New Delhi: Illegal Indian bookmakers remain uncowed by successful prosecutions against professional cricketers involved in match-fixing judging by an undercover investigation by the Sunday Times. The UK newspaper has brought yet more claims that corruption opportunities remain rife and have again brought into question the ability of the ICC to police the game without concerted support from the authorities worldwide. (Also read: Home boards should do more to crack down on fixing: Ex-ICC Chief)
The ICC has routinely promised that it will investigate the claims uncovered by the newspaper's investigation. An Indian bookmaker boasted that he and his associates could fix games worldwide, but no specific players or matches were mentioned. (Also Read: ICC to probe county match-fixing charges)
The bookmaker repeated claims that a match in the later stages of the World Cup last year was fixed, but offered no evidence to substantiate rumours that first surfaced on internet websites even as the match was taking place. (Also Read: Was India vs Pakistan World Cup semi-final fixed?)
Among the most startling claims is that bookmakers have now resorted to honey traps by using Bollywood actresses to tempt cricketers into corruption. Players holding discussions with unidentified businessmen are now immediately under suspicion, but beautiful girls have tracked cricketers on tour since the game began and the tactic could prove harder for the ICC to monitor and control.
In the past six months, jail sentences have been meted out to three Pakistan players - Salman Butt, captain at the time, and two fast bowlers, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif; Meryvn Westfield has become the first player to receive a custodial sentence for fixing in English county cricket; and, in the High Court in London, Chris Cairns' libel action against the former IPL commissioner, Lalit Modi, has brought allegations about corruption in the now-defunct Indian Cricket League into focus.
Add barely concealed concerns within the international players' association (FICA) about the potential for corruption in Bangladesh's new Twenty20 league and the ICC's anti-corruption unit will be keenly aware that it has reached a pivotal point in its worldwide attempts to clean up the game.
The Sunday Times investigation reported the bookmaker's claims that "tens of thousands of pounds are on offer to fix matches, typically £44,000 ($70,000) to batsmen for slow scoring; £50,000 ($80,000) for bowlers who concede runs; and as much as £750,000 ($1.2m) to players or officials who can guarantee the outcome of a match."
The bookmaker, surreptitiously captured on low-quality video, boasted that he could fix big international events such as Test matches, Twenty20s, games in both the Indian Premier League and Bangladesh Premier League, and county matches in England. The person reportedly told the paper that English county cricket was a growing market for fixing since the matches were low profile.
Suggestions that English county matches are particularly vulnerable "because nobody monitors them" accentuates the belief that county cricket faces one of the most crucial seasons in its history.
A Delhi bookmaker was reported as saying: "English county cricket is a good new market. They are low-profile matches and nobody monitors them. That's why good money can be made there without any hassle if we can get the players to play for us."
The ECB has already strengthened its anti-corruption education programme in the wake of the Westfield affair with all players instructed to complete an awareness course before the start of the 2012 season and the establishment of a hotline at Lord's to report suspicious activities.
Another bookmaker claimed that he had worked with players from most of the main cricketing nations to fix games, but that he had turned down the chance to work with New Zealand players because it was not worthwhile with more lucrative match-fixing opportunities on offer in the IPL. "I was invited to strike a deal with some New Zealanders but I didn't go," he said. "The IPL starts on April 4; then everyone will be doing it." (Also Read: New Zealand Cricket slams 'baseless' fixing claims)
The newspaper quoted an ICC spokesman as saying: "Betting on cricket in the legal and illegal markets continues to grow rapidly and, with many, many millions of dollars being bet on every match, the threat of corrupters seeking to influence the game has not gone away."