Pakistan and Essex leg spinner Danish Kaneria “corrupted” Mervyn Westfield and approached at least four other players in the club about spot-fixing, a court heard today.
Kaneria’s boasts about making money from corrupt bookies were an open secret at Essex amongst the coach, captain, vice captain and opening batsman and bowler, the Old Bailey heard.
Mark Milliken-Smith, QC, defending Westfield, said it was “startling” that players deliberately “turned a blind eye”, or apparently took the Pakistani’s words as a joke. But the lawyer added that no one reported the approaches to authorities, perhaps because Kaneria remained such an important match-winning bowler for Essex.
It also emerged that Kaneria had been officially warned by the International Cricket Council in April 2008 about keeping “highly inappropriate company” with a suspected corrupt bookmaker. He carried on playing and a year later was involved in the spot-fixing scandal at Essex, the court heard.
Westfield admitted it was Kaneria who introduced him to two underworld Indian bookies and pressurised him into spot-fixing during Natwest Pro40 matches in September 2009 that were being televised across the world.
Kaneria told him it was an “easy way to make money quickly” and the young bowler, who was 21 at the time, took a bung of £6,000 to concede at least 12 runs in his first over against Durham.
Westfield said that Kaneria was due to receive £4,000 as part of the corrupt deal, the court heard.
Nine days later, after a night out with teammate Tony Palladino, Westfield showed him a bundle of £50 notes he kept in a plastic bag in his bedroom cupboard, and said it was from fixing.
Palladino mentioned it to other players but it was not until six months later, after an anti-corruption briefing from the Professional Cricketers’ Association, that it was officially reported.
Kaneria was arrested alongside Westfield on suspicion of conspiracy, the court heard, and detectives passed a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on both men. However senior lawyers decided there was insufficient evidence for a “realistic prospect of conviction” against Kaneria, and he was released without charge six months later.
Westfield, meanwhile, was charged and had protested his innocence for almost two years before making a last-minute guilty plea just as his trial started last month.
He will be sentenced this afternoon.
The revelations raise questions of how widespread fixing was in county cricket and plunge Pakistan into fresh corruption controversy, just as the team had seemingly banished the ghosts of its recent past. They have enjoyed a resurgence on and off the pitch in the past 15 months, under new captain Misbah-ul Haq, culminating with the recent 3-0 whitewash of England in the Test series in the UAE.
Kaneria has not played for his country since the scandal-hit Pakistan series against England in the summer of 2010, during which Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif ran a fixing racket.
The spinner was not implicated in the conspiracy but was dropped after the Trent Bridge Test and has not added to his 61 Tests and 18 one-day internationals since.
Kaneria denies all involvement in spot-fixing and has been fighting to clear his name ever since he was arrested by Essex Police in March 2010.
The Old Bailey heard that rumours of Kaneria’s links to fixers were an open secret at his county club.
In statements read to the court, Paul Grayson, the coach, admitted that he had heard rumours that Kaneria had asked players if they wanted to meet bookies.
Former club captain, Mark Pettini, said that the Pakistani had talked in front of him, vice-captain James Foster, and opening bowler David Masters about how he knew people who would “pay considerable money to influence matches”.
Opening batsman Varun Chopra also gave a statement in which he said he had been approached by Kaneria to spot-fix, saying a telephone call: “There are ways of making money where you don’t have to throw a game”.
None of the players reported Kaneria’s approaches, and said they did not take him seriously. When Pettini said they asked him about it, Kaneria claimed it was a joke.
Milliken-Smith said: “It was plain Westfield was not the only one Kaneria sought to inveigle into this.”
* Read coverage of the trial on The Cricketer website, and follow RDJ Edwards’s tweets @Cricketer_RDJ