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'The ICC should run its own sting operations'

Geoff Boycott on what can be done to tackle corruption in cricket, South Africa's progress 20 years after readmission and their chances against Australia (21:29)

Producer: Siddhartha Talya

November 10, 2011


'The ICC should run its own sting operations'

November 10, 2011

Mohammad Amir and Salman Butt leave after attending the hearing, Doha, 11 January, 2011
Sympathy for Mohammad Amir, none for his captain © AFP

Siddhartha Talya: Hello and welcome to Bowl at Boycs. I'm Siddhartha Talya, and joining me today from Cape Town in South Africa is Geoffrey Boycott. Good evening, Geoffrey. How do you do?

Geoffrey Boycott: I'm pretty good. I'm looking forward to going to the Test match on Wednesday, the first day of South Africa v Australia. I'm looking forward to watching that in sunshine instead of the cold weather in England.

ST: We do have a question on the Australia-South Africa series and we'll get to that in a bit. But I'd like to start off by asking you about your reaction to the convictions in the spot-fixing case and the prison sentences that have been handed out to Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir and Mazhar Majeed. You wrote in your article in the Daily Telegraph just a few days back that the players might have got off lightly with those sentences. Why do you say that?

GB: They've hurt the game so badly, and certainly as captain, he [Butt] is the leader of the team and there's the senior bowler - they're old enough, wise enough, mature enough and have been around and played lots of cricket. They know what they were doing was really wrong.

The only guy I feel some sympathy for is the young kid [Amir], just 18 years of age. When you're 18 and you go into a cricket team and the captain tells you to do something… you're told that you should follow the captain's lead. So it's very difficult when you're 18 and trying to make it into any team to tell the captain that you're not going to do it. You have to be very strong and very mature for your age. Most 18-year-olds wouldn't know what to do - they'll just follow the captain, because the captain is everything. If you don't follow the orders you're in big trouble, so I do have some sympathy for the kid.

But the other two and the agent who set it all up, I have no sympathy at all. I would have put them in jail and thrown away the key. I understand that in today's society you can't do that. You have to give them hope of some rehabilitation after many years there. But, for my money, they've hurt the game so badly, the game we all love, that I really don't care what happens to them. They got off very lightly indeed.

ST: There have been questions raised about the effectiveness of the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, and we'll revisit this subject a little later in the show.

But let's start off with our first question of the day and it comes from Arnold in Australia. He says: It's a shame that Australia and South Africa are playing just two Test matches. Who do you think stands the best chance to win? There's one team that hasn't played a Test since the World Cup and the other isn't doing too badly under Michael Clarke since he took over as captain. Who are your favourites and who are the players you'll be watching very closely?

GB: I'm more interested in seeing how, say, Graeme Smith goes. He had a lot of stick here after the World Cup. He lost a lot of credibility. There are a lot of people calling for his head. He's been a very good cricketer for South Africa; whether he's been a good captain is a different matter, but he's certainly been a good batsman. He had an injury layoff and he has relinquished the one-day captaincy, so he's only captain for the Tests. I think he's under a bit of pressure - not just the cricket, which is always tough when you play Australia, but he's under pressure from the public. I don't think he's getting the wide-ranging support from everybody here in South Africa, probably for the first time in this situation. He's been lauded and praised here in South Africa but he didn't come home with the World Cup players and so forth. They were pretty disappointed with their performances.

Also, Jacques Rudolph, he's the new opening batsman in the squad. I hope he plays and I hope he gets a bit of good fortune. He's been out of the team for about five years. He's been playing for Yorkshire, which is my club, where Sachin Tendulkar played. He's a highly successful player, beautiful boy, lovely lad. He plays for Titans in Northern Transvaal here in South Africa. He's been successful with Yorkshire and with the Titans. He was a young batsman, remember. When he was playing for South Africa, he got a double-hundred, two other hundreds and was picked to play a Test match in Sydney against Australia. And just not long before the start, they'd done all the warm-ups, the president of South Africa [CSA] came in, a man from Cape Town, and said he wanted another coloured or black player playing, for their policy after apartheid - where you need so many coloured or black people playing. Jacques was replaced right at the last moment and that was really hurtful. It almost destroyed him and the boy [Justin Ontong] who was put in his place. He's in an interesting situation here. We've got a boy that's going to get a chance again to open for his country. I'm interested in seeing how he does.

AB de Villiers, a big test for him. There's a lot of talk about him taking over the one-day side, but he hasn't played for a while. He played a match on Sunday in a limited-overs competition here, made 12 and was given out obstructing the field when he got in the line of the fielder throwing the ball at the stumps. I think that's a harsh rule but it's a new rule that's been incorporated. He's probably going to play. He's a talented player, a brilliant fielder. But he hasn't played for a while, and I'd like to see how he goes.

South Africa have some top bowlers in Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. That'll be interesting.

I'm going to see how Ricky Ponting goes for Australia. He's been their key player, their best player, for maybe a decade. Now he's relinquished the captaincy, Clarke's going to form his own side, he's just going to play as a player - it's pretty difficult. It's not easy - not impossible, but not easy towards the end of your career to carry on just as a batsman. Your reflexes are slowing down, you're much older. Yes, you're much wiser and mature, but your batting is not quite what it was - you're still good but not very good. That's going to be interesting to see. I hope he does well. He's been a credit to the game and to Australian cricket.

I like Clarke's batting but I'm not really convinced about him as a captain. He doesn't spark me as a guy who is intuitive, who's going to lead the men. Maybe I'm wrong.

And then, there's Mitchell Johnson. Except for the Perth Test match against England, where he got wickets on a fast, bouncy pitch, he was pretty poor to ordinary against England. He is their match-winning bowler. He bowls sharp left-arm across the right-handers. Is he going to be able to get up for the Test match? I'd like to see if he has recaptured his ability to win Test matches, because he was pretty ordinary against England, let me tell you.

ST: I know it's just two Test matches, which is too few, but if you were to pick one side to win, which one would that be?

GB: I'm not sure, to be honest. I really feel that South Africa, playing well, could win. Australia really had a poor time against England, so they have to regroup. I have a lot of respect for Australians. There's a lot of Yorkshire in Australians, or there's a lot of Australians in Yorkshiremen. They're tough cookies - proud, fight hard. They need to regroup and have started thinking of one or two newcomers, one or two young lads moving forward, because it won't be long before they play England again, you know. They'll be playing England again in the beginning of 2013. I really don't know who to pick, but I really do like the South African fast bowlers, Steyn and Morkel. South Africa catch well and I think they can do some damage.

ST: Sticking to South Africa, it was 20 years ago, in November 1991, that they made their re-entry into international cricket with a three-match series in India. Related to that is a question from Aaron in the United Kingdom. Aaron asks: Geoffrey, what were your expectations of South Africa's cricketing future when they returned to international cricket and have those expectations been met vis-à-vis their progress both on and off the field?

GB: On the field, excellent. If you came to South Africa, like I do a lot, there are so many fine cricketers here. And the main thing is, cricket is still very big in the schools. The schools of South Africa all play cricket. So, on the field, very good. They keep turning out players, and the great thing is, now that you've got integrated education, coloured, black people, all together, it's a better community and guys are coming through on ability. You're not having to push people ahead just because they are coloured or black. They're actually getting there on their own ability, which is wonderful, really.

"Every country today is aware of the threat of terrorism. We have a secret service, we have the MI6 in England. They keep their eyes and ears to the ground, trying to find out people who are going to do bad things in the community, like blowing things up, before they happen. That's what cricket has to do"

But off the field there have been, and still are, differences of opinion on how they have moved forward. For a long time they were bound by the yesteryears of apartheid, of white domination. There were still people here, once they were in power, [who wanted to] have a payback time for the time when black and coloured people were disenfranchised. So South African sport has had this quota system in a number of its teams - provincial teams, its rugby teams, all its teams, never mind the cricket teams. They've had affirmative action, which means if you've got two people going for a job, [and] one's a white, one's coloured and one's black, the coloured or black person has to be given priority to move people forward. That sounds all right in principle but you could be putting people in jobs when they may not be the best person for the job. So many people were disenfranchised under apartheid, you could understand why many people want to have a payback time.

Ideally what you want is a multicultural society where, always, the best players get selected. Everybody lives together - white, coloured, black, doesn't matter. Unfortunately life isn't that perfect. But whatever problems South Africa has and has had, on the whole I think South African cricket is in good shape and is strong. The more we get away from the time of apartheid, since Nelson Mandela came in… he was the perfect man to take over, he showed no bitterness or resentment for all the awful time and years he spent in jail; he showed everybody that there is another way forward rather than payback. My impression is that slowly and surely it is getting better. I think we'll get a period - maybe not too [far] in the future - where we won't need to have affirmative action or quota systems, and people will be picked on merit because the young people will have had great education, they'll have been at school - white, black, coloured all together. In the not-too-distant future, I cross my fingers, it'll get even better. But I sense it's doing okay. It could be better but it's doing okay.

ST: The question that Geoffrey has picked as his favourite for this show comes from Aakash in India. Quite unsurprisingly, it's got to do with the convictions and the sentences handed out to the three players after the spot-fixing controversy.

Aakash says: While the sentences send out a strong message, how can cricket keep a tab on match-fixing instead of having to rely on sting operations like the one conducted by the News of the World? The ACSU, the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, has been referred to as a toothless tiger by some players and former cricketers. But aren't there limits to what the ICC and the ACSU can do? In this battle against corruption in cricket, what more can be done?

GB: There are things you can do. To not do anything is just not right. You have to try. The most important thing, though you might not get anywhere, is to try to ask, implore and even persuade the Indian government to legalise cricket betting. At the moment, as I understand it, it's okay to bet at horse races, but in cricket it's not. I don't understand why or what the difference is. By making it illegal, it helps the bookmakers stay in business and opens the door to corruption. It's just the same as when you had prohibition in America, where you weren't allowed alcohol. You allowed in the corrupt people didn't you? You allowed in the gangsters like Al Capone. It's no good castigating the Indian government. You've got to ask them, implore them and persuade them that this is the first thing that will take a lot of money away from the bookies.

If you had the Indian government organise betting shops where everybody could go and bet on cricket legally, that will be a huge step forward. That way the government could make money out of the betting; it could put that money back in the community in whatever way it wanted, or it could make sure that the money that they won went back in excellent winnings to the punters. If the winnings were so big, the odds were so good for punters, they'd want to use organised legal betting shops rather than go to backstreet illegal bookmakers. That's the first thing, I would say. But it's [not easy] convincing the government. It takes forever to get anything done at the government level, doesn't it? Sadly, and that is in all countries, yours and mine.

I think the ICC can do their own sting operations to catch cheats, corrupt cricketers, corrupt agents, bookmakers. You're just waiting for something to happen, and [then you] start wringing your hands like Uriah Heep in Charles Dickens. It's not the answer. Taking mobile phones off the players is no big deal, let's be honest about it. Most cricketers today earn huge amounts of money. They're top of the treatment, are players. Look at the money they make out of IPL. Most cricketers have two, three or four phones, so if they give you one or two, they've still got one or two others. These days many players are sponsored by mobile phone companies. And they're so well off that paying for extra phones is no hardship. So [the ICC will] have to start doing their own sting operations.

Thirdly, put it this way: Every country today is aware of the threat of terrorism. We have the MI6 in England. They keep their eyes and ears to the ground, trying to find out people who are going to do bad things in the community, like blowing things up, before they happen. That's what cricket has to do. It has to get out there and try and find out who the bookmakers are, and make these sting operations work and be preventive rather than waiting till we get three Pakistani players and an agent in court.

We all know, deep down, that this has been going on for years and years. We know it in our hearts, our heads tell us. The whispering that goes on. Proving it is difficult. I could name you names of players I've heard stories about, who have been involved and made money out of illegal betting. But I wouldn't dream of mentioning it in public, because unless you can prove it, it's slanderous to abuse somebody's name, and I wouldn't do that. It's an awful thing. But we've all heard stories, and you think, well, why don't they go undercover? Like the News of the World did. It's a good thing that they did. I know sometimes newspapers do terrible things but this was a good thing to go undercover and find out. We need operatives paid for by the ICC to go out there and not wait until somebody else finds it. We should be doing something proactive, not just taking mobile phones off people.

ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat and anti-corruption and security unit chairman Sir Ronnie Flanagan address the media at Lord's, September 3 2010
"We need operatives paid for by the ICC to go out there and not wait until somebody else finds it" © PA Photos

I know the ICC does educational programmes. It has people going to players in all the countries, telling them about bookmakers, illegal betting, not to get into it when someone comes up to you. That's all very good, educationally. But we need something to be done. We need people to go out and try these sting operations to catch people. The more people you catch, bookmakers and players, and try and get the courts to get them bigger and bigger sentences, the more you'll stop it because you'll frighten the bells out of the players that they won't dare do it.

It's hurting the game badly, because every single result that is unusual or unexpected, people are already saying, "Well, I bet that was a fix. Do you think any money changed hands there?" The game is tainted already.

Cricket and sport, generally, have thrown up unusual results and unusual happenings. That's the variety and spice of the game. But now the first thing you think about is: "Hang on, was that a true result or has there been fiddling going on? Has there been cheating?" And when you start thinking like that, all of us, it hurts the game badly.

ST: But Geoffrey, given that the ACSU is not a law-enforcement agency, it does have limits to its jurisdiction. While it may have some bookmakers on its radar and may warn players against meeting them, one wonders if it can actually indulge in entrapment or sting operations.

GB: There's nothing illegal about doing a sting operation. There's nothing illegal in it. It's not against the law. And if you find something out, you take it to the police authorities. Even Hansie Cronje didn't get caught by the ICC, he got caught by your Indian police, who were actually listening to conversations on a mobile phone of a bookie. They were trying to catch the bookie. They are the ones who need praise. It wasn't the ICC that caught them. Tell me who the ICC has caught. They have counted a lot of mobile phones when teams have been playing, but they haven't bloody caught anybody. And they've spent a lot of money collecting these mobile phones and trying to educate people. So it hasn't been a success, has it? So, for my money, if something's not a success and you're not getting success, you try something different. It's because what you're doing, even if it is with the best of intentions, it ain't got results, has it?

ST: Right, thanks a lot Geoffrey. That's all we have for today's show. Don't forget to send in your questions using our feedback form and we'll have Geoffrey back again in a couple of weeks. Until the next time, it's goodbye from all of us at ESPNcricinfo.

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