(Reuters) - Former England captain Michael Atherton is “highly sceptical” of claims made in a television programme that players for England and Australia may have been involved in ‘spot-fixing’ activities during test matches in South Asia.
The Al Jazeera programme “Cricket’s Match Fixers”, broadcast on Sunday, alleged incidents of spot-fixing in a Chennai match between England and India in December 2016 and the Australia-India test in Ranchi in March 2017.
Match-fixing has become a major concern for the sport in recent years and the International Cricket Council (ICC) has launched an investigation.
‘Spot-fixing’ refers to manipulation of part of a game to deliver a given outcome for betting purposes.
The documentary also made allegations that the stadium manager at Galle in Sri Lanka may have doctored the pitch at the behest of fixers and suggested minor Twenty20 competitions had also been targetted.
In his column for The Times newspaper, Atherton said he felt it unlikely that top test players would engage in such activity given the risks to their careers.
“When it comes to betting and fixing, dangers are ever present. There is a massive black-market operation in India worth many billions of pounds,” Atherton wrote.
“The game, especially around the fringes and where there are enormous discrepancies in earning potential, is vulnerable. But highly paid international players in very visible, high-profile matches? In this case I remain highly sceptical,” he said.
“Since the match-fixing crisis of the 1990s, the awareness among players of the problem of fixing, the potential consequences (time in jail and five years out of the game for Mohammad Amir, remember, for nothing more than a newspaper sting) and stringent controls around dressing rooms by the ICC have made it much less likely to be a problem in international cricket.
“The players are paid too well (especially those from India, England and Australia). They have too much to lose,” the former opener added.
Atherton, who played 115 tests for England between 1989-2001, said there was more likelihood of wrong-doing in the case of poorly paid ground staff and at minor competitions.
Cricket authorities in England and Australia have backed their players.
“There is nothing we have seen that would make us doubt any of our players in any way whatsoever,” England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) chief executive Tom Harrison said in a statement on Sunday.
“Together with the ICC, we are aware of the investigation by Al Jazeera into alleged corruption in cricket,” Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland said in a statement.
“Neither the ICC nor Cricket Australia is aware of any credible evidence linking Australian players to corruption in the game,” Sutherland added.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by John O'Brien