Corruption case reveals ‘cancer’ threat to cricket

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Corruption in cricket is a “cancer” that could eat the game away, former umpire Dickie Bird has warned after a promising bowler became the first professional player in England to admit fixing a county match.

The former Yorkshire batsman said he was “shaken and stunned” after Mervyn Westfield, 23, pleaded guilty to accepting or obtaining a corrupt payment to bowl in a way that would allow the scoring of runs.

Westfield was playing for Essex when he received £6,000 to bowl so that 12 runs would be made in the first over of a match against Durham in September 2009, although in fact only 10 were scored.

A separate charge of assisting another person to cheat at gambling was ordered to lie on file.

The Old Bailey heard yesterday that the name of the other party in the deal would be known to cricket fans, but it was not revealed in court.

Westfield’s guilty plea came two months after three Pakistan cricketers were jailed for their roles in a plan to bowl deliberate no-balls during a Test match at Lord’s.

Bird, who officiated at 66 Tests during a 23-year international umpiring career, said: “It is a big blow for our game. It could be the tip of the iceberg. How do you stop it?

“The ICC (International Cricket Council) have got to be very, very strong and they have got to nip it in the bud.

“They have got to come up with something to try to stop this because... it could be like a cancer that could eat our game away.

“This is the finest sport in the world. It’s just unbelievable that something like this should happen again when we have all had this trouble with the Pakistan players.”

Bird added that Westfield should “pay for his faults and his wrongdoings”.

“He has to accept whatever the judge throws at him now,” the former umpire said. “He has broken the laws of the game and it’s a very, very sad time for world cricket.”

Adjourning sentencing until February 10, Judge Anthony Morris told Westfield: “I hold out no promises to you as to the eventual outcome of this case.

“It’s open to the court in this case to pass an immediate custodial sentence.”

Westfield, of Chelmsford, Essex, was remanded on bail. He no longer plays for the county.

Detective Sergeant Paul Lopez, of Essex Police, said he hoped the case would send a “strong message to professional sportsmen and women around the country – that if they intend to get involved in spot-fixing, or think that match-fixing is not a crime, then they need to think again.”

Angus Porter, chief executive of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, welcomed Westfield’s decision to enter a guilty plea.

“I’m not sure that court cases necessarily are very helpful but the fact that he has admitted to the crime can only act as a signal to others that sport needs to be treated with respect and played properly, at any level,” he said.

“Our view on it is that the world has moved on quite a long way since he committed those offences.

“We’ve invested a huge amount in educating players as to their responsibilities, but I think that none of us can be complacent.

“I think that we are all very mindful of the need to make sure that sport is played properly.”

Former Essex and England cricketer Ronnie Irani wrote on Twitter that the case was a “nightmare” and Westfield was “one of the most talented youngsters you would have seen”.

Irani recalled how Westfield was only 17 when he first impressed the former Yorkshire captain Darren Gough during a match.

Gough and another former England player, Alex Tudor, are said to have compared him to Sylvester Clarke, a fast bowler for the West Indies in the 1970s and 1980s.