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BPL misery still haunts coach Pont

  • Published at 12:11 pm April 2nd, 2015
BPL misery still haunts coach Pont

Ian Pont has spoken out in detail for the first time about his courageous part in an anti-corruption sting operation designed to catch match-fixers in the act, but which has resulted in him facing a long and disturbing struggle to protect his reputation.

Pont, who is currently running a pace foundation in India, has lost job offers and endured whispers about his honesty since reporting attempts to fix a match in the Bangladesh Premier League and then working closely with ACU officers to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Now he fears his involvement could have damaging consequences for the rest of his career. “I am a professional cricket coach and I’m 53 years old,” he said. “I need to work. I can’t allow my reputation to be tainted when everything I’ve done has been for the best of intentions and for the good of cricket.”

His compelling evidence, including audio recordings of individuals detailing exactly how matches would be fixed, was largely disregarded by the tribunal in Bangladesh because they erroneously - and almost inexplicably - concluded that salary paid to him during the sting operation was somehow associated with match-fixing.

The money was part of his agreed salary from Dhaka Gladiators in the 2013 BPL tournament and he was cleared, by the ICC’s ACSU, to keep it. But the fallout from the tribunal set-up by the BPL into the ACSU investigation still remains after it concluded that it was “disturbing” that Pont had kept the money and that this rendered his evidence unreliable.

Pont had stayed silent until now in the hope that the ICC might successfully appeal what they regarded as a bungled verdict of the BPL tribunal. But he finally opened up.

“It all started on February 1 2013 when Jishan Chowdury, one of the owners of the Dhaka franchise, and one other man came to my room in the evening,” Pont said. “We had just won our fifth game out of six and we were top of the BPL table. Jishan then told me they wanted to fix the game against Chittagong Kings the following day. He had a piece of paper with specific details of what should happen at various stages of the match and it was clear he wanted to fix the result, not just an isolated passage of play.

“My initial response was ‘I want to go home’. My head was spinning and, from the way they were talking, it seemed other people were involved. They wanted the normal captain, Mashrafe Mortaza, replaced for the game with Mohammad Ashraful as they knew that Mashrafe would have no part in any corruption. He had already reported a previous approach and gone public in the media, too. So they wanted him out of the side.

“They also wanted to bring two new bowlers into the side - bowlers they knew would help them - and they wanted to bring one other batsman in on the plan. I know they approached Owais Shah, who reported the approach, and Darren Stevens, who was very upset by it and told me before the game that he wanted nothing to do with it.

“I phoned my wife and told her I wanted to come home. We talked it through and she said she would support my decision to report the approach the next morning and then leave the tournament. I was concerned how I withdrew without the news coming out and overshadowing the entire BPL season.

“I reported the approach the next morning. I was staying in the same hotel as Peter O’Shea, one of the ACSU’s officers, and asked to talk to him over breakfast. I told him the whole thing and said I just wanted to get on the next flight home. He was very good. He reassured me that I had done the right thing and he told me that he would drive me to the airport that morning if I liked. But then he said, ‘If you really want to help us catch these people, if you want to make sure that they never do this again, then you’ll stay and help us collect evidence against them.’

“I agreed to allow them to bug my room,” he said. “Straight after breakfast, they placed a pen-sized video device in the hotel directory on my desk and an audio device in a drawer. I also recorded the audio on my laptop and put loads of papers on my bed so it appeared I was working and I invited Jishan Chowdury back to my room.

“I asked him to run through the plans again. He did so, in detail, including telling me which players were in on the plan and what they were expected to do. He thought five players would help him. He also told me that Chittagong were not involved in the fix. As soon as he left the room, I phoned Peter O’Shea and arranged to give him the evidence. I was, by then, desperate to go home. It seemed impossible to carry on coaching a side that contained players I knew to be corrupt and I didn’t think it was possible that I would be able to concentrate on cricket.”

“I kept thinking about Bob Woolmer. Who knows what happened to him that day in Jamaica?” Pont said. “All I did know was, the more I thought about it, the more I was terrified it would emerge that I had tricked these people and I started to fear the consequences. Yes, I was scared. In the end, I spoke to Peter and decided that, for the long-term good of cricket, really, I should stick to the plan and stay in Bangladesh to see it through.

“I was offered money for my involvement. Jishan offered me $6,000, but I said I didn’t want it. I told him I just wanted my salary. I told him that the second instalment in my contract - $10,000 - was overdue anyway and I’d be happy just to have that. He told me not to worry about it and said I’d be paid in a few days. The audio evidence - evidence submitted to the tribunal - makes it crystal clear that I said I just wanted my salary to be paid as agreed before the tournament.”

The Bangladesh tribunal later made strong criticism of the ACSU’s decision to allow a BPL game to go ahead even though they had strong suspicions that fixing would occur in it. As a result, the tribunal came to the conclusion that the entire sting operation was flawed and to Pont’s dismay has largely disregarded its findings.

 “When we got to the ground it was packed,” he said. “The capacity was meant to be 35,000 but, because there was a batch of forged tickets, there were 47,000 people in the ground. I don’t think the ACSU have the authority to stop a game even if they wanted to but, had they tried to do so at that stage, there would have been a riot.”

To ensure the sting went ahead, Pont had to brazen out some anger from Mortaza, who Pont believes suspected the worst when he was left out of the side. “I was given a report which told me that Mashrafe couldn’t play because of his knee - which was possible, as he had a chronic knee condition - but he was furious when I told him. He kicked some water bottles away and I suspected he realised what was happening.”

Gladiators also left out Chris Liddle, a little-known Sussex pace bowler, to allow space for some of the bowlers who knew of the fixing plans. “The game was ridiculous. There were some obvious extras, a ridiculous full toss and then we batted appallingly. Ashraful opened the batting and lasted into the 19th over, scoring 33. I remember one of the Chittagong players said ‘you could have made it less obvious’ as we shook hands at the end.

“I was furious. I also felt conflicted because I knew I had been a part of a game that was an insult to the watching spectators. I didn’t lose sight of the long-term benefits - if we wanted to rid the game of these people, we had to accumulate evidence against them - but at that moment, I just wanted to get away. I refused to go to the post-match press conference and went back to the hotel.

“A couple of days later all of us - the whole playing squad and the coaches - were given an envelope containing some money. That wasn’t unexpected: they owed me $10,000 in salary payments. But I opened it to find it contained just $6,000 which worried me as it was the amount they mentioned. I called Peter immediately and he said ‘keep it; that’s your salary, we’re not going to take that off you, they still owe you $4,000.’ They never did pay the remaining $4,000. Peter said that, as I was expecting my salary, and as long as I didn’t take a dollar more than was contractually obliged, it was ok.

“But when the tribunal started I had new fears. One of the judges kept saying ‘the game shouldn’t have gone ahead’ and said all evidence after I reported the approach would be disregarded. So in the end they cleared nearly everyone involved. They even cleared someone who approached a player who had pleaded guilty to not reporting an approach. How can that happen?

“To make matters worse, they’ve produced a report which I feel questions my integrity. They have said that I kept a bung and couldn’t explain why. And they have said that, because I couldn’t explain why I took the money, it made my evidence unreliable. So they have disregarded rock solid evidence against people we know are involved in match fixing.

“It’s just not right. I asked the ACSU if I should keep the money and the, knowing that I hadn’t been paid - I still haven’t been paid in full - told me that I should. It was my salary. To disregard my evidence because I accepted it seems perverse and makes me extremely angry.”

Pont is concerned that, unless he tells his story, the damage done to his coaching career could be terminal. Recently, the offer of a lucrative coaching job in India was suddenly rescinded and, as things stand, it is doubtful that the ECB would dare to consider him for the role of England fast bowling coach.

“From a personal perspective, I’ve done everything I was asked to do by the ACSU. I’ve lost my job at Dhaka as a consequence, even though I coached them to the title for two years in succession. That’s ok: I knew what I was getting into. I did the right thing and, when I look back, I’m proud of that. I can live with it if people think I’m a rubbish coach or my methods are ineffective. I think they’re wrong, but I can live with it. But to have my integrity questioned by this tribunal… well, it leaves bad taste in the mouth and leaves me with no choice but to tell the full story.” 

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