English county cricket faces a test of its integrity with two Essex players under investigation for what is believed to be 'spot fixing', where bets are placed on elements of a match rather than the actual result. On Friday Essex police confirmed they were involved over 'match irregularities' and since then speculation has been rife over the depths to which potential corruption has spread.
Sources close to the investigation have told Cricinfo that anyone found guilty would face "very serious punishments" but the concern for the game is how to crack down on the illegal betting market in an era of satellite television and easy internet access.
It is somewhat ironic that it is the global reach of the county game - a format many believe passes by virtually unnoticed - that has created this situation. It is understood that the match in question was a televised Pro40 game last season, which was broadcast on the subcontinent.
Any county game that is shown on television in the UK is also available in India and Pakistan through a reciprocal agreement and that opens the way for the illegal market of betting, which is still believed to be rife on the subcontinent despite extensive attempts to clean up the game in the wake of the Hansie Cronje scandal in 2000. However, despite the links to the subcontinent, the source said a strong UK-based involvement shouldn't be ruled out.
Unlike traditional match-fixing, where the end result is the important aspect, spot fixing is based on betting around small moments within a match, for example how many runs will come off a certain over, or how many no-balls or wides will be sent down. There is the potential for these elements of a game to be manipulated with the final result being unaffected.
Even the most insignificant extra can be worth huge sums of money and the other 'advantage' for the bookies is that it only requires a couple of players to be tapped up instead of a whole team. A source said this method was very much the preferred option these days.
Since the lid was blown off match-fixing at the start of the last decade the game has gone to great lengths to stamp out the problem. International teams are now briefed extensively on what to look out for and not to talk to individuals they don't know, but at last year's World Twenty20 in England it was revealed that approaches had been made at a team hotel in London. The ICC and its anti-corruption unit (ACSU) are aware of the current situation in England but are leaving it in the hands of Essex police.