Cricket looks the loser after series of loose allegations from al-Jazeera

By Andy Bull

THE Qatar-based broadcaster has bundled three separate claims of malpractice into one documentary, bought some of its information from a self-proclaimed crook and seems likely to have plenty more explaining to do

The story goes that when the Australian Cricket Board knocked back Kerry Packer in 1976, Packer told them: “there’s a little bit of the whore in all of us, gentlemen, so name your price”. That line came to mind early on in al-Jazeera’s new documentary, Cricket’s Match-Fixers, when its undercover journalist, David Harrison, meets the alleged match fixer, Aneel Munawar, for the first time. Harrison asks Munawar if he ever has problems arranging fixes. “Actually,” Munawar tells him, “if you have the money, you will do anything.” Harrison opens up a suitcase full of cash and says: “I need to know from you what you are going to do to get that money, to earn it.”

It turns out that what Munawar is willing to do to get Harrison’s money is tell him stories about how he has fixed two Tests. He says he has arranged to have three English players score a certain number of runs in a 10-over section of the Test between England and India at Chennai in 2016, and two Australian players to do a similar thing in Australia’s Test against India at Ranchi in 2017. According to the documentary, Munawar told Harrison’s middle-man in advance roughly how many runs would be

The precise details of who was batting, when the passages of play occurred, and exactly how many runs were scored, have all been redacted. Which makes it impossible to say whether Munawar’s “fixes” were anything other than crude lies and clever guesses about how those passages of the Tests were going to play out. It is not really clear who’s conning who here, or what Harrison’s suitcase full of money is actually paying for. He thinks it has bought information about a fix, but given that his whole shtick is to present himself as a rube with a suitcase of money to lose, he may just have paid for a pair of tall stories.

England seemed completely baffled to find they had been dragged into this. “Ridiculous,” said Joe Root, “outrageous” said Trevor Bayliss. The England and Wales Cricket Board released an emphatic denial in which the chief executive, Tom Harrison, said: “There is nothing we have seen that would make us doubt any of our players in any way whatsoever.” Australia’s captain, Tim Paine, said they were “unsubstantiated claims” and, just like Harrison, the Cricket Australia chief executive, James Sutherland, questioned the credibility of the evidence. Rightly so, given that al-Jazeera bought it off a self-proclaimed crook. Best, as Root said, to “leave it to the people in charge to look after, because I’m sure it’s nothing”.

The people in charge are the ICC’s Anti Corruption Unit. It is going to be busy, because al-Jazeera bundled Munawar’s allegations up with two others from another source, one involving a scheme to doctor pitches in Galle, and another to set up a private league in Dubai. Five former cricketers, three of them internationals, appear on screen in this section of the film.

Two of them, Jeevantha Kulatunga – who insists he is innocent and is threatening legal action – and Tharindu Mendis, have already been suspended by Cricket Sri Lanka, and so has the curator at Galle.

It has been clear for some time that fixers are now going after people on the periphery of the game. Groundstaff who earn so little but who have so much influence over the conditions are an obvious target. The curator at Pune in India was suspended for failing to report an approach after being caught in a sting just last October, and there have been problems at Galle in the past, too, when a previous curator was suspended for two years after failing to cooperate with an ACU investigation.

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It is not just groundstaff. Two umpires were banned by Sri Lanka in 2013 after they were caught promising to help fix matches, and just last year Zimbabwe Cricket banned the treasurer of a regional cricket association because a bookie had persuaded him to try and recruit players into fixing a game against West Indies.

Then there is the business of the new private league in Dubai, which was never actually launched but was allegedly being designed with the sole aim of enabling the organisers to fix games. And again this fits with what we already know, in that the ACU launched an investigation into a private T20 league in the United Arab Emirates in January this year.

The problem is these three strands of the al-Jazeera investigation seem to contradict each other. Because the very reason that fixers have started exploring other ways to fix games, by going after groundstaff and setting up entirely new leagues is precisely because the security around international players is so much tighter.

Al-Jazeera presumably presented the three cases together because it wanted to build the impression that, as Harrison says, “match fixing in cricket is more widespread than ever”. Which is not true, but is at least a good reason for being in James Pycroft’s account of fixing in the Victorian era, from his book, The Cricket Field, which he wrote in 1854.

“Matches were bought, and matches were sold,” a former player tells Pycroft. But then another contradicts this: “You will find some to persuade you this is true, but don’t believe it.” Pycroft found that no one really knew who to believe. There was just too much scuttlebutt and innuendo. “Many was the time I have been blamed for selling when as innocent as a babe,” a player tells him. “In those days, when so much money was on the matches, every man who lost his money would blame someone. Then, if A missed a catch, or B made no runs – and where’s the player whose hand is always in? – that man was called a rogue.”

Cricket cannot afford to blithely dismiss any of al-Jazeera’s accusations, and the ACU will investigate them all, but Pycroft’s book is a good reminder that loose allegations can damage the game too. (The Guardian)

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