Shakib al Hasan was one of the star players at the 2019 World Cup in England. He was included in the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) team of the tournament, the first Bangladeshi to be honoured in this way. By the end of the tournament, he had amassed over 11,000 runs and was approaching 600 wickets in international cricket.
Three months later, on 29 October, his world came crashing down. Al Hasan admitted guilt to three breaches of the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Code and was banned from the game for two years. The sentence was suspended for twelve months, and Al Hasan returned to international cricket in January this year.
Al Hasan’s case is a useful reminder that cricketers could be in breach of the Code even if they do not act upon a request to engage in corrupt conduct.
From January to April 2018, Al Hasan on three separate occasions exchanged messages with a bookmaker who was being tracked by the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU). Al Hasan never acted upon the bookmaker’s requests to provide inside information, and never received any money or other reward from the bookmaker. Crucially, however, Al Hasan never disclosed to the ACU the bookmaker’s contact.
The Code strives to preserve the unique selling proposition of live cricket: uncertainty of outcome. Fans expect players to always give their best. The result must be determined by the quality of the teams on the day, not external factors such as match-fixing.
A cricketer breaches the Code if he fails to disclose to the ACU, without unnecessary delay, the full details of any approach received by him to engage in corrupt conduct.
It is useful to break down the different elements of the offence:
- The cricketer must make the disclosure to the ACU directly. A disclosure to any other body is not good enough.
- The cricketer will have unnecessarily delayed the disclosure if he waited until the end of a match in which he has been approached.
- Failure to report an approach is an offence regardless of whether anybody acts upon the approach made to the cricketer.
Despite knowing that the person who approached him was a bookmaker, Al Hasan failed to report it not once but three times. He knew that the bookmaker’s intention was to obtain inside information to use for betting purposes. On top of this, Al Hasan was an experienced international cricketer who was fully aware of his responsibilities under the Code.
In mitigation of his sentence, the ICC considered factors such as Al Hasan’s good disciplinary record (he had previously reported an approach), his voluntary admission and full cooperation with the ACU, and his genuine remorse.
One could argue that it is heavy handed of the ICC to find a cricketer guilty where the approach made to him has not actually affected the outcome of a match or damaged its commercial value. However, if the ICC stands any chance of rooting out corruption in cricket, it needs to be able to identify the perpetrators before they influence the outcome of matches. Al Hasan’s case is crucial in achieving this aim.
A cricketer’s duties under the Code are far-reaching, and the consequences of failing to report an approach could be severe. Al Hasan is a world-class player and immediately returned to the international arena. A less experienced cricketer, still trying to make his mark in the game, may be less likely to be given a second chance.