May 18, 2014

Empower the ACSU to clean up T20

An independent ACSU must be allowed to pursue its own investigations and impose penalties if the game's custodians are serious about stamping out corruption in T20 leagues

England, India and Australia have stripped the ICC's capacity to work independently of the interests of its most powerful members, and there's nothing to say that they all agree on the ACSU's role © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

"Everything is connected."

This was the tagline of Syriana, a 2005 film that examined the nexus that had formed between Middle Eastern nations, big oil corporations in the USA and China, and governments trying to manage their interests through a combination of diplomacy, due diligence and espionage. The film could be an initially dense and confusing experience but with each successive viewing it made increasing, unsettling sense.

Its labyrinthine plot and cast sprang to mind this week as news of "big three" plans to reform the ACSU was followed swiftly by the revelation of the anti-corruption body's fixing investigation around the testimony of the former New Zealand batsman Lou Vincent. Both stories fit George Orwell's definition of journalism as "printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations", and their proximity to one another left many questions about how a report into the ACSU may affect its current and future investigations.

For a unit that values secrecy and discretion so highly, the leaking of detail about Vincent's account of corruption in domestic T20 leagues was highly unusual, as was the subsequent dump of a 2012 report detailing the many corruption leads being followed at the time. Both documents were distributed well beyond the ACSU itself, into ICC and board circles, leaving plenty of possible sources for their airing. Wherever they sprang from, it was timely for evidence of the ACSU's work to float to the surface at a time when the body is under concerted review by England, India and Australia. These nations have furnished themselves with integrity units while at the same time stripping away the ICC management's capacity to work independently of the interests of its most powerful members.

Irrespective of what the ICC's chief executive David Richardson said in a firmly worded statement last week, there can be little doubt that any review of the ACSU in the current climate of governance change will result in its operations being more closely bound to those of the game's dominant nations. This is not to say that those nations all want the same outcome from the review, for opinions of the ACSU, how independent it should be and how it might best function vary greatly among those in positions of influence at the ECB, BCCI and Cricket Australia.

Lance Armstrong's case showed how far cycling's drug cheats advanced ahead of those trying to police them. Vincent's apparent confessions confirm that in T20 a similar gap still exists

But the underlying sense is that the Vincent case and others show the ACSU to be a vital, useful and influential force in protecting the game from those who would not hesitate to sully it with even greater corruption than that described in the leaked ICC reports. The scale of the problem as depicted in the 2012 report provided unsettling evidence that the unit actually requires greater resources rather than less - contrary to the suggestions of those who had previously spun the line that at a cost of US$5.5 million a year the ACSU was not worth the trouble.

Anyone who cares to look closely enough at T20 will concede that the aforementioned figure is small change next to the money that would disappear from myriad competitions if they were exposed as more WWE than MCC. Take this Sydney Morning Herald passage by the late Peter Roebuck in 2008 on the ICL, part of a prescient warning that T20 had allowed the bookies back in after the years following the exposure of Hansie Cronje:

"Certainly, the ICL inquiries have shattered any lingering complacency that the game was squeaky clean. Conversations with IPL players suggest that the official brand is equally vulnerable to outside forces. No stone must be left unturned to rid the game of malefactors. After all, the IPL includes numerous players of untarnished reputation entitled to be treated with respect and protected from the unsavoury. To that end, the BCCI and IPL need to step up their anti-corruption activities."

The evolution of a system whereby the integrity units of each nation work more closely with the ACSU would thus be valuable, particularly when information gathered across countries over a period of years can build a far stronger case than isolated instances viewed from the boundary in the IPL, Champions League or other matches. Lance Armstrong's case showed how far cycling's drug cheats advanced ahead of those trying to police them, and that the sport's governors could have been far more vigorous in the pursuit. Vincent's apparent confessions confirm that in T20 a similar gap still exists.

Key to closing it is empowering the ACSU to not merely pass information along to the boards running the tournaments but to make independent investigations and initiate proceedings against those found to be transgressing, whether they be players, umpires, coaches or administrators. For the moment, the unit's primary job is merely to observe and report on T20 leagues, compiling evidence and leaving it up to the boards themselves to decide on taking matters further. A depressing fact of the past six years is that only Bangladesh has chosen to do so, resulting in the fall of Mohammad Ashraful. It would be gullible in the extreme to presume the BCB is the only board to have been presented with enough evidence for similar action.

Such a separation of powers, and the fostering of a totally independent watchdog for cricket, would require a disentanglement from the current web of relationships existing between players, boards, sponsors, broadcasters and T20 tournaments that has generated untold amounts of money in a format sold not so much as sport but entertainment. While it is commonplace for the game's custodians to speak of protecting "the brand" by keeping it above suspicion of dodgy dealings, full disclosure of the levels of corrupt practice in the game would put these rivers of gold at risk to everyone involved, and leave more than a few banished from cricket.

And so we are returned to Syriana and the memorable defence offered by the American oil man Danny Dalton to accusations of impropriety being probed by the US Department of Justice.

"Corruption charges! Corruption? Corruption is government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulation. That's Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel Prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around in here instead of fighting over scraps of meat out in the streets..."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig