Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

A HANDFUL of professional cricketers are sweating at the moment, and in most cases that is a good thing. The anticipation of punishment is often more painful and effective than the real thing. It’s why headmasters keep pupils waiting outside their study for so long.

Some with concerns about potential implications in the unfolding match-fixing scandal will be entirely innocent, but will be nervous nonetheless. What was that they heard maybe two months ago? Did they actually hear it?

According to the International Cricket Council (ICC) and Cricket SA’s anticorruption code, players have 48 hours to report any direct approach or even suspicious behaviour. This would include any discussion, overheard or participated in, regarding any aspect of fixing or illicit payment, either face-to-face or telephonically.

The ICC anti-corruption unit has a poor record of prosecution, not because they are poor investigators or lack expertise, but because it is virtually impossible to make circumstantial and cricketing evidence "stick".

A Cricket SA tribunal will operate on a different principle to that of any subsequent criminal case. The body needs only to weigh up the balance of probabilities, whereas a court needs to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

If a player’s mobile phone records show that he made and received 28 phone calls to alleged fixing intermediary Gulam Bodi over a three-week period and is unable to provide a legitimate explanation, Cricket SA could suspend him.

In order for the National Prosecuting Authority to convict him of corruption, however, it might need to prove the content of those conversations.

A handful of players are technically guilty of failing to disclose an approach from Bodi for reasons other than deceipt, gain or skullduggery. Several have said they stopped taking anything Bodi said seriously years ago, but now realise that what one described as a "stupid, dick-head comment" might have been an approach.

Bodi is highly unlikely to protect anybody. Anybody below him on the poisoned food chain, that is. Even if he begins his conversations with the investigating officers with the intention of doing so, the likely length and depth of the questioning, along with the weight of evidence, will see his defence and denial crumble.

Besides, it is those above Bodi — his recruiters and bosses — who he may have more reason to fear. The Asian and Middle Eastern syndicate for whom he was operating is unlikely to step forward with helpful information. Nondisclosure of information or "passive involvement" may be difficult to prove, but that does not mean "active" involvement is any easier. Take the example of the sixth over of a match that was "agreed" would cost 12 or more runs. The "fix" is known and betting patterns show conclusively that something was unusual.

The bowler, however, says that the captain removed the deep square leg and instructed him to "test" the batsman with the short ball — which led to him being pulled to the boundary three times. The captain furiously denies this and says it was the bowler’s ineptitude or stubbornness that saw him incapable of sticking to the bowling plan.

Do you suspend them both when one of them may well be innocent? And what of the batsman who runs himself out in farcical circumstances during what commentators call a "moment of madness"? The doubts about several close and unlikely finishes during the Ram Slam are mounting.

The good news is that the investigation is taking place at all. In many other Twenty20 tournaments around the world, there is no desire whatsoever to ensure and maintain a clean competition. It is perfectly conceivable that some players experienced the ease with which extra cash could be made while guesting in one particular overseas league — and were then blackmailed into misbehaving when they returned to SA.

The bad news is that there will be no quick answers. This investigation may take months to complete and even then, it is unlikely to answer all the questions. There will be tales of attempted fixes, accepted fixes and fixes gone wrong.

Until then, the tiny minority of naughty boys who may give the vast majority a bad name will suffer outside the headmaster’s study more than you can imagine.