How the ACSU really works

Hell in a handcart

Ed Hawkins


Lou Vincent admitted to fixing the result of Sussex's CB40 match against Kent in 2011 © Getty Images

The Hansie Cronje fixing scandal at the turn of the millennium was supposed to have been cricket's wake-up call. So how's that going, a decade and a half later? The depressing answer is that the ICC have failed to deal properly with corruption. Charged with cutting out a cancer, they have wielded the scalpel ham-fistedly. On occasion, they haven't even tried to operate.

At first examination, the numbers appear to show the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit have been on top of their brief. Since 2011, 19 players have been banned for corruption; until then, it had been only 11 in 11 years. It is the sort of discrepancy predicted by Lord Condon, the former Metropolitan Police chief who devised the ACSU in the wake of the Cronje affair, when he described the new Twenty20 leagues as the greatest threat to cricket's health.

The devil, however, is in the detail, and it embarrasses the ACSU, who can claim full credit for just two of those 19 convictions: in June last year, former Bangladesh captain Mohammad Ashraful was given an eight-year suspension for fixing in the 2013 Bangladesh Premier League, and former first-class cricketer Shariful Haque received an indefinite ban. But the other 17 were the result of investigations by a local police force, or of a player speaking out. And of those cases one looms large: the 42-page testimony given to the ACSU by Lou Vincent, the former New Zealand batsman, could yet prove to be a house-of-cards moment on par with Cronje. Vincent, it should be noted, was carpeted by the ECB's anti-fixing squad - not the ACSU.

Vincent implicated Chris Cairns, the former New Zealand all-rounder scheduled this year to face a perjury trial following a libel victory in the High Court against Lalit Modi, the IPL founder, who had accused him of fixing. It also emerged that Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand captain, had given evidence to the ACSU as far back as February 2011 about two alleged approaches from Cairns. In both instances, Cairns has protested his innocence.

Most damaging to the ICC was that Vincent admitted to fixing the result of Sussex's CB40 match against Kent in 2011. It was a game which the ACSU had cleared, despite overwhelming evidence from gambling exchanges of suspicious betting patterns. Vincent also admitted to fixing in the unsanctioned Indian Cricket League from 2008, and in the BPL. It is fair to ask, then, why the ACSU did not act earlier on the evidence provided by Vincent or McCullum. According to those close to the unit, the answer is incompetence. It is an organisation which can succeed only if all its officers are efficient. If not, the left hand loses track of the right. The ICC's previous record of only two convictions - Kenya's Maurice Odumbe and West Indian Marlon Samuels - does little to discourage the suspicion that this has happened too often.

As recently as 2013, it remained doubtful whether the ACSU had a grasp of the intricacies of the Indian gambling markets. The number of bookmakers is vast, but the market is restricted to four areas: session runs, innings runs, favourite at the innings break and the result. After a meeting of the anti-corruption units from the ICC member boards, one investigator revealed there was still confusion as to how bets were placed. "A phone call had to be made to check how it worked, because someone said: 'Hold on, I don't think it actually works like that - you can't bet on runs off an over or on fielding positions.' It was incredible."

When the ECB's own unit was formed, their first task was to study the Sussex-Kent match. Their officers were said to be surprised that the ACSU had not taken the matter further. Following the ECB's investigation, Vincent and Sussex bowler Naved Arif were banned.

Since the Vincent case and the conviction of Ashraful, it is understood the ACSU have redrafted their standard operating procedures. These include basics, such as who should make a final decision on how to proceed with cases, and how better to use a vast database of information (since its 2000 inception, the unit has updated the database containing intelligence from gamblers, bookmakers and players, and there is a need for investigators to access it more efficiently). The role of Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the ACSU chairman, who works only five days a month, was also assessed.

This self-analysis might have been prompted by their botched investigation into corruption at the BPL. Ashraful appealed immediately, and his ban was reduced; he could be playing again in 2016. Kent's Darren Stevens, meanwhile, a Dhaka Gladiators team-mate, was found innocent of failing to report an approach. Yet the charge against him had been highly questionable in the first place: Ashraful had asked Stevens to behave at one game as if he were captain - preside over the toss and conduct media interviews - but without taking any on-field decisions. Stevens said no - yet was considered complicit of fixing in the eyes of the ACSU.


Could the ACSU really have investigated a man as powerful as N Srinivasan? © AFP

So what do the ACSU actually do? Above all, they educate players about the dangers of corruption. And when they are not doing that, they are looking after the security arrangements for players, support personnel and match officials. Investigations can take a back seat. On one level, the ACSU deserve our sympathy: they are chronically short-staffed (there are only ten officers, who in 2012 spent a total of 1,469 nights away from home), and from day one they have been pushed around by the more powerful boards, not least India. They can only be as effective as the ICC's power brokers allow. The failure to act promptly over Vincent and Cairns sparked conspiracy theories. These include ICC chairman Narayanaswami Srinivasan's feud with Modi - the accusation being that Srinivasan did not want to aid his old BCCI nemesis in his court case with Cairns - and a more prosaic claim of self interest.

Another corruption scandal could send sponsors and TV companies running for the hills. The feud scenario is surely fantasy, but it highlights the mistrust between fans and administrators. That Vincent did not face criminal charges, when Essex fast bowler Mervyn Westfield ended up in Belmarsh for fixing a bracket during a one-day game in September 2009, also adds fuel to the conspiracy theorists' ire. Vincent cut a deal, they say. Not so: Westfield went to prison in early 2012 because a complaint was made to police in the absence of an ECB anti-corruption unit.

By the time Vincent was being prosecuted, the ECB had officers in place. Even so, there are good reasons for doubting how serious the ICC really are about cleansing the sport. The warning was there three years ago, when the Woolf report, which demanded greater transparency at board level, was instantly rejected by the BCCI; no Full Member challenged them. A less well known report, conducted by anti-corruption expert Bertrand de Speville, fared little better. De Speville's task had been to review the workings of the ACSU.

He completed his report in 2011, making 27 recommendations. The ICC said seven related to a policy or practice they already carried out, and had "preliminary reservations" about another seven, which seemed a polite way of saying "thanks, but no thanks". The remaining 13 recommendations were accepted.

The de Speville report offers a fascinating insight into the arrangements of the ACSU, and an explanation for the difficulties they faced in 2014. "The ACSU needs to spend more of its resources on investigations than on prevention and education," he wrote. "It must be seen to be responsive." The ICC countered unconvincingly that they did this already. If the number of allegations rose, said de Speville, the ICC should employ more investigators. And allegations did rise significantly - from 158 in 2010 to 281 two years later. Yet they hired just one more investigator.

De Speville advised the ICC to double the number of regional security managers to ten, so that, for example, Ron Hope would not have to be responsible for both England and West Indies at the same time. The ICC's reaction? Two extra managers. Hope has since retired; at the time of writing, there were no immediate plans to replace him. The title "regional security manager" has now been discarded, and each team no longer have their own personal anti-corruption manager. De Speville said an accreditation system for agents was important; it is "under consideration".

Instead the ICC commissioned another review, led by Interpol's John Abbott. He delivered his findings in January 2015. This was in response to the BPL investigation, when senior ICC figures were reported to have "run out of patience" with their anti-corruption wing; had de Speville's advice been heeded, the result might have been different. Abbott has already pencilled in the need for an analyst of betting patterns to join the ACSU ranks.

There was also disquiet at the ICC that the unit was ineffective during the 2013 Indian Premier League, which was marred by a spot-fixing and gambling scandal. But what chance did the ACSU have at a tournament run by the BCCI? At the time, India's power grab at the ICC was in the offing, one which would eventually place Srinivasan at the head of the world game - including their anti-corruption unit. Could they really have investigated their own boss?

In January 2015, India's Supreme Court, which had been examining the IPL affair for almost a year and a half, ruled that Gurunath Meiyappan, Srinivasan's son-in-law and team manager of Chennai Super Kings - Srinivasan's franchise - had placed bets and discussed tactics with bookies. Sundar Raman, the league's chief operating officer, was also revealed to have been in contact with bookmakers. Srinivasan was told by the court he could not be both board president and own Chennai Super Kings through his role as head of India Cements. And this was the heart of the matter: conflicts of interest, which undermine the credibility of the fight against corruption.

Damningly, the Supreme Court called for the BCCI to "ensure institutional integrity", and accused them of not following their own procedures while investigating the IPL scandal. It was not encouraging that, under Srinivasan, the Indian board have had a skinflint attitude to their own anti-corruption unit: for the 2012-13 season they budgeted about £400,000 (around 0.28% of revenue earned in 2012) to cover the entire domestic season, as well as India's matches, with a single investigating officer. If corruption cannot be taken seriously by the Indians, cricket is in serious trouble.

This infects the rest of the world. The backpacker cricketers who have been to the IPL and, before it, the now defunct ICL, have - like 18-30s on a trip to Ibiza - picked up something nasty and passed it on. Yet anyone who suggests cricket's problem is greater than the sum of its fears is treated with disdain, labelled a crackpot or, as Andrew Flintoff called me, a "knob". My crime was to have written a book, based on close work with India's bookmakers, detailing the anatomy of corruption. Flintoff believed I would be six feet under if I had really spent time with these shadowy figures. That merely exposed a familiar prejudice: that all bookies in India are bloodthirsty mafiosi. But when the testimonies of Vincent and McCullum were leaked in a newspaper which believed they were of public interest, threats and intimidation did come my way, not from the corruptors but from within cricket's administration.

In 2013 I conducted my own investigation into corruption in the IPL, in an effort to convince the ICC of the value of an early warning system, using pre-game intelligence from the Indian gambling market (this included inside information about first-innings totals and results). Every detail was passed on to the ACSU before a game. To help identify matches worth investigating, I also factored suspect betting patterns and statistical anomalies into my system. From the first 23 matches that season, five would have required further investigation.

I sent two separate reports to the ACSU, one after the first week of games, one after the second. No one contacted me to discuss the information and, during initial discussion with ICC management about possible use of the system, there was an implication that I was doing it only to line my pocket. Just before the 2015 World Cup, ICC chief executive David Richardson effectively gave the tournament a clean bill of health. It would, he said, be "very difficult" for fixing to occur, because the ICC were the "best prepared we've ever been". Yet how could he be so confident about a tournament containing as many as 49 matches?

The picture is bleak. The ICC, and therefore the ACSU, have failed to provide the necessary resources to run an effective worldwide anti-corruption force, and have a history of running their own unit on a shoestring. So cricket hurtles once more into the void. In 2000, when Cronje was chief goon, our sport could at least plead a jolly innocence. Now it has no such excuse.

© John Wisden & Co.