June 24, 2010

Live from the Warne-Waugh affair

Malcolm Conn
A look back at how the story of the involvement of two leading Australian players with bookmakers broke, 12 years ago

There was a buoyant mood flowing through the breakfast room of the Pearl Continental in Rawalpindi. Australia had just won a Test in Pakistan for the first time since 1959, with Stuart MacGill claiming nine wickets in just his second Test as a replacement for the injured Shane Warne.

But there were two significant absentees from this bonhomie on October 6, 1998, Mark Waugh and the team's security officer Reg Dickason.

From the time Australia had arrived in Pakistan, hearings had been taking place in the Lahore High Court surrounding allegations of match-fixing among Pakistani players. Waugh and Warne, who was recuperating at home following shoulder surgery, had previously given long-distance evidence against Saleem Malik for alleged offers of six-figure sums to underperform on Australia's previous Pakistan tour in 1994. These allegations had been dismissed by Malik and an earlier Pakistan inquiry.

But now Australia were in Pakistan, here was the chance for Waugh to give evidence in person. Where was he if he wasn't at breakfast?

Suspicious, I knocked on the door of team manager Steve Bernard, a former NSW fast bowler.

"Where's Mark Waugh?" I said.

"I can't say," he replied.

The penny dropped as the anger rose. Waugh had been whisked off to Lahore at sunrise and Australia's touring media had not been told. This clandestine operation was supposed to include a secret hearing, but there is little secret in Pakistan or its cricket.

The office rang from Sydney to say they had received a wire story that Mark Waugh was going to appear at a special sitting of the match-fixing hearing, and soon photos began circulating around the world of Dickason leading Waugh into the hearing.

When they arrived chairs were being arranged in a row.

"What are they for?" Asked Dickason.

"The media," came the reply, before Dickason put a stop to that.

It seems about the only people who did not know Waugh was to appear before the hearing were the touring Australian media.

After the hearing we spoke by phone to Waugh, who had reiterated that Malik offered him a large sum of money to underperform during the one-day series in 1994.

On the opening day of the second Test in Peshawar explosive allegations surfaced from the match-fixing hearing, with Safraz Nawaz claiming that Dean Jones had retired early because of match-fixing. Back in Australia, a furious Jones screamed his innocence from the rooftops and threatened to sue anyone who made the claim. Later, evidence emerged from Hansie Cronje's bookie, Mukesh Gupta, that Jones had in fact rejected a $50,000 offer on the 1992 tour of Sri Lanka.

With the hearing hotting up, I abandoned the Test and caught the first plane to Lahore the next morning. Mark Taylor, unbeaten overnight on 112, was on the way to 334 not out, equalling Bradman's highest score by an Australian.

Taylor was still batting on the television above the carousel at Lahore airport as I waited for my luggage.

"I'm glad I'm not bowling on that," a voice beside me said, referring to the flat Peshawar pitch. It was Wasim Akram, who had been a late withdrawal the day before.

"What's wrong?" I said.

"I've got a cold. I don't feel very well," he replied.

I'd never heard of an Australian pulling out of a Test because of a cold.

"What do you think of these match-fixing allegations," I asked.

"Rubbish. They're driving some of the poor guys mad," he said, before picking up his bag and disappearing into the crowd.

During a break on one of the hearing days I was shown a letter by a member of the Pakistan Cricket Board's legal team. Folded at the top and the bottom it was impossible to see who it was from, but it accused Mark Waugh of being involved with a bookmaker. I was aghast

Justice Malik Mohammad Qayyum sat high at the back of the Lahore High Court, looking down on what had been a continuing procession of Pakistan's finest current and recent former cricketers. All said they had heard rumours about match-fixing, but none apparently knew anything about it.

A large and imposing figure in his flowing black robes, Justice Qayyum looked like he was sitting on a throne in this large and majestic colonial red brick building dating back to the 1860s.

As any players, past or present, appeared, numerous people gathered around with pen and paper.

"Gee, the journalists are standing close to the action," I thought, watching from the back of the court. As the player finished giving evidence they were mobbed. These were autograph hunters in the middle of Pakistan's most important court.

During a break on one of the hearing days I was shown a letter by a member of the Pakistan Cricket Board's legal team. Folded at the top and the bottom it was impossible to see who it was from, but it accused Mark Waugh of being involved with a bookmaker. I was aghast.

Mark Waugh involved in match-fixing? Never. I went through his one-day figures on the subcontinent. They were outstanding. There were no obvious or unexplained patterns of failure.

I put the allegation to team manager Bernard, who said he would speak to Waugh.

Bernard later told me: "He denies ever betting on cricket or being involved in match-fixing."

I was convinced this was just a cheap attempt to discredit Waugh for giving evidence against Saleem Malik, and wrote a strongly worded piece saying as much.

During the Peshawar Test, an Indian who had done some liaison work with the team on a tour of India earlier that year flew in to watch the match. Knowing the players and management, he had access to the dressing rooms. Such was the hysteria about match-fixing in Pakistan at the time that one newspaper claimed the Indian had been linked to an illegal bookmaker and had influenced Taylor to declare after the second day, thus not breaking Bradman's record. Taylor's claim of wanting to leave enough time to win the game was not considered a good enough reason.

I wrote a furious piece about that too.

Later in the tour, a colleague and I hired a driver in Lahore to do some sight-seeing. He took us to a small shop in Old Lahore to buy some film. The first ICC Knockout was being played in Bangladesh, from where we had just returned after Australia were beaten by India. The omnipresent voice of Tony Greig blared from a small television as men milled around on both sides of the counter. One had a ledger book. I assumed he was doing the accounts.

When we left the shop our driver burst out laughing.

"What's up?" I said.

"That was a bookie shop," he spluttered. "They were betting on the cricket."

"How many shops are there like that?" I asked.

"They're everywhere," he said, still laughing.

A month later, back in Australia, there was a gala launch for the Ashes series in Brisbane and most of the crowd, including some players and officials, had adjourned to Ian Healy's night club, Adrenalin. In a dark corner of the noisy bar during the early hours of the morning, I asked someone about the allegations of Mark Waugh being involved with a bookmaker.

"That's right," he said above the dance music.

"What!?"

He began to explain how Mark Waugh had been fined by the then Australian Cricket Board for taking money from an illegal bookmaker to provide information.

So it wasn't match-fixing after all but selling information.

Desperate to get as much detail as possible, I borrowed a barman's pen and grabbed some coasters, writing furiously on the back of them and sticking them in my shirt pocket. Next morning I could hardly read my own writing but I began making phone calls.

A couple of weeks and two Tests later I met then ACB chief executive Malcolm Speed with a list of questions. He said "No comment" to every one.

I rang Mark Waugh. He denied it then added: "Who told you?"

More phone calls and I had enough to write. I rang Speed and told him I was going to publish. He told me to wait.

An hour or two later he rang, explaining that not only had Mark Waugh been fined A$8000, the amount he had received for selling information to illegal bookmakers, but Shane Warne had been fined $10,000 for the same offence.

I was gobsmacked. Warne too.

So why didn't Waugh give that evidence at the match-fixing hearing in Lahore during the Pakistan tour?

"He wasn't asked the question," Speed replied.

What a disgrace to the game and affront to Pakistan.

A two-day Pakistan hearing was subsequently set up in Melbourne to grill Waugh and Warne. There was never any evidence they had been involved in match-fixing.

The fines had been imposed in a small airport room before the team flew out to the West Indies in 1995 by then ACB chairman Alan Crompton and chief executive Graham Halbish, who later announced the decision to a board meeting and instituted a cover-up.

All hell broke loose when the story broke. Waugh and Warne, who was still recovering from shoulder surgery, read prepared statements at a press conference before the third Test against England in Adelaide, saying they had been naive and stupid. They did not answer questions. That was left to Speed, who had not been with the ACB at the time of the cover-up.

Waugh was booed when he went out to bat at the Adelaide Oval and made just 7.

Little more than a year later I covered the Hansie Cronje match-fixing hearing in Cape Town.

Cricket was never the same again.

Malcolm Conn, chief cricket writer at the Australian, was presented with a Walkley Award, Australia's most prestigious media award, for his Waugh-Warne expose

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