Cricket was left in its habitual state of reeling yesterday by the latest revelations of match-rigging.
The punch-drunk feeling was natural after a week in which corruption has been the game's constant companion, fed a little by direct accusation but grown fat on innuendo, implication, rumour and suspicion.
The News of the World’s report, sensational and thorough though it was, barely took the issue further. A fourth player is reported to be under investigation, although the ICC refused to confirm that. Salman Butt, the team's Test captain, and the bowlers, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer, have been provisionally suspended by the ICC and charged with various breaches of the anti-corruption code. They have also been questioned under caution by the police and may face criminal charges.
In the claim and counter-claims being made, with matches from six years ago now said to have been fixed, the newspaper too came in for censure. An interview with the batsman, Yasir Hameed, was criticised for being misleading, putting words into his mouth and misinterpreting Urdu.
The short video of the longer interview confirms some of the suspicion. Hameed is quoted by the newspaper, in what appears to be damning testimony, as saying: “They were doing it [fixing] in every match. God knows what they were up to. Scotland Yard has been after them for ages.”
But Hameed seems certainly to have been referring to what he had read in the previous week's newspaper. The exchange that actually took place has the reporter saying to Hameed: “They've said it's been taking place in every match.” To which Hameed says: “About that figure.” When the reporter says: “Are you sure?” Hameed says: “Only God would know that” and then admits he's quoting the NOTW sting with the words “this is what reports are saying, that Scotland Yard has been after them for a long time.”
These are semantic but crucial differences in a story of this magnitude, which has caused so much soul-searching. The repercussions have been so immense that the very fabric of the international game has been threatened.
Hameed, who is now back home in Pakistan mentions in the conversation that he too has been approached in the past by illegal bookmakers on the sub-continent and offered up to £150,000. Though he turned it down, he seemingly did not report such an approach as he should have done under the ICC code.
After yet another day when the whole of cricket felt under suspicion, the ICC could only reiterate its stance that wrongdoers would face severe punishments, taken to mean life bans. However, profound sympathy was being expressed for the 18-year-old wizard of swing, Aamer. He is alleged to have bowled two of the three pre-arranged no-balls in the fourth Test at Lord's, the balls which are the main subject of police and ICC investigations. There are suggestions that Aamer may have had little choice to do what he was told. But the ICC has made it plain that he would have been made aware of his responsibilities under the anti-corruption code — not once but at least three or four times.
Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the new head of the ICC's anti-corruption and security unit, said: “There will always be crooked people, always people seeking to make illegal profit and we must always be vigilant against such people.
“We need to be continuously vigilant that players are not tempted and drawn into this sort of behaviour but it will happen from time to time. With the numbers of people involved in playing we would be naive to think that nobody is ever involved but I don't think they are numerous and I don't think it's the major problem that people are purporting that it is.”