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Flanagan takes aim against cricket corruption

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Matt Slater | 08:00 UK time, Friday, 21 May 2010

If Sir Ronnie Flanagan thought he was winding down an illustrious career in law enforcement by taking cricket's top cop job, he will know otherwise after a lively first news conference as incoming chairman of the International Cricket Council's (ICC) anti-corruption and security unit.

With the kind of timing a senior officer would love in his crime-fighters, the former Northern Ireland police chief arrived at Lord's as fresh evidence was emerging from Pakistan's (criminally?) incompetent tour of Australia earlier this year.

It seems there may have been more to those dismal defeats - none more so than the capitulation in Sydney - than just poor play and bad morale.

For those who missed January's second Test, Pakistan had a lead of 206 runs at the halfway stage only to give the home side a sniff of victory with a hapless fielding display in Australia's second effort. Wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal had a particularly bad day at the office, spilling four catches and fluffing a simple run-out chance.

But it was still just a sniff...until the tourists lost their last nine wickets for 89 runs to come up 36 short of a 175-run target.

Cue wild Sydneysider celebrations and a new round of hand-wringing in Pakistan.

The tour went from bad to worse after that, and in March the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) suspended half of the team for disciplinary offences ranging from ball-tampering, to "obstinate behaviour", to talking with their mouths full. OK, perhaps not that last one but the PCB's message was as clear as it was unprecedented: shut up and play properly or get lost.

Most observers, including the ICC's anti-corruption team, thought that was the end of it. Unrestrained egos had destroyed team spirit with perhaps, at worst, a few big names underperforming on purpose to scuttle the captain.

But then, this week, a video tape showing team officials discussing the possibility that the game was thrown was leaked to the Pakistani media. Suddenly the grubby ogre of match-fixing was back in the picture.

There are a few ways to react to this.

You can say "so what?" Isn't this just a few old pros clutching at straws to explain an embarrassing defeat? There's no real evidence. Move along.

Or you could go the other way, tear your hair out and start wailing "have we learned nothing from Hansie Cronje?"

The more sensible approach is the one Flanagan is bound to inherit from his impressive predecessor, Lord Condon: do nothing until you have proof.

Lord Condon and Sir Ronnie Flanagan face the mediaLord Condon and Sir Ronnie Flanagan face the media. Photo: Getty Images

With Flanagan not officially in the job until June, it was left to Condon on Thursday to handle inquiries about Pakistan's tour videos from Down Under and the wider question of how clean cricket is a decade on from Cronje's confession.

On the former, Condon was concise: we haven't seen the tape yet but we will as we had "worries" about that series and the Sydney Test in particular.

When pushed for more detail, the former Metropolitan Police chief described the situation as a "live investigation".

On the latter, state-of-the-nation question, Condon was more forthcoming. Huge strides have been made over the last 10 years, he said.

The 63-year-old was especially proud of the education programme the ICC has set up for players, the physical security measures now in place at internationals and the sport's strict disciplinary code.

ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat chipped in at this point to explain how other sports were coming to cricket to ask for advice on how to tackle the threat of match-fixing and other betting-related wrongdoing.

There is undoubtedly a lot of truth in this claim as international cricket is a much healthier place today than it was in the late 90s but it would be a mistake for anybody to get complacent. And to be fair to Flanagan, I don't think he will.

Putting aside what may or may not have happened in Sydney (the PCB, Pakistani government and ICC must be left to conduct their investigations), the current threat to the game's integrity is on a much smaller scale, both in terms of outcomes and numbers involved.

As the ongoing case against Essex pair Danish Kaneria and Mervyn Westfield suggests, the authorities are now focusing their attention on so-called micro- or spot-fixing.

These are not grand conspiracies to throw entire matches but small scams to fix how many wides are bowled in an over or a team's run rate at an agreed point in the match. Cricket, unfortunately, is almost uniquely vulnerable to this kind of skulduggery as the game is a series of isolated incidents that unfold at a relatively leisurely pace.

"Corruption is about human frailty and opportunities," said Condon. "So from time to time you will hear about a tiny, tiny minority who have mixed with the wrong crowd and made bad decisions. You never wholly eradicate that."

Perhaps not but Flanagan struck me as the kind of guy who might try. His welcoming message to the back-alley bookies was short and to the point.

"If anybody is thinking about match-fixing, we'll find you and we'll deal with you. So forget about it."

There may be a few players out there wishing they'd had this warning a few months ago.

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  • Comment number 1.

    The PCB doing an internal investigation into match fixing is akin to the BNP doing an internal investigation into racism!

  • Comment number 2.

    The semi final loss to Australia last week was even more bizarre.

  • Comment number 3.

    Tatloaf (1) - No comment! Although I notice the PCB has already started to say 'there's nothing to see here, move along please'.

    hudjer (2) - You're not the only person to make that observation, although I should say Lord Condon gave the World T20 a clean bill of health. He said his anti-corruption unit was all over that tournament like a rash and they found nothing to be worried about at all. I think he went as far to say it was a "stupendous tournament"...he is a massive fan of English cricket, though.

  • Comment number 4.

    T20 semi-final was as dodgy as any sporting event I have ever seen.

    First time I have watched anything and thought. They are trying to lose this.

  • Comment number 5.

    I attempted to publish an article about the Sydney test and unsurprisingly it was modded, though thinking back some of my comments were about as criminal as some of the players displays in the Test.

    Sadly we're now at a stage where every poor performance by Pakistan (T20 semi-final for example) will be viewed by many as outright cheating whether it is or not and any bad days at the office or even just a loss of concentration will stink of corruption.

  • Comment number 6.

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  • Comment number 7.

    Matt, great insight into the murkier side of cricket.

    All this news of corruption has seemed to of followed pakistan around i'm not too knowledgable pakistan, or any pakistan players actually been found guilty of match fixing?

    As they can't play their home tests at home anymore, coupled with all these allegations, does Pakistan have a viable future in Cricket? Or do they still have a lot of financial clout with the ICC?

  • Comment number 8.

    Sorry about previous post. I'll retype my second paragraph...

    All this news of corruption has seemed to of followed pakistan around for ages, although i'm not too knowledgable about the corruption. Has pakistan, or any pakistan players actually been found guilty of match fixing previously?

  • Comment number 9.

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  • Comment number 10.

    Im a longstanding follower of pakistan cricket, and the amount of times i have seen the match been bizarrely thrown away by the pakistan team is unbelievable. On behalf of the pakistani supporters who i know feel the same misery as i do, i hope that corruption is elliminated in this wonderful sport, and in the NEAR future we could actually see the true talent that pakistani cricketers have to offer. My recommendations would be to ban all the PCB members and comminitee staff and have pakistan cricket led by an international committee of people.

  • Comment number 11.

    And also personally i do not think pakistan is the only team that potentially may be involved in scandalous match fixing, however i do know they are by far the dumbest, as they always seem to get highlighted by the media.

  • Comment number 12.

    Binksy (8)- Pakistan has had quite a bit of match-fixing bother over the years. Back when the problem was at its worst across world cricket, Pakistan's captain Salim Malik and fast bowler Ataur Rehman were given life bans for conspiring with gamblers. And then last year politicians accused the team of throwing games in the Champions Trophy. Don't think it was ever proved but captain Younis Khan had to fall on his sword.

    In terms of Pakistan's future in the sport, you're right to flag up concerns. With teams reluctant to tour the country after the Sri Lanka incident, the ongoing row with India that saw no Pakistanis play in IPL 3, the inability of the PCB to control the players and the amazing inconsistency of their performances, you've got to worry. That said, international cricket isn't so robust that it can start losing Test-playing nations, particularly ones where cricket is the main sport. So I think the ICC et al will be unwilling to push too hard, mindful of what happened with Zimbabwe. There is also an enormous amount of raw talent in Pakistan. I don't think England could dump half its team and still put out as good a side as Pakistan had at the World T20.

    avidlistener (10) - Pakistan certainly needs to do something about its team and governing body but I'm not sure an international board is the way to go. Would Pakistani pride accept it? But you're right to say it requires drastic action. A complete clear-out at PCB with perhaps one or two "independents" from abroad might do it. I also think you're right to suggest it's not just Pakistan. There have been many rumours about match-fixing (or probably just spot-fixing) in the IPL, especially IPL 2 in SA. One unnamed source called it a "bet fest"! I think Pakistan has perhaps a bigger problem than most because cricket is such a big sport there. Lord Condon talked about problems occuring in late '90s when sport got mixed up with celebrity - there would be complete bedlam at games with all kinds of flash Harrys and blinged-up crooks wandering around. It was a heady cocktail and players got tempted. I fear there may still be an element of that on Indian Subcontinent.

  • Comment number 13.

    The problems with Pakistan Cricket are many, but in short are

    1 - Sheer Lack of profesionallism from the players
    2 - The fact it is the countries biggest sport, so the players act like footballers over here, there are constant ego battles and players playing for themselves and their sponsorship deals rather than the team
    3 - The PCB alternating between uncaring one moment and very harsh the next
    4 - The PCB being full of ex players trying to even old scores
    5 - Lots of ex players now in politics trying to even old scores
    6 - Politicians using cricket as a political football

    To be honest I think everyone involved in Pakistani cricket right now at every level should be sacked/banned. It is the only way to clean up the mess.

    The ICC should then appoint a new head of Cricket on a 1 year basis to get a new structure sorted, he will appoint the board, and in a year one of the board will replace him.

    It won't happen though, and in a few more years, if not sooner we'll be having this discussion all over again.

    Oh and I wonder if a certain "controversial" umpire is now feeling a little bit vindicated? The PCB can't play the racism card this time.

  • Comment number 14.

    Would Pakistan pride accept it? At this point I think the Pakistani supporters including myself would strongly advocate the need for at least a couple international members on the PCB committee if not all of them. The Pakistani people all know that the PCB is just a pathetic, unorganised and inconsistent governing body which clearly requires guidance and strict protocols. Most would welcome the idea of reformation. O well, in this doom and gloom of Pakistan cricket, at least I get to see them play in England which is one positive thing.

  • Comment number 15.

    I just came up with the best solution, have the previous President of Pakistan(Musharraf) run the PCB and instil a more disciplined, militarily type of training and order to the much needed Pakistani cricketers and committee members. At least that way, were more likely to see them run a few more singles in a match.

  • Comment number 16.

    Pakistans performance in sydney test was pathetic i personly think that players were trying to settle rifts with each others. What i dnt understand is why only pakistan is always mentioned whenever there are reports of match fixing. all bookies are from india but indian team will not be mentioned even after there bad performances in 2007 world cup, last years champions trophy and this t20 world cup why it is only pakistan.

  • Comment number 17.

    this is my first time on this blog, and have a thought. In cricket, the highest odds you can get in betting, is all 10 batsman caught, go and have a look at the scorecard for the sidney game. any thoughts!

  • Comment number 18.

    i ditto
    pcb is absolutely corrupt from top to toe.
    in pakistan you cannot even buy a bag of sugar without right contacts.
    pcb has no respect and it has openly left the matter of match fixing to icc. its not able or willing to discipline any player. the ball between the teeth footage by its captain 'fridi' (fraudi) for the whole world to see and pcb took no action itself- saying that fridi has been punished by icc and that's that. to top it- he's still the captain of Pakistan cricket team. unimaginable.
    the new chapter that the 6 members of the team took oath over the 'Koran' pledging to scupper yunis khan is seen as act of disloyalty by the Pakistan media. But it ought to niggle someone that when so many players are unwilling to serve under this 'so may times a captain' there must be something about Yunis Khan worth investigating.
    you have to also remember that when Ul Haq was captain and Yunis was his deputy- this is soon after the famous 'Oval' incident. ul haq was unfit for the match with india and as his deputy the task fell on yunis to captain the team- he was invited to the pcb hq, where he had to wait 30 minutes before storming off saying that as a senior player he was not afforded due ceremony and being made to wait for half an hour was pcb being disrespectful towards yunis. he duly resigned giving reason that he was unwilling to serve as part time captain and wanted full time role. no one at the time said he was being disloyal to the current captain or pompous towards his paymasters. most pakistani commentators apologetically said 'oh he is a pathan and likewise temperamental, nothing to worry about, let's all kneel and bow and seek his forgiveness'.
    to give you a flavor of pakistani public- recently the supreme court found a number of mps (PPP members) guilty of fraud, holding fake degrees and other corrupt practices. their status as mps was annulled. the president also a ppp co-chair with his underage son pardoned all of them and they were re-elected by voters(?) and returned to their former about rule of law and justice in pakistan ? these word have been removed from the pakistani dictionary long ago.

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