The Westfield judgment leaves the ECB in no doubt that all professional cricket is vulnerable to corruption especially when those matches are televised
Mervyn Westfield, the former Essex bowler, has become the first English cricketer to be convicted of spot-fixing after pleading guilty at the Old Bailey, London's central criminal court, to criminal charges arising from a spot-fixing investigation by Essex police. He will be sentenced on February 10 and faces a maximum jail term of seven years.
Westfield admitted he accepted £6000 to concede 12 runs in his first over of Essex's Pro40 tie against Durham at Chester-le-Street in September 2009. The match was televised live and was available in many parts of the world, so making it an appealing target for cricket's illegal gambling industry.
He pleaded guilty to accepting or obtaining corrupt payments under the 1906 Corruption Act. A lesser charge of assisting another person to cheat at gambling was ordered to lie on file. Judge Anthony Morris also made a pointed reference to a second person referred to in court as the "fixer" when he said: "It seems the alleged corruptor is a person whose name is known to me, and I'm sure known to many people interested in cricket."
Westfield, bearded and wearing a dark suit, black shirt and dark tie, spoke only to confirm his name and enter his plea. Judge Morris told him: "Mr Westfield, I hold out no promises for the outcome of this case but I am sure that you have been told that it is open to the court to pass an immediate custodial sentence."
The prosecution claimed that Westfield agreed to concede 12 runs in the first over of his spell. In the event he only conceded 10 and Westfield's defence counsel said this demonstrated he did not go through with the plan.
His barrister, Mark Milliken-Smith, asked the judge to consider suspending any custodial sentence and spoke of the "snaring" influence of the man referred to as "the fixer."
Milliken-Smith said: "The prosecution is based almost entirely on what he unguardedly told fellow players." He added there was no evidence that Westfield did actually bowl badly. "The aim was to snare for future activity. The reality is, on any view, he didn't do what he was supposed to have done."
Though it was accepted that Westfield failed to concede the 12 runs in one over as expected in the Durham match at the end of the 2009 season for the £6000 he had accepted, Milliken-Smith conceded that Westfield "did his best to keep his side of the bargain." Judge Morris commented: "It's really a matter of chance, almost, as to whether the batsmen are going to able to take advantage of the balls that are bowled to them."
Some of his Essex team-mates were immediately disconcerted by Westfield's spell, but it was not until the following May that he was arrested by Essex police along with his team-mate, the Pakistan legspinner Danish Kaneria, after a team-mate at the time, Tony Palladino, expressed concerns.
Kaneria was never charged and was released from bail in September at the end of the English season.
Palladino, who would have been the main prosecution witness had the trial proceeded, would have testified that Westfield had shown him money that he said represented a pay-off for deliberately conceding runs in the game.
Sporting bodies in the UK are increasingly confident that they have discovered a legal template to enable successful prosecutions in cases of this kind even though proof of deliberate under-performance is thought to be virtually impossible to achieve.
Three Pakistan cricketers, the captain Salman Butt and two fast bowlers, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, were all jailed three months ago at Southwark Crown Court after they were found guilty of corruption during a Test against England at The Oval in 2010.
The Westfield judgment switches attention to the English domestic game, leaving the ECB in no doubt that all professional cricket is vulnerable to corruption especially when those matches are televised.
Not only are salaries lower in the county game and players often less experienced, there is also less media attention which encourages the belief that corrupt practices are less likely to be intercepted.
The PCA's chief executive Angus Porter said: "While it couldn't be described as a good day for cricket, it is encouraging that action has been taken and that wrong doing has been uncovered."
Westfield made his debut for the county in 2005, aged 17. He struggled to gain a regular place in the side and was released at the end of the 2010 season "on cricketing grounds." Essex refused to comment.