THE revelation six umpires from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were caught taking bribes to allegedly influence matches was a sobering reminder that the stench of corruption still permeates international cricket.
When asked to comment on what happened during the warm-up stages of the recent Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka, an International Cricket Council spokesman reminded The Sunday Age it was important to note the umpires were not ICC sanctioned; rather they had been appointed by their local boards, and had not been used in the competition proper.
But that technicality should not matter, for these were umpires appointed to oversee important matches involving international teams, including Australia, and illegal bookmakers will seek to gain from any contest.
While some within the sport argue it was a good thing the deceit was uncovered in the media sting, this time by India TV, others claim it was an embarrassing day for the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU).
The question many are now asking is: When will this unit, headed by Ronnie Flanagan, the former Home Office Chief Inspector of Constabulary for the United Kingdom, actually weed out a big name? Is it, as former England captain Andrew Strauss argued last year, a "toothless tiger"?
It's not as if corruption has disappeared. In 2010, Pakistan was tabled as the most corrupt Test-playing nation by the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.
Former anti-corruption chief Paul Condon has warned the game has become complacent and has to do more to combat the "massive problem".
The Marylebone Cricket Club's anti-corruption working party, chaired by Steve Waugh, who had encouraged the use of lie-detector tests, released a document in February stating: "MCC believes that corruption is the biggest danger facing cricket. It is an ongoing problem which requires persistence and vigour in all responsible bodies and leaders in the game in trying to combat it."
Twenty20 may be the game's most exciting format, but it also appears to be the hardest in which to detect corruption, as runs and wickets often fall so quickly, and batsmen continually attempt new ways to score.
Umpires are also at risk, as was shown last week. Former Australian umpire Darrell Hair said he was not surprised by the news.
International players' union boss Tim May says the plethora of Twenty20 matches was a cause for concern and added to threats of match- and spot-fixing — the latter of which has become more common.
"Twenty20 events are more ripe than the others in terms of affecting results, as the shorter the game the easier it is to affect the outcome of the game," he said.
"The impact of one bad over is significantly greater in Twenty20 .?.?. Another major issue of corrupting players during Twenty20 events is that once they have a player in their grips, then they will most likely encourage the player to indulge in match- or spot-fixing in the other forms of the game."
The flipside, some argue, is that players are generally well paid in Twenty20 so, theoretically, the lure of more money should not be as great.
Condon was blunt in his assessment of corruption in the sport amid the fallout last year from the jailing of Pakistan captain Salman Butt, pace bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, plus agent Mazhar Majeed, for deliberately bowling no balls.
"Cricket has got a massive, ongoing problem," he said. "It's got to keep its nerve. The players have got to do more and the ICC has got to do more. National boards have got to do more."
Former England captain Michael Vaughan also said at the time he believed "there are more out there" corrupting the sport.
Current and former players, and those who follow the sport closely, also have suspicions about the on-field actions of others.
The Indian Premier League is regularly mentioned, with some matches called into question. Five players were suspended in May for alleged corruption.
Laughably, the ACSU hasn't always overseen the IPL but, even when it has, talk of dodgy dealings continues in a country where sports betting is an illegal and unregulated business, and bets are taken on almost anything to do with a match, including which end an umpire will stand.
Australia's Big Bash League is said to be a clean event, but one official told The Sunday Age eyebrows had been raised over one foreign player for some odd actions. It's understood the player is also on what the ICC calls its "players under notice" list.
No matter where matches are held, players are still approached for information from bookies.
It has emerged that at least one Australian player, representing either New South Wales or South Australia, was approached for information during last year's Twenty20 Champions League tournament in India. He reported the matter to team authorities.
Shane Watson and Brad Haddin were approached on the 2009 Ashes tour and reported the incident to the team manager.
Some former players believe the media has not done a good job in exposing shady dealings in recent times. But finding hard evidence, for both journalists and the ACSU, is difficult, and can lead to threats, as The Sunday Age has experienced.
Remember the Sydney Test against Pakistan in 2009 when the tourists botched all manner of catches and run-outs? Several accusations have been made about that match, but nothing of substance eventuated.
Current players argue anti-corruption awareness and education programs have improved in most countries, but that doesn't mean players still aren't susceptible to easy money. It also doesn't mean the ACSU, and its domestic counterparts, are doing enough.
There are five regional security managers employed in world cricket, but touring journalists have often questioned what they actually do. One once joked to The Sunday Age he was tired of playing golf.
There has also been a recommendation for a former player to become involved in educating players.
Supporters of the ACSU insist they are in the trenches and have information on the underworld's biggest bookmakers on the subcontinent, where Condon has said "betting is fragmented, secretive and where long-term record-keeping is anathema to those who are involved".
Former ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed, now helping major Australian sports crack down on match-fixing in his role as managing director of the Coalition of Major Participation and Professional Sports, says about $200 million is bet on every one-day international match that India is involved in.
The stakes are high, and the pay-offs to all involved can set a player up for life, particularly one who has come from a poor upbringing in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India or Pakistan.
What the ACSU points out privately is that it is held back because it cannot act like police. For instance, it cannot make arrests, tap phones or inspect private bank accounts. If it attempted to entrap a player, the evidence in court would be inadmissable.
Instead, it must work with local authorities and abide by the laws of the country it is working in, as it was able to do successfully against the Pakistani players because of England's strong laws covering corruption.
The pessimistic feeling among those in the sport was perhaps best summed up last year by Strauss when he opined: "Unfortunately, the anti-corruption unit is a pretty toothless tiger. They can't get into the real depth of it all because they haven't got the resources available to them.
"I don't hold it against them, they're doing the best job they possibly can. They can't do sting operations like the News of the World, they can't infiltrate these betting networks."
What is concerning to some is that in more than 12?years since the ACSU was established, and having spent an estimated $60?million, it can only point to West Indian batsman Marlon Samuels and Kenya's Maurice Odumbe as two of its more high-profile convictions.
Remember, the likes of Mohammad Azharuddin, Salim Malik and Hansie Cronje, implicated with others in dealing with infamous bookie Mukesh Gupta, or "John the bookie" as he became known, were caught by either local police or their own boards.
It can be argued the ACSU also suffers because it rarely discusses its work publicly. An external review last year of its performance since 2001 — by anti-corruption expert Bertrand de Speville — urged, as one of his 27 recommendations, the unit begin to publicly spruik its objectives and good work to help more people understand its methods.
The MCC's anti-corruption working party said a similar thing when it released its recommendations in February. That, though, is unlikely to change. ICC chief executive Dave Richardson and Flanagan were unavailable for comment for this story.
There have also been calls for ACSU to carry out an audit of its domestic counterparts to ensure key objectives and practices are upheld, something which last week's umpiring revelations exposed as a problem.
What is known is that Australia's cricketers are given a yearly debrief about anti-corruption strategy, as well as updates when necessary. Cricket Australia has Sean Carroll, a former Victorian police detective, running its domestic anti-corruption and security unit.
Security around the Big Bash League is particularly tight. Players can also carry around a 12-page booklet detailing what they should do in certain situations, with penalties — such as life-time bans — spelt out under potential offences.
A Cricket Australia spokesman said the governing body took the threat of corruption seriously. "We work very hard to maintain the integrity of the game," he said. "We employ an in-house expert who is very well qualified to monitor and advise. We take this very seriously and we don't let our guard down because fans need to be assured that what they are watching is genuine sport."
When he has spoken publicly, Flanagan is confident with the measures in place, and sports such as tennis have followed the ICC's lead. "In that context, I find some of the criticism I have listened to very interesting and, quite frankly, it comes from very ill-informed people, people who have no idea how we work," he said.
Perhaps it's time the ACSU gave the cricketing public a better understanding, for it could even help to rid the game of crooks.
LEADING THE CHARGE
International Cricket Council Anti-Corruption Security Unit
Boss: Sir Ronnie Flanagan
Regional security managers: John Rhodes (Australia and New Zealand) Arrie De Beer (South Africa and Zimbabwe) Ronald Hope (England and West Indies) Dharamveer Singh Yadav (India and Sri Lanka) Hasan Raza (Pakistan and Bangladesh)
Chaired by Steve Waugh, the MCC's anti-corruption working party made these recommendations to the ICC:
- Lifetime bans for any captain, vice-captain or coach found guilty of corruption.
- No minimum sentences in the ICC's anti-corruption code.
- Education material and punishments for internationals replicated at domestic level.
- The ACSU to work closely with players to establish trust, and be transparent with its findings.
- Young but established international players to be promoted as ambassadors of the Spirit of Cricket, pledged to educate and protect other young players.
- National cricket boards to follow the example of the ECB in offering a short-term amnesty to anyone who reports an approach or other suspicions or knowledge of corrupt activity.
- Specific anti-corruption clauses to be included in all players, officials, coaches and administrators contracts.
- Polygraphs to be used as a method for players under suspicion to exonerate themselves.
- "Mystery shopper" operations to be considered, but not entrapment.
- Unexplained wealth of suspected players to be explored.
- More resources for the ACSU.