Fears for fixing county games

County cricket is at more risk from match-fixing than international game, according to the England and Wales Cricket Board’s anti-corruption chief.

Chris Watts says it would be “naive” to think that county cricket had not been affected by corruption. “That’s possibly where the threat may lie at the moment,” he said. Former Essex bowler Mervyn Westfield is due to stand trial in January over allegations of spot-fixing in a match against Durham in September 2009. The ECB’s new anti-corruption unit was established in June following the scandal that ended with the conviction of three Pakistan cricketers.

Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt were found to have conspired to deliberately bowl no-balls during a Test match at Lord’s at the request of an undercover reporter.

“From what I know, I would suggest that fixing is probably around the domestic game,” said Watts, a former senior detective with the Metropolitan Police.

“That’s where some of the risks are, more so than the international arena. International players are under far more scrutiny than players in the domestic game. That’s what would lead me to form that view.”

The Professional Cricketers’ Association has asked every professional player to complete an online tutorial in an attempt to stamp out corruption in the game. The tutorial warns how criminals may attempt to “groom” players before then proposing to fix aspects of the game.

Players are also warned about the risks of social networking, while family members are also urged to be aware of the dangers of corruption. This news service has spoken to the sister of a cricketer who has played for England. She was concerned she could become a target when her brother received his first international call-up.

She suddenly received a number of friend requests from people she had no connection with. PCA chief executive Angus Porter believes there are a number of players who have information on corruption but who have not yet come forward.

He wants an amnesty for players who report suspected cases given it is an offence under the ECB and International Cricket Council code of conducts to withhold information relating to corruption.

Somerset batsman Nick Compton says players have difficulty “ratting” on team-mates, warning of the impact such a move can have on relations in the dressing room.

Meanwhile, Graham Onions, the Durham pace bowler, will travel with the England squad to UAE next month to provide cover for the fast-bowling attack in the opening weeks of the trip.

Onions won’t be an official member of the squad which was named two weeks ago but the selectors want to ensure there is adequate back-up available to Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss with three of the quick bowlers – Stuart Broad (shoulder), Chris Tremlett (back) and Tim Bresnan (elbow) – recovering from injuries.

Tremlett hasn’t featured for England since the first Test against India, at Lord’s and Broad hasn’t played since the fourth ODI against the same team at the same ground in September. Both are currently in South Africa, along with Onions and James Anderson, at a training camp with the performance programme players. Bresnan, meanwhile, recently underwent elbow surgery to remove a bone fragment.

The England management is hopeful all three will be fit for selection ahead of the first Test against Pakistan, in Dubai, on 17 January and if Onions isn’t required he is likely to return home when that match begins.

“We’ve obviously got some niggles from the seamer point of view, so Graham Onions will go out there in a cover capacity,” Geoff Miller, the national selector, said. “If he’s not required then he’ll probably come back after the first Test, or even during it.”

Onions hasn’t played for England since the third Test against South Africa, at Newlands, in early 2010 after suffering a career-threatening back injury. However, he was back around the national set-up last season when he was called into the Test squad as cover for Anderson at The Oval. He then went to Ireland with the one-day squad and flew out to India for the ODI series in October after injury to Chris Woakes.

Onions may yet find himself in a similar position to Ajmal Shahzad, the Yorkshire pace bowler, on last year’s Ashes tour when Shahzad started as an unofficial 17th member of the squad during the warm-up matches before the management decided to keep him on for the whole of the Test series.

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