Flanagan takes aim against cricket corruption
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 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.