The approach had been made by a cricketing "hero", dubbed Player X. The Herald has revealed that this is Chris Cairns, the former New Zealand all-rounder. He has always denied involvement in match-fixing.
Perhaps the only bright spot in all this is the conduct of McCullum in rebuffing the approach. The International Cricket Council said yesterday that he had "acted quite properly in accordance with his responsibilities as a professional cricketer". Nothing else, however, bodes well for the standing of this country's cricketers or the fight against cheating. A key to the latter is the fate of the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, which, with London's Metropolitan Police, is conducting the present inquiry.
We know some of what has been going on only because of the leaking of testimonies to that unit. In itself, that is unsatisfactory, and has led to justifiable claims that it will dissuade players from reporting match-fixing approaches. But the current state of affairs must be viewed in the context of the attempt by India, aided by England and Australia, to take greater control of world cricket. A part of this is their investigation into the effectiveness of the anti-corruption unit.
At the moment, it is independent, a state that allows it to pursue alleged match-fixers without political interference. The likelihood, however, is that the Big Three will return such investigations to the national governing bodies, some of which will be less than whole-hearted in their endeavours.
At least the presence in the public domain of the revelations sparked by Vincent's admissions gives some indication of the extent of the problem before that change takes place.
This is important. Cricket offers more opportunity for fixing than most sports because of the individual games within a game. That potential first became evident in cases involving Hansie Cronje, Salim Malik and Mohammed Azharuddin. Now, it is far greater thanks to the enormous popularity and expansion of Twenty20 cricket, and the huge sums of money flowing legally and illegally around the likes of the Indian Premier League. To compound the problem, fixing is difficult to prove. Players must be caught red-handed dealing with bookmakers or be the subject of very persuasive evidence from other players.
Therein lies the importance of the present inquiry. It points to the widespread nature of match-fixing, and represents the chance for the governors of the game to take steps to restore its credibility.
Regrettably, they seem more intent on pretending it barely exists.