x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

How a friendly gesture can lead to corruption in cricket

A former ICC watchdog calls it 'classic corruption' and big names have admitted to succumbing to temptation.

Australia’s Brad Haddin, left, and Shane Watson, right, reported being approached by an alleged Mumbai bookmaker.
Australia’s Brad Haddin, left, and Shane Watson, right, reported being approached by an alleged Mumbai bookmaker.

It can begin with a seemingly innocent offer from a fan to pay for a drink or a meal. It can come under the guise of a sponsorship deal, an interview for a story, or even a request to make an appearance for charity.

Those are some of the ways that match-fixers approach cricket players, all designed to gain the player's trust and establish a relationship that can later be exploited.

Lord Paul Condon, who headed the International Cricket Council's (ICC) Anti-Corruption and Security Unit for 10 years, saw it many times.

"It was classic corruption, the type that you see in almost any walk of life," he said in an interview with Cricinfo.

"It would start with someone declaring, 'I'm a devoted fan' or 'I'm sponsoring a new form of bat' or 'I want to take you out to dinner and pay for your holiday because I think you're a great player.'

"It's almost like a grooming, and before long the player is sucked in."

At that point, the fixer begins asking for information, or more.

"Then the questions come," Lord Condon said. "'What's the mood in the team? Who's going to be in the team tomorrow? What's the batting order? Who's going to be the first-change bowler?'

"And certain players who were sucked in started to wonder: Would it really matter if we won a particular match? Or, when you're scoring well, what does it matter if you're out before you get to your 50?"

Players have been warned of such approaches, of course, and they often alert the ICC when they become suspicious.

Two years ago, Shakib al Hasan, the Bangladesh captain, received a call in his hotel room from a stranger. The man offered a sponsorship deal, but the tone of the conversation made Shakib uncomfortable and he reported the approach to the anti-corruption unit.

During Australia's last Ashes tour to England, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin reported similar advances by an alleged Mumbai bookmaker. The man appeared at Haddin's hotel room door, inviting him for drinks and dinner. Watson said the man initially approached him "like a knowledgeable cricket fan before the talk became awkward".

Players may also be approached at social gatherings. Rahim Khan, a Mumbai businessman and former gambler, said the after-match parties in the Indian Premier League have allowed unprecedented access to the cricketers.

"First they lure you with expensive gifts at these parties," Khan said. "Then the cricketers start doing small 'favours' for them, and gradually the gifts and favours keep getting bigger and bigger. There are a lot of big businessmen doing this."

Some players have testified to receiving more direct approaches, with offers of cars and money.

Several Pakistan cricketers told the Qayyum Commission that they received expensive cars from dubious characters during the 1990s.

The commission was set up in 1997 to investigate allegations of corruption in the Pakistan national team. Malik Mohammad Qayyum, a retired high court judge, was appointed by the Pakistan Cricket Board to examine allegations of match-fixing.

Fixers might also loan a player huge amounts of money, as Mohammed Azharuddin, the former India captain, revealed during his questioning by India's Central Bureau of Investigation. Or they might pay a player for seemingly mundane information like the condition of the pitch or the weather.

Australia's Mark Waugh admitted receiving A$4,000 (Dh14,365) from "John the Bookmaker" in 1994 to provide such information. Shane Warne said he received A$5,000 as a gift.

Such largesse may be offered with "no strings attached", but it often does not stop there.

"Once you're on the slippery slope, it's very hard to get out of it," Geoff Lawson, a former Australia cricketer and Pakistan coach, said.

"A lot of this stuff starts with people just offering free gifts. And that happens a lot in the Pakistani culture. People give you stuff all the time. It's impolite to refuse gifts, so [the players have] got a tough task because that's what you do.

"You've just got to have strength of character to deal with it ... If people offer you extortionate amounts of money, more than you make as a player, it's a temptation."

It is relatively easy for a player to report approaches by strangers. But things get more difficult when the person making the fix has joined a player's inner circle - as a manager or agent who gets you lucrative deals then asks for a few "favours" in return, or even a member of their own team, such as a senior player or captain, who holds the reins of a young career.

In the most recent Pakistan scandal, Mohammad Aamer claims to have known nothing about the alleged spot-fix at Lord's in England. He said he was only acting on the instructions of his captain, Salman Butt. Similar allegations against a captain (Wasim Akram) were made by Ata-ur-Rahman, the former Pakistan fast bowler, in his testimony to Justice Qayyum.

arizvi@thenational.ae