Yesterday’s conviction of former Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif was a victory for cricket. But, says Stuart Rayner, complacency could see it quickly squandered
Increasingly, gambling opportunities are permeating down, making more games and players vulnerable.
Butt, Asif and Mohammad Amir’s crimes were nothing like as heinous as those of Cronje, the South African captain who successfully lost a Test against England with incentivised under-performances and an over-generous declaration.
The trio were found to have conspired to bowl three no-balls at set times. It simply made England three runs better off in a match they won comfortably – but for those who staked money on a 1.5million-1 chance, it was a lucrative exercise.
As with pitch and weather reports which have earned naïve or corrupt international cricketers tidy sums, the fear is that seemingly innocuous activities are the tip of a dangerous iceberg.
Even if not, it is a massive slap in the face for entertainment spectators pay good money to watch.
Given that cricket became established in this country as a vehicle for betting, we should not be surprised the English game is not immune.
Perhaps in the New Year we will discover it is uncomfortably close to home. In January Mervyn Westfield will appear at the Old Bailey, charged with agreeing to concede a certain number of runs while bowling for Essex against Durham in a televised 40-over match two years ago. Whether Westfield is guilty or not, it highlights how vulnerable even the quaint old world of county cricket is.
For those of us at the Riverside that night, nothing seemed unusual in Westfield’s performance. His name did not feature in match reports in the Sunday Sun, Journal or Evening Chronicle.
Italy, Germany, Turkey, Finland and South Korea are just some of the countries infected by football corruption in recent years, but it is old hat in the country which invented the game. Allegations that North East legends like Bob Stokoe and Brian Clough were approached to throw matches were never substantiated, but damaging scams were uncovered in 1915 and 1964.
Accrington Stanley and Bury players were found guilty in 2009, while Wayne Rooney’s family have been implicated in ongoing investigations north of the border. Rumours abound that even English junior games are targeted by Far East syndicates.
With gamblers more prepared to spread-bet on meaningless minutiae, even straight-forward sports like football are vulnerable to spot-fixers.
In 2009 former Southampton footballer Matt Le Tissier admitted to being involved in a £10,000 sting to fix the time of the first throw-in in a meaningless end-of-season game with Wimbledon.
The hope must be that this case persuades the authorities to step up their education programmes until no professional sportsman believes tampering with the course of a game, no matter how trivially, is in any way acceptable, and strengthens their resolve to uncover similar wrong-doings.
If so, Butt, Amir and Asif will have done sport a great service in the most disgraceful of ways.