Mervyn Westfield agrees to play for Suffolk after fixing ban
Convicted spot-fixer Mervyn Westfield has agreed to play for minor counties side Suffolk as he tries to rebuild his career after being jailed for cheating.
The fast bowler served eight weeks in prison and was banned from professional cricket for five years in 2012.
But the England and Wales Cricket Board has now given Westfield special dispensation to play for county second XI or minor counties for 12 months.
The 27-year-old is expected to start training with Suffolk on Monday.
Westfield's first game for the county is likely to be a friendly against his former club Essex, but he is still not allowed to play first-class cricket until his ban expires in 2017.
The right-arm paceman, who has been playing for Essex club side Frinton since 2014, was punished for accepting £6,000 to deliberately bowl badly in a one-day game for Essex against Durham in 2009.
The ECB reduced his club cricket suspension to two years after he agreed to take part in an anti-corruption programme run by the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA).
"I'm probably a little bit rusty," said Westfield, who has been working as a scaffolder. "My body didn't used to ache as much as it does now, but I'm training hard and trying to get back my fitness.
"This summer I'll probably get the odd bit of banter, but I'll just have to distance it and get on, just focus on what I'm trying to do, score runs and take wickets.
"I've done wrong. I'm just trying to fix it now and obviously I'm happy I'm back playing cricket."
Why have Suffolk signed him?
Suffolk team manager Andrew Northcote said a major reason for signing Westfield was to help inspire the young players the county has.
"Having played against him on the field, he's as hard as nails, everything you want from your professional," said Northcote. "Every time you come across him, you know you're up for a fight, as a coach that's a win-win.
"Off the field, like a true professional, after the game he'll stay around and have a drink, speak to anyone and everyone at the club, both home and away. That's what minor counties cricket is about.
"You say there might be negative publicity, but I would turn that around and say who hasn't made a mistake in their life? To not be given the second opportunity, that's just not fair.
"Tell me that you've lived the perfect life - I believe from what I know of Merv and the people I've spoken to he's going to be a great addition. When speaking to him about the possibility of him playing, he was like a young boy at Christmas.
"I will trust him wholeheartedly to give us everything that I would expect from a professional cricketer. It's great for the youth section and the first team."
Why is he allowed to play already?
The dispensation from the ECB to let Westfield play before his ban expires is in recognition of the education work he has done with the PCA.
This week he again addressed the 'rookie camp' of new English professionals in Birmingham, after travelling to South Africa last year to talk to players there.
"Mervyn definitely paid the penalty," said PCA assistant chief executive Jason Ratcliffe. "Of all the players who've fallen foul of the anti-corruption rules in recent years, Mervyn's done more to try to redeem himself than anybody.
"Mervyn's story is very powerful when he comes to talk to young cricketers. Without doubt he's played a massive part in education in England.
"It's fantastic news that Suffolk have taken Mervyn on and testament to how he has conducted himself for Frinton CC, who speak very highly of him as a person around the club and a cricketer."
The PCA concedes it is a "long shot" that Westfield would earn a full first-class contract in the future, but it hopes he can put himself "in the shop window".
The ECB's cricket disciplinary committee chairman, Gerard Elias, said Westfield had "made a real and substantial effort" that shows his "continuing remorse and a genuine desire on his part to repay cricket for the harm caused by his actions".