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Spectre of fixing haunts South African cricket

Jean Symes and Thami Tsolekile received bans for their involvement in corruption Getty Images

A ghost flitted through South African cricket on Monday. The ghost of corruption, of something that is just not cricket. The ghost of match-fixing.

None of the five cricketers sanctioned by CSA in 2016 have anywhere near the profile of Hansie Cronje. Gulam Bodi was a spent force by the time he was linked to match-fixing. The same could be said for Thami Tsolekile, who is the only other international in the group, and Ethy Mbhalati, who recently had a benefit year at the end of a career that spanned more than a decade. Pumelela Matshikwe and Jean Symes were not well known but they were promising talents, perhaps with unfulfilled potential. But none were household names.

They have also not been dealt the punishment Cronje was. He was banned for life; these players will be kept out of the game for between seven and 20 years, perhaps because their wrongdoing was not deemed as great. Cronje admitted to accepting money to influence the outcome of international matches, the five here have admitted to varying roles in attempting to manipulate domestic cricket. CSA has maintained it have no evidence a fix was actually carried out.

In the end, that may not actually matter. The thought was there, some of the steps were taken and while South African cricket may not miss this quintet it will feel the effects of their actions in the following ways.

Uncertainty
The first warnings of match-fixing came out 10 months ago, in November 2015 but still the investigation has not reached its conclusion. That leaves the matter open to more speculation, fans unsure of whether their game is clean and players on tenterhooks. Judge Bernard Ngoepe, the chairman of CSA's Anti-Corruption Unit, explained the reasons for the slow pace of proceedings but gave no indication how much longer it would remain pending.

"Some people might have thought the process was too slow," he said. "If it has to be slow, so be it. We take our work seriously and it must be remembered that we need to have something concrete to trigger an investigation.

"We do not engage in witch hunts. Whatever we do, we do it with a purpose. bearing in mind, we are dealing with the future of people, in some instances very young people, and not forgetting our primary responsibility which is to protect the integrity of the sport. We neither rush nor deliberately go slow. Adequate balancing is needed because you might, out of excitement or undue haste, destroy the future of people or harm the very cause you want to promote."

Ngoepe explained it had been difficult to get witnesses to co-operate in the face of increasing attention while Haroon Lorgat, CSA's chief executive, appealed for discretion in the media.

"As is the case with investigations of this nature, be it ordinary malpractices in life, you do find that people are hesitant in coming forward and giving at once and right at the beginning all the new information that you need," Ngoepe said. "Under those circumstances, you need to know how to deal with people, how to approach them, how to point out the advantages of cleaning up the sport which will be in the interest of everybody, including the people themselves. Despite some malpractices, we must accept that they too love the sport."

Lorgat added: "I would appeal to the media, sometimes part of the reason for the delay is because we are able to coax a potential witness to a point but then the media speculates and you create nervousness or fear among potential witnesses and we lose anything between three and and four weeks to get back to the position we were. Please understand when we say we are not in a position to make further comment."

South Africa's T20 league
These five players all admitted to attempting to influence aspects of South Africa's T20 tournament, its highest-profile domestic event. CSA has been trying for years to bring this competition more in line with leagues around the world but has been unable to do so for reasons ranging from scheduling to the weak Rand failing to attract major foreign names. In the 2017-18 season, CSA plans to repackage the Ram Slam as a global T20 tournament, for which it will own the rights. It will do so with the shadow of match-fixing hanging over the event but Lorgat insists it will not sabotage aims to turn it into a showpiece.

"CSA is fortunate in that, it's got a suite of sponsors that are very confident in the way we administer and govern the game. They are aware of the investigation and the way we go about it," he said. "I'm confident we will be able to reposition our league."

The title sponsor of the competition in its current form, Ram, said it would be reviewing its backing of the event when Bodi was banned. It has not yet indicated what it will do after the latest round of bans.

Transformation
In increasingly politicised times in South African sport, it is impossible to ignore that three of the four cricketers banned on Monday were black Africans and two of them - Tsolekile and Mbhalati - seniors at their franchise. With CSA's focus on transformation, which now includes targets in the national team as well as franchise sides, this is a setback and Lorgat admitted as much.

"Any senior player who is lost to the system is one too many," he said. "The fact that they happen to be black players is probably a particular issue because we are so focused on transformation. It does impact us."

But he was careful to ask that stereotypes are not perpetuated. "I don't believe that corruption is unique to any race or creed," he said. "Bookmakers will attempt to corrupt anybody they believe they can get to."

Ngoepe responded to the implication that players from more disadvantaged backgrounds would be more vulnerable to corruption. "On another day your question could have been given their poor background, would they not have been more vulnerable and taken advantage of," he said. "You can look at me and decide whether I am white or black but I don't subscribe to the notion that because you come from a poor or disadvantaged background, you should open yourself up to corruption. That should never be justification for being corrupt."