ECB enhances corruption monitoring for domestic Twenty20
As England's domestic Twenty20 tournament bursts into life with the first round of matches already underway, Steve Elworthy, the ECB's head of communication and marketing, has outlined the lengths to which English cricket has gone in order to ensure that its competitions are not tainted by scandal and corruption, as the spectre of 'spot-fixing' hangs over the county game.
"We've specifically asked the ACSU [The ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit] to enhance their monitoring of the tournament, so we're working with them closely," Elworthy told reporters shortly before the first game of the Friends Provident t20 tournament, between Sussex, the reigning champions, and Somerset, last year's runners-up, at Hove .
"The Professional Cricketers Association are also working with the ACSU in terms of the education of the players," he added. "I've seen all the text, all the content that's been sent to them in terms of their education and how they can report, where they report anonymously and the number of different areas and ways they can do it."
The ICC has gone to great lengths to clean up international cricket after the extent of potential corruption became clear in the wake of the Hansie Cronje scandal in 2000, but as the outgoing chief of the ACSU, Lord Condon, reiterated at Lord's last week, there is still no room for complacency despite all the effort that has been put in.
The ease of access to matches for bookmakers, through satellite TV and the internet, means cricket is still vulnerable, and especially so in domestic tournaments that do not attract the same amount of attention as international fixtures, and tend to have more meaningless matches that increase the potential for temptation.
"Obviously, we need to eradicate it [match-fixing] out of the sport so we're working pro-actively with the ACSU, so that if any approaches are made it's something that's reported and dealt with correctly," Elworthy stressed. "It's something that's very closely monitored, specifically from my point of view, but also from a PCA education of the players' point of view, they work with them very closely."
The Friends Provident t20 is extensively covered by Sky Sports, and any county game that is shown on television in the UK is also available in India and Pakistan through a reciprocal agreement. That opens the way for the illegal market of betting, which is still believed to be rife on the subcontinent despite extensive attempts to clean up the game, but Elworthy believes that better policing of the problem of illegal betting, rather than tampering with television rights, is the way forward.
"As far as not televising the matches in India and places like that, I don't think you can do that. It's a vital market in terms of television revenue, so I would hate to see that. It's just the policing of it [that's important].
"The players are given people to phone about any approaches, so that mechanism is in place and they can do that anonymously. It's the way to do it and it's the only way that we can try and stamp this out."
But the problem remains a serious one. Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh's captain, recently revealed that he was approached by a man whom he believed wanted him to manipulate the outcome of an ODI against Ireland in 2008, and Cricinfo understands that two of his team-mates were approached ahead of the same fixture. Meanwhile bookmakers also attempted to make contact with two Australian players during the World Twenty20 in England last June.
That the rot may well have spread to domestic cricket is evidenced by the fact that two Essex players are currently under investigation for spot fixing, while questions still surround certain games in the now defunct ICL. While Condon stated that he had no reason to believe that IPL3 was tainted in any way, given the heavy involvement of the ACSU, the necessary infrastructure had not been in place for the first two editions of the tournament.
As Twenty20 cricket continues to expand through competitions such the ECB's latest version, it is vital that measures are in place to preserve their integrity and Elworthy believes the groundwork is being done to ensure that this is the case.
"What we've tried to do is put the building blocks in place of a tournament that has integrity," he said. "We've got a couple of years to build this tournament up into something, and from our point of view we've got those building blocks in place."
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor of ESPNcricinfo