The WICB has promised a complete investigation into the Samuels controversy after it receives the relevant information from the ICC
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THE last time a West Indian cricketer was entangled in the web of match-fixing, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) took an inordinately long time to mount an independent investigation into the claims against him by an Indian bookmaker whose overall revelations shook the game to its foundations.
After two years under suspicion, the cloud over Brian Lara was finally lifted in 2001 when Elliott Mottley, QC, former Attorney General of Barbados and Bermuda, the sole adjudicator belatedly appointed by the WICB, found there was nothing to substantiate the accusation by bookie Mukesh Gupta that he had paid the West Indies' premier batsman US$20,000 to underperform in two one-day internationals in India in 1994.
It was at the height of Gupta's sweeping disclosures to India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that led to a life ban on a couple of revered captains, South Africa's Hansie Cronje, who tearily confessed to the charges against him, and India's Mohammad Azharuddin.
A few others received varying suspensions for their parts in Gupta's dealings while others, like Lara, were cleared for lack of evidence. Now another West Indian player, Marlon Samuels, finds himself under suspicion for links with another individual Indian police identify as "a known bookmaker".
This time, the WICB have moved swiftly to deal with a troubling issue, resurfacing after five years of lying dormant under the watchful eye of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Anti-Corruption and Security Unit that was formed specially to combat it. The WICB would, media communications officer Tony Deyal said the day after the story broke, have "a complete investigation of the allegations" once it received the relevant report from ICC. He referred to the WICB's "zero tolerance policy" to gambling, drugs and racism, adding that it "adheres rigorously to the ICC codes on these matters". His most pertinent comment was that "we are not going to act on rumor or gossip and will not be panicked, particularly since we are talking about the career and future of a young cricketer of talent and promise".
It can be taken that it was response to the typically wild speculation in the fiercely competitive Indian media which has already assumed Samuels's guilt. It has even been extended to an attempt to implicate a second West Indies player, Chris Gayle, on the grounds that he is Jamaican and a friend of Samuels.
On the published information, what the police in Nagpur have produced is a somewhat confusing tape of an intercepted telephone call to support the charge. But they acknowledge there was no evidence of money passing hands. Samuels and the caller, another Mukesh by the name of Kochar, both admitted they have been acquainted for some time. The former explained he did not know Kochar to be a bookie, the latter denied that he is one.
This is basically what is presently before the WICB and the ICC, whose lengthy regulations in relation to gambling and contacts with gamblers are covered in its players' Code of Conduct.
One obvious question for the Indian police concerns the status of all those they identify as bookies. Since gambling is illegal in the game's largest member, surely those who engage in it are breaking that law and should be dealt with accordingly.
Instead, it is well established that it is a billion dollar industry and those at its centre appear able to conduct their business with no fear of prosecution. And would it not be beneficial for the Indian police to supply the names of their "known bookmakers" to the ICC for distribution to all of its affiliates so that players would know whose contacts and whose telephone calls to avoid?
It is not a problem in itself outside of India for gambling is legal everywhere else. The most prominent bookmakers have outlets at all the main grounds in Australia and England. Odds are given over television coverage in Australia and New Zealand.
One director of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) runs a gambling operation in Guyana. A former West Indies selector was a private bookmaker. This is not to say that players are not open to corruption simply because gambling is legitimate. It is just that prohibition, whether of liquor, drugs or gambling, seems to encourage criminality more.
Whether or not that is what Mukesh Kochar's purpose was in his contacts with Samuels, the WICB need to quickly establish.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for over 50 years