Essex spot-fixing: Mervyn Westfield profile

As a teenager, Mervyn Westfield seemed to have the cricketing world at his feet.

Honoured as a schoolboy and lauded by Essex, who gave him his First Class debut aged 17, he even tasted international acclaim as he shared the new ball for England U-19s with a certain Steve Finn.

But despite such promise, the fast bowler’s professional career stuttered from the very start, and after three years languishing on the fringes of First XI cricket, Westfield was seduced and groomed by the corrupt advances of an Indian businessman.

Now the only mark he will leave on the game is a stain: the first English cricketer to be criminally convicted for spot-fixing.

Westfield’s rapid descent to criminality is a worrying development for the English Cricket Board, and the latest blow to the integrity of the sport. To put it bluntly, it is Westfield’s very ordinariness as a cricketer which makes his story all the more shocking.

Born and bred in Essex, he attended Barking College and shone as a schoolboy. He was awarded a Daily Telegraph scholarship in 2003, honoured along with current Surrey captain Rory Hamilton-Brown, Yorkshire leg-spinner Adil Rashid, and Leicestershire wicketkeeper Paul Dixey, as the outstanding players at the Bunbury England Schools Cricket Association at Shrewsbury School.

After playing his club cricket at Wanstead, Westfield then joined Essex and made his first-class debut against Derbyshire at Chelmsford in 2005.

His high point came the next summer as he took a career-best four wickets, bowling Essex to victory against Somerset in Southend.

But Westfield was erratic and injury-prone, and played only seven first class matches, taking 11 wickets and averaging 38 with the ball. In his last three years with the club, he did not make a single First XI appearance, and by 2009 he was playing solely for the Seconds, along with the odd limited over match appearance.

Despite plying his trade in the backwaters of county cricket, watched at grounds only by a few die-hard fans, Westfield came to worldwide attention thanks to lucrative overseas television contracts, which included the screening of Natwest Pro40 matches.

The TV rights are worth around £12 million to the ECB, but they also expose county cricket to the criminal underworld in the subcontinent, where as it was revealed in the Pakistan spot-fixing trial, the illegal betting industry is worth a staggering £50 billion a year.

It is not known how the first approach was made, but Westfield had an open public profile, not least on his Facebook page, where he had 896 friends.

The fast bowler was allegedly introduced to an unnamed corrupt Indian businessman, who offered him £6,000 to leak at least 12 runs in his first over against Durham at the Riverside Ground on Sept 5 2009. Alastair Cook, the England vice captain, was amongst Westfield’s teammates completely unaware of the deceit being played out in front of them.

In the event Westfield only gave away 10 in his first over, but no matter, the money was paid. Three days later Essex’s game with Somerset was also televised, and another fix was planned.

The corruption may have gone on longer, and remained undetected, but for Westfield’s inability to keep his secret quiet. He boasted about his corrupt winnings to a teammate, bowler Tony Palladino, even showing him the cash and telling it came from spot-fixing.

To his credit, Palladino, who was long time friends with Westfield from playing together at both Wanstead and Essex, followed procedures to report his concerns to the management at Essex.

After being arrested in the subsequent police investigation, Westfield was let go by Essex in September 2010, and returned to play for Wanstead, even winning their player of the year accolade.

He denied all allegations for almost two years, going through countless court hearings at great expense, funded by the taxpayer on legal aid. Finally, today, he came clean at the eleventh hour, just before his trial began.

The ECB are due to meet to decide what length of time Westfield will be banned from the game and his profession.

Nasser Hussain, the retired England and Essex captain, called for Westfield to be used prominently in an education process for young professional cricketers. But he rejected calls for the bowler to be banned from the game for life.

“We have to be tough on spot-fixers to send a message to future generations,” Hussain told Sky Sports. “He was a 21-year-old and he made a mistake. I don’t think you can take the game of cricket away from the rest of his life. Use him as an example, make a video or something, to make sure that cricketers don’t make the same mistake he did.”

Meanwhile, Westfield has greater concerns – in less than a month he will appear at the Old Bailey again for sentencing, and this time he is likely to leave handcuffed in the back of a prison van, to start a jail term for his crimes.

* Read coverage of the trial exclusively on The Cricketer website, and follow RDJ Edwards’s tweets from the court @Cricketer_RDJ

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