You could be forgiven if you do not know who Mervyn Westfield is. A former Essex county cricketer, and a mediocre one at that. So why did Cricket South Africa host his visit to this country last November?
He toured the country, speaking to players from 11 franchises and provincial teams, as well academy players and youth coaches.
As it turns out, it was a timely visit, arranged as part of an educational programme to alert young players to the dangers of match-fixing.
Just days earlier, CSA had put out a warning that they had news of a syndicate targeting the domestic game. And Westfield knows all about fixing. He was the first Englishman to be jailed for manipulating a domestic game.
Aged 23 at the time, he had just seven first-class matches and eight A-list games to his credit. But in the space of one over, he destroyed whatever career he might have had on the field. He had been recruited by his revered teammate, Pakistan international Danish Kaneria. All he had to do was concede 12 runs in his first over in a Pro40 match against Durham. Simple, easy, and worth £6 000. As it turned out, the opposition scored only 10, but Westfield still got paid.
He was reported by a teammate, Tony Palladino, who had been shown the money by Westfield. The end result was him being charged, convicted and sentenced to four months’ jail. They did not have enough on Kaneria to send him to jail, but he was banned for life by the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Westfield got time off for good behaviour, but still spent eight weeks at Belmarsh prison, alongside murderers, thieves and rapists. He was banned from professional cricket for five years and stopped from participating in club cricket in any capacity for three. The second ban was reduced after he agreed to participate in an anti-corruption programme run by the Professional Cricketers’ Association.
Westfield now spends his time telling young players that the risk is just not worth it.
By all accounts, his words fell on some deaf ears in South Africa; or perhaps it was already too late. The CSA is now heavily involved in preparing cases against several players for either fixing matches, or failing to report approaches by match-fixers.
But Westfield’s tale is a cautionary one, worth retelling.
He bears no grudges. In an interview recently, he was asked if there was ‘unfinished business’ between him and Kaneria. ‘Not really, no. At the end of the day I am my own person. I don’t hold any grudges, it is what it is.’
‘I want to turn around and speak to whoever I can, anyone who wants to speak to me and asks me what happened, so they don’t have to fall into the same trap,’ he said. ‘I don’t want anyone to make the same silly mistake I did.
‘They look to target more vulnerable people, so young players should 100% take it on board and listen to warnings. Actually hearing it from someone who has been through it and experienced it, you obviously listen a bit more.’
Cricket is the only career Westfield has known. A month after his 17th birthday, he made his first-class debut for Essex and dreamed of representing his national side. He took 11 first-class wickets and had his whole career ahead of him, before he pressed the self-destruct button.
There have been others: Lou Vincent was banned from cricket for life in 2014 by the ECB for match-fixing, after he admitted 18 breaches of the regulations.
Upon his conviction, Vincent said in a statement: ‘For sport to prosper, it is up to players to police the game, because they are the ones that will ultimately lose out and allow themselves to be used as pawns to make money. The decisions I made were wrong. Players must be better than that; above reproach, for the fans, for the sport.
‘It is entirely my fault and I’ll never be able to stand in front of a game again, it’s entirely my fault that I will not be able to apply my skills in a positive way to help future cricketers, but it is entirely possible that I can use this moment to convince others not to be tempted by wrongdoing.
‘To do the right thing for themselves, for family and friends and for the sport they love.’