Reason: Kiwis shape as match-fixing scapegoats

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 25/05/2014
Chris Cairns
Getty Images
UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT: Former New Zealand cricketer Chris Cairns.

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OPINION: It seems to me that Chris Cairns, silly boy, has dabbled in the dark arts. The evidence against him is now almost irrefutable and, if upheld, means that Cairns could face perjury charges in a British court. But the real question is not whether Cairns is guilty but why such a minor player is being burned alive on the pyre of cricket corruption and whether New Zealand is a scapegoat or a stalking horse.

Brendon McCullum said on Thursday, "There's still a long way to go" and "a tough few years" lay ahead. That long-term forecast is entirely accurate, because if you imagine that this scandal is going to end with Cairns and Lou Vincent, then you are charmingly innocent or hopelessly naïve. Some very big names are going to come down in the coming months and years.

Four years ago Australian cricketer Shane Watson said, "Maybe they (the authorities) don't want to get to the bottom of it, because it would run too deep."

Since he made that statement, Watson's character has taken a bit of a battering. A coincidence? Perhaps. But the moment Cairns decided to take Lalit Modi to court, as I warned at the time, he unleashed these "dark forces" against himself.

But just maybe, there are some in cricket who have had enough of the dark forces. The impending installment of Narayanaswami Srinivasan as chairman of the International Cricket Council has appalled many.

Srinivisan has been suspended as the boss of Indian cricket, pending a Supreme Court probe into corruption allegations. Some already believe that the leaks have started to make it more difficult for Srinivisan and the ICC to shut down the ACU.

But why has New Zealand been targeted? There are two possible answers. The first is that New Zealand is a soft target. It has little power or money in the international game and so not many will mourn the passing of a few ex-players. New Zealand is the fall guy. If we are going to make an example of someone, make sure it's a minor minister, don't pull down the government.

The second more intriguing answer would be that New Zealand is a stalking horse, as McCullum's prediction of "a long way to go" would imply. The ACU could be using a New Zealand player's acknowledged corruption to unleash the media and to get people to tell them where the real bodies are hidden before any "dark forces" can put a stop to it.

As a side dish, don't rule out a power play from Modi. House of Cards maybe, but if Modi could bring down Cairns and Srinivasan with the same blow, then the Indian is revenged and creates a breach into which he could step.

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But much of this is outside New Zealand's immediate remit. What New Zealand Cricket could do is sort out its own game. Years of rotten governance has led to the over-empowerment of players and made them easy targets for corruption. It is time to restore a proper balance of power.

The first question that needs to be asked is why, in breach of ICC regulations, did McCullum take three years to report Cairns's approach? And why, incidentally, did Dave Richardson, of the normally taciturn ICC, go out of his way to say that McCullum had acted "quite properly" in this matter, when he clearly hadn't?

Why, when McCullum was asked on Thursday to account for this three-year delay, did David White, the New Zealand Cricket chief executive, interrupt and shut down the question? McCullum said, "I'm happy to answer," but White ended the media conference.

The public is tired of this high-handed evasion. Many of us also had a good laugh when White suggested there was no evidence of any matches being fixed in New Zealand. There has been evidence swirling around this country for years.

Even this year's tour by India aroused the suspicions of most seasoned watchers. In the two test matches New Zealand scored 503, 105, 192 and 680, a perfect distribution if you are an informed spread better. Catches were dropped by India, the bowling went from searching to wide and wild. In the one-day series, one of the best teams in the world at this form of cricket, conceded big scores and then failed to chase them down.

I have my suspicions because history dictates it. An Indian bookmaker, Mukesh Gupta, said he had paid former captain Martin Crowe for information about the 1991 World Cup. Crowe was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.

Three years later several Pakistani cricketers alleged that the third test and fifth one-day international, both played in Christchurch, were fixed. The Pakistan captain Salim Malik was banned for life and many of the team received penalties. Wasim Akram, whose father was kidnapped, was warned as to his future behaviour and deemed unfit for captaincy.

In that same period cash approaches were made to senior Australia cricketers, who were subsequently smeared. Given the pattern, it seems highly unlikely that some in the New Zealand team at the time, captained by Ken Rutherford, weren't at least approached by Malik and his cohorts.

Stephen Fleming says in his book Balance of Power, he was offered half a million by an Indian businessman to join a match-fixing syndicate in 1999. A few years later Chris Lewis, the England test cricketer, says he was offered money to fix a test in New Zealand.

It has been going on for years and with New Zealand businesses' increasing immersion in the Asian markets it is only going to get worse. McCullum, Fleming, Geoff Allott and now Sir Richard Hadlee, for goodness sake, are all involved in a company exporting goods to India and using cricket as a promotional vehicle. Surely they can see how exposed they are, the potential conflict of interests, the opportunity they offer the "dark forces".

Prime Minister John Key said the scandal would not affect next year's World Cup, to be co-hosted in this country. He added: "Most people will look at New Zealand and say we rate very highly in transparency and as a country we have very low levels of corruption."

Sorry prime minister, but many believe that our cricket pitches are no longer clean and green. New Zealand cricket is just as polluted by the dark forces of the Asian market as our clean and green water supplies. It is time White lived up to his name and cleaned up our act. Cricket's boss could start by speaking out against Mr Srinivasan.

We'll be the poorer for it, but at least the dirt will start to come off our hands.

- Sunday Star Times

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