May  2015 / 26 No Comments
The Cricketer, Cairns trialNew Zealander’s court “hell” to continue  when he faces Modi in civil case.

The Cricketer, Ivo Tennant

A quarter of a century or so ago, when he was a young overseas player form Nottinghamshire, Chris Cairns rang the internal telephone from the dressing room to the press box at Trent Bridge. He had been wound up by a typically splenetic article by Michael Henderson, of this parish, who was then writing for The Guardian.  Few around the ground – this, after all, was in Ken Clarke’s constituency – or among his team-mates would have read the report, yet his indignation remain fresh in the memory: “Who gives him the authority to say this?”

Doubtless Cairns, even though he is now more mature and, it might be thought savvy, felt much the same when Lalit Modi tweeted that he had been rejected in an Indian Premier League player auction because of his involvement in match fixing.

He might have let the comment go by into the ether – outside off stump, as the commentators would say. Instead, he successfully sued the founder of the IP, but, in so doing, set in train events which, in his own words, let to his reputation being “completely scorched”. He had been accused of lying under oath in 2012, stating that he had never cheated through match fixing or would contemplate doing so.

Cairns was acquitted of perjury and perverting the course of justice after a nine-week trial at Southwark Crown Court, but he is now likely to face a private, civil case brought by Modi in the High Court in the New Year. This, too, will be open to the public and the media, which means further harmful publicity to the game, whatever the outcome. The concern if that attendance will fall away if spectators are not convinced they are watching proper contests. Otherwise they might as well watch robots.

Cricket and social media, Twitter in particular, do not make for easy – or attractive – bedfellows, but there is no turning back now. When Cairns enters the High Court he will be confronted not by a jury, some of whom inevitably will struggle to understand the nuances of the game, but solely by a judge. His or her verdicts will be determined by “the balance of probabilities”, as opposed to the proceedings in the criminal case at Southwark, which required a higher burden of proof – “beyond reasonable doubt”.

The jury at Southwark would have been swayed more by the status of Lou Vincent and his character flaws than that of Brendon McCullum.

The New Zealand captain was one of three key witnesses for the prosecution, a man much admired in the cricketing world, but whose statement, through the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit, made for unsatisfactory reading when it emerged that a diary had been lost and no notes taken of other conversations.

The prime concern for administrators now is that, following McCullum’s experience, few cricketers will want to act as whistle blower. It took the News of the World  to expose Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir in 2010, and Mervyn Westfield’s conviction for agreeing to concede an agreed number of runs in a televised match in 2009 was a rare example of self-confession.

David Richardson, the chief executive of the ICC, is bullish that the international game is clean of match fixing, but that in not necessarily the case in domestic tournaments. Nor should it be overlooked that the time gap between the point of action in a Test match in the United Arab Emirates and the televisual moment can be as long as 12 seconds. That is a considerable and tempting vacuum. As with the social media, so cricket and courtrooms are an unsatisfactory mix. As was seen at Southwark, a soulless and spartan court by comparison to the warmth of Trent Bridge, and in employment tribunals in Holborn in recent times, too much time is expended on explanations of cricketing lore.

Sasha Wass QC, for the prosecution, was not familiar with cricketing terminology, mixing up the ICC and the Indian Cricketing League, and resulting in a correction by Orlando Pownall, Cairn’s barrister, who, although tending to see the game in a time honoured tea-and-biscuits more, knew enough to be able to challenge assertions that Vincent was getting himself out deliberately when he might have been sacrificing his wicket in a run chase.

The barrister who represented Peter Willey and George Sharp in their umpires’ age discrimination case against the ECB last February was hampered by his lack of specialist cricketing knowledge, taking the presiding panel down a cul-de-sac of superfluous terminology. By contrast, Robert Griffiths QC, who had chaired two MCC committees, including the Laws, put administrators through the wringer during Darrell Hair’s employment tribunal in 2007.

Jurors can be forgiven for not understanding a complex sport: it was soon apparent at Southwark that they did not. Hence he case dragged on interminably, like a timeless Test.

In fairness to all things concerned, it was a particularly complex case. If and when Cairns and Modi square up to each other, most probably in March, neither McCullum, who had accused Cairns of trying to recruit him to fix, nor Vincent, banned for life for fixing and whose evidence at Southwark, according to the judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, should be treated with caution, will have to appear, given that this will be a civil case.

Cairns described his past five years as “hell”. Asked what his next career move would be, he replied: “I don’t have one.” He admitted it would be very hard for him to find work again within the game. His co-defendant, Andrew Fitch-Holland, who was accused of trying to obtain a false statement from Vincent to support Cairn’s case, and who was also cleared, collapsed in tears. For the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit, it was an unwelcome outcome. As Cairns said, there were no winners.

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