England news April 3, 2012

Essex deny Westfield wrongdoing

David East, the Essex chief executive, has strongly defended his club's handling of the spot-fixing episode that saw Mervyn Westfield become the first English professional to receive a prison sentence for cricketing corruption.

In Essex's first major public statement on the affair that ended English cricket's pretensions of innocence, East categorically denied any wrongdoing on the part of the club and insisted that he reported the allegations to the ECB "immediately" he became aware of them.

He also said that prior to the events of August 2010 - when a newspaper sting operation uncovered a spot-fixing ring operating within the Pakistan team - there was a naivety within the domestic game regarding the issue that may have caused the delay in reporting Westfield and Kaneria's behaviour to the proper authorities.

Westfield, a former Essex fast bowler, was jailed for four months in January after he admitted underperforming in a Pro-40 match against Durham in September 2009.

Danish Kaneria, the former Pakistan spinner and Essex overseas player, was named by the judge at the Old Bailey as the orchestrator of the plot while it also emerged in court that Kaneria had approached several other Essex players including James Foster and Varun Chopra in the summer of 2009, but no report was made to the ECB until March 2010.

It was only when the Professional Cricketers' Association, the players' union, made a presentation on the dangers of corruption in cricket to all counties in the spring of 2010 that Essex's players - and, in particular, Tony Palladino, a seamer in whom Westfield had confided his secret - realised the significance of previous events and made their concerns known to the ECB.

"I think the whole game has learned lessons in terms of what happened," East told ESPNcricinfo. "This was unprecedented territory for the whole game and in 2009 we were in a very different place in terms of awareness of potential risk to the domestic cricket for match fixing or spot fixing.

"We've all learned an awful lot from it and I think the game is in a better shape going forward now, having had this very, very difficult experience."

East admitted he could understand the concerns of those who questioned the delay in reporting any inappropriate approaches, but insisted that the game owed a debt of gratitude to Essex's players for coming forward with the information once they realised its significance.

"I do understand those concerns and we are very satisfied that once our players were aware of the situation they acted in a prompt manner and dealt with it through the appropriate channels," East said.

"If it wasn't for the Essex players actually making those reports this whole matter could have gone unreported completely so we're comfortable with that and we just really need to move on from this now.

"This is something which has been extremely distracting for the club for the last couple of years and it would be nice to go through into 2012 focusing entirely on our cricket."

East said the reporting delay was caused because the players had felt Kaneria was joking when he talked about the potential benefits of spot fixing. "That is what was reported in court and that is very true, he said. "I think with some of these things, with the benefit of hindsight, there are certain comments that may have been made.

East told how he first heard of the allegations when he was in India with Essex's chairman, Nigel Hillard. "We were both made aware of it in 2010 and acted immediately in terms of escalating it to the ECB. We dealt with it immediately as soon as we were aware of it."

He also defended the controversial decision to reengage Kaneria for the 2010 season. By the time the season started several members of the playing and coaching staff had made it clear that they did not want the Pakistan bowler back in the team, but Essex had previously agreed a deal for the season and felt that, without firm evidence, there was no way out of that contract. "We were contractually obliged to have Danish back and so we honoured our contract," Essex said.

The ECB continues to consider the evidence against Kaneria and it has yet decide whether to bring formal disciplinary proceedings against him. He was questioned by Essex police in March 2010, but released on grounds of insufficient evidence.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo