The spectre of match-fixing that wrenched South African cricket apart more than a decade and a half ago when national captain Hansie Cronjé finally admitted to colluding with an illegal bookmaker is set to return to the country.
Cronjé was caught by Delhi police who intercepted and recorded phone calls he made on a device given to him by the bookmaker, but this time it would appear that South African authorities, in conjunction with the International Cricket Council (ICC), have done the policing themselves.
The country’s recently concluded domestic T20 competition, the Ram Slam, may have contained instances of spot-fixing (in which a specific aspect of a game, on which gamblers can bet, is fixed but not necessarily the final result).
A former Proteas player is being investigated on suspicion of acting as an intermediary between an Asian-based betting syndicate and several local players. The case against the intermediary is still being prepared but is understood to be strong. If he is charged with and convicted of corruption, he may face a prison term.
It is unclear at this stage how many players may face charges, or what they will be, but some may be charged with “failure to disclose information”, the harshest charge for those who have not been involved but were, or may have been, aware of irregular activities.
Every professional South African cricketer is required to sign and adhere to Cricket South Africa’s code of conduct, under which they are obliged to inform the relevant authorities of any malpractice, known or even suspected.
It is the hardest of all the anti-corruption and security conditions to enforce and equally difficult to expect a junior player to report a senior player, perhaps even his captain, when he has a doubt about what he thinks he may have seen or heard.
The problem of spot-fixing is known to exist in all the other Test-playing nations. If South Africa is leading the way in finding the tiny minority of fixers, it is a reason to celebrate.
A recent joint initiative between the players’ associations of England and South Africa led to one of the few professional cricketers to be convicted of match-fixing being invited to South Africa to speak about his own experience of being drawn into corruption through a complex and overwhelming web of deceit – and money.
Mervyn Westfield’s playing career was over in his early 20s after spending a short stint in prison.
It is hoped the same won’t happen to South African players, though fines and suspensions are also a possibility. It would be a dreadful day for those players, but making an example of them may well save the careers of many more in the future.