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Criminal offence or misdemeanour – where is the line?

Criminal offence or misdemeanour - where is the line?

The recent trial of Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif in Southwark Crown Court has, understandably, given rise to a good deal of debate about the rights and wrongs of every aspect of the case and the issues that underpin it. Past scandals of a similar nature have been brought up and on many occasions the names of Mark Waugh and Shane Warne have been thrown around in the discussions. Some who raise their names clearly know and understand the story that the two Australians became embroiled in more than a decade ago, but it is equally obvious that some others do not. The purpose of this feature is to explain exactly what did and did not happen.

The story began at the Australian team hotel in Colombo during the Singer Trophy in September 1994. Waugh was approached first by “John”, the shadowy Indian bookmaker who lies at the heart of the story. There was no pretence from John who explained to Waugh that he was a bookmaker and that he wanted Waugh to provide him with information about the tournament and the upcoming Australian season. John offered USD4,000 for reports on weather conditions and the state of pitches.Waugh accepted the money and as far as we know spoke to John, to provide the required information, on around ten occasions between then and February 2005.

Apparently at the same time as the initial conversation took place John asked Waugh to introduce him to Warne and that introduction was effected the following evening. Waugh is said to have described John to Warne as John who bets on the cricket. Warne was in the process of losing around USD5,000 at the tables in the hotel’s casino. The next evening John invited Warne to his room where he gave him an envelope containing USD5,000. John explained that it was given as a token of his appreciation for Warne meeting him and came with no strings attached.

Warne’s account is that the words used were Here’s USD5,000, you’re a great player, go and have some fun. According to Warne his instinct was to refuse to accept the money, and indeed that he tried to do so. He eventually acquiesced however on the basis that he didn’t want to offend John and because, given that nothing was being asked for in return, he reasoned there was no harm in accepting the gift.

Warne next heard from John when he received a telephone call from him about three months later, during the Ashes series of 1994/95, asking about weather and pitch conditions. In his autobiography Warne described it as …the sort of conversation I might have had with my dad and brother. I know what Warne means, but it was an unfortunate analogy given that, viewed objectively, if he was going to talk to anyone outside the team about tactics and selections it was likely to be those in whom he placed the most trust, his nearest and dearest. It also doesn’t explain why John had his telephone number in the first place. Warne admitted that there were another two occasions over Christmas and the New Year when similar conversations took place.

Waugh was, according to Warne, ..one of my best mates in the game... I have to say that I struggle with the idea that, both having received significant sums of money, the two of them never again discussed John, and that Warne never learned that, far from just being a punter as per Waugh’s introduction, John was actually from the other side of the gambling community. To be fair neither man has ever stated categorically that those assumptions are correct, but it is implicit in everything they have both said, and they have consistently sung from the same hymn sheet.

When, some four years later Warne and Waugh finally had to face the press corps over the allegations both used the same expression, as they each admitted to being naive and stupid.

Bearing in mind that at the time the payments at the eye of the storm were made, back in 1994, we all assumed the game was clean then it is at least arguable that the pair had been naive, although a careful look at the previous few years suggests that stupidity might have been the decisive factor.

Just two years previously, at the very same hotel in Colombo where Warne and Waugh first met John, Dean Jones had been shown, by an Indian bookmaker, a mobile phone and a biscuit tin containing USD50,000 that would be his in return for providing pitch information, tactical information, views about colleagues’ form and batting orders. The man who uttered the words the terrorist gets another wicket while commentating on a Hashim Amla catch might be thought to be a little impulsive. He did however have enough sense to rebuff the approach and immediately inform the team management about it.

Jones’ was not an isolated case either. Greg Matthews was also offered money in 1992 for pitch information and weather reports. In 1993 Alan Border was offered money to ensure Australia, with the Ashes well won, lost the sixth Test against England. Both refused and reported what had happened the sum total of which led coach Bob Simpson to warn the players at a team meeting about the dangers of accepting money and gifts. When Warne wrote his autobiography in 2001 he came out with a rather remarkable comment about that; Bobby Simpson, our coach at the time, has said somewhere that he told us at a team meeting to be on our guard against people offering gifts. I have no reason whatsoever to doubt his word, but it certainly didn’t register with me. Team meetings, from my experience, can sometimes drag on – everybody will have his say about an opponent, discuss a few theories and then decide to play in the way that has worked pretty well for the last 120 years.

By the end of that September Australia were in Pakistan for a three Test series. At the end of the fourth day Pakistan, who had not lost a Test at the National Stadium in Karachi for nearly forty years, were 155-3 on their way towards a victory target of 314. Both sides were staying at the same hotel and that evening Warne received a request from Salim Malik, the home captain, to come to his room. Warne says that he didn’t take Malik seriously to start with but that he eventually realised, that in offering him and off-spinner Tim May USD200,000 to bowl badly that he was in fact absolutely sincere. Warne turned him down flat, an approach endorsed by May who Warne told about what had happened as soon as he got back to the room they shared. It is probably worth noting that at that time USD200,000 was about double the amount Warne would earn for a year’s cricket.

Next day saw one of the great fifth days of Test cricket. When Warne dismissed Waqar Younis to secure his fifth wicket of the innings Pakistan were still 56 runs short of their target with their last man on his way to the wicket. Over the next forty minutes or so Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed scored steadily until, finally, with three runs still required, Inzamam was beaten all ends up by a dipping Warne leg break. Unfortunately for Australia ‘keeper Ian Healy was beaten as well and the four byes gave Pakistan a nail-biting victory. Small wonder that, during the celebrations, Malik suggested to Warne that he should have accepted the money. An anxious Warne, his eyes by now presumably open, told his captain, Mark Taylor, about Malik’s approach.

Australia lost the Test series 1-0, a century and double century in the second and third games demonstrating just what a high class batsman the Pakistani captain could be. After the Tests finished there was an ODI tournament for which South Africa joined the hosts and the Australians. In the middle of the tournament Malik made another approach, this time to Waugh and three others. The offer again was USD200,000 in return for playing badly. Again the proposal was rejected but once more Malik got the result he wanted as Pakistan cantered to a nine wicket victory. Waugh, after scoring a century in the losing cause, joked that he should have taken the money.

As the tour came to an end coach Simpson, who along with Taylor and the players concerned knew of the approaches, reported them to Manager Col Egar who in turn informed Match Referee John Reid. The ACB then began the task of putting together a report for the ICC and amongst other enquiries sworn statements were obtained from Waugh, Warne and May. By February 1995 there were mutterings about players receiving money from bookmakers and the ACB decided to investigate that and put the matter in the hands of the then Team Manager, Ian McDonald, who was probably surprised when Warne and Waugh both admitted to what they had done, although in Warne’s case he did concede in his autobiography that he had initially said nothing, on the basis that he had just received a gift. Only after he was made aware of Waugh’s admission did he tell the full story, albeit maintaining that everything he had done or said had been in ignorance of John’s occupation.

The Board had no difficulty in disciplining the two players and fined Warne AUSD8,000 and Waugh AUSD10,000. They went on to decide it was not in anyone’s interests for the matter to be put in the public domain, so no one was told. That the story eventually found its way into the newspapers can be no surprise although the fact that it took almost four years to do so probably is. It was cricket writer Malcolm Conn who, in a story that is worthy of a feature on its own, eventually unravelled what had happened in a piece of award-winning investigative journalism. The eve of the third Test of the 1998/99 Ashes series cannot have been the best time for the story to break, although despite a very hostile reception it did little to disturb Waugh’s concentration as he averaged 56 for the series. Warne was injured and only played once, with no real success, in the final Test. The Australian press and public were almost universal in their condemnation of both players. The Board were no more popular as a result of their decision to withhold any mention of the episode.

In terms of the rest of their careers Warne continued to court controversy for the duration of his and was seldom too far from some sort of tabloid headline, and not just on the back pages. He was not, however, ever drawn into an episode similar to that involving John the bookmaker. As for Waugh he did find himself the subject of renewed speculation in November 2000 when it was alleged by an Indian bookmaker, who had been involved with the by then banned and disgraced Manoj Prabhakar, that in 1993 at the Hong Kong Sixes tournament he had accepted USD20,000 in exchange for pitch and weather information as well as details regarding the Australian team. The bookmaker in question was also known as John on occasion, although he was not the same John, and this therefore must be taken as simply an unfortunate coincidence. The ACB took steps to fully investigate the allegations, and concluded there was no credible evidence to support them and that, much to Waugh’s relief no doubt, was the last time he was the subject of such an accusation.

Belatedly the Board decided to do the right thing and Bob O’Regan, a QC at the Queensland Bar, was appointed to head an independent enquiry. His report pulled no punches In my opinion the punishment was inadequate. It did not reflect the seriousness of what they had done. In Warne’s case the fine of AUSD8,000 did little more than deprive him of the USD5,000 he had received from the bookmaker. I do not think it is possible to explain their conduct away as the result merely of naivety or stupidity. They must have known that it is wrong to accept money from, and supply information to, a bookmaker whom they also knew as someone who bet on cricket. Otherwise they would have reported the incident to team management long before they were found out in February 1995. In behaving as they did they failed lamentably to set the sort of example one might expect from senior players and role models for many young cricketers. A more appropriate penalty would, I think, have been suspension for a significant time.Clearly O’Regan no more believed that Warne knew nothing of John’s occupation than I do, although Warne has continued to maintain that he did not know.

So how does the conduct of the two Australians compare with that of Messrs Butt, Asif and Amir? I have to say that I do think there is a valid comparison to be made, in the sense that all five must have known that the money going into their pockets was ultimately coming from unsuspecting punters, many of whom could doubtless ill afford to lose it. Of course to a large extent that goes with the territory, and I have limited sympathy for those who lose money gambling, but it still isn’t fair, and it certainly isn’t right. There is no doubt in my mind that Warne and Waugh were on exactly the same slippery slope that the Pakistani trio were on last summer, however they were at the top peering into the abyss and they kept their feet on the summit, albeit rather closer to the edge than was good for them. The Pakistanis on the other hand interfered with the natural course of the game, and were on their way to hell in a handcart as soon as they agreed to do that.


Allow me to be the first, and on page three no less, to congratulate Martin on yet another excellent feature.

Comment by chasingthedon | 12:00am GMT 13 December 2011

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