It is not just the actions of Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt and Mohammed Asif that are under scrutiny at the anti-corruption tribunal in Doha, it is the ability of the ICC in general and national cricket boards individually to protect the game from corrupt practices.
As is often the case in legal and quasi legal cases, the need to limit charges to those that it is possible for evidence to substantiate means that the focus of the tribunal is necessarily on a small number of highly specific events – the bowling of a few no balls on demand.
The issue that dare not speak its name, however, resides in the claim that News of the World journalists allege was made to them by the cricket agent Mazhar Majeed that he would give them proof of what was possible if they ‘subscribed’ to a service that was by implication already in operation.
The no-balls were not the limit of what was possible but a token outcome that sought to prove that more substantial and more ‘valuable’ outcomes could be produced on demand. The inference was that the products of such manipulations were already being enjoyed by other subscribers.
This does not necessarily mean that the players had ever been asked to do more nor had done more, nor that they knew what was being claimed was for sale in their name. Nor that they were doing anything other than bowling quickly.
But it is also possible that nothing in that match or even in that series or the one before it was as it appeared. As was aired here on the 28th August before the allegations were made, some unusual and erratic things occurred in last summer’s series, which had many perhaps less-than-worldly people scratching their heads; dropped dolly catches, unusual field-placings, inexplicable bowling changes and sudden batting collapses were all commented upon by the media.
The focus on spot betting necessarily deflects attention from spread betting where bets are placed according to the evolving probabilities in a match and where big money is made on improbable outcomes and erratic rather than regular performance.
The spreads are determined by averages and their influence on the estimation of probabilities, but also by hedging activity based on the accumulation of information on sales and purchases in the market.
There is a premium return for those who can predict counter-trend outcomes resulting from atypical performance. Cricket’s vulnerability is that atypical performance can be delivered by a small number of players and even in some cases by an individual player.
Proscribed as it is, this tribunal cannot significantly influence the future likelihood of such conspiracy except through the deterrence of punishment if fraud is proven. Yet the past has shown that even this brings only a temporary abatement.
Cricket has to be very smart to out smart the criminals. Vigilance directed by analysis, insider information and entrapment backed by example, education, protection and a fairer share of the legitimate rewards from the game are all required.
In the end, Imran Khan may have expressed the long and the short of it last August: “If the message goes that crime pays, crime multiplies. And unfortunately…for these cricketers there are not many leading role models.”