Dubai: Organised match-fixing, which is inextricably linked to the ever-growing menace of illegal betting, is now of massive concern for cricket’s governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Ever since Indian police detected the first high-profile case in 2000, in Delhi, India, cricket has been under siege to a series of scandals that have become an embarrassment for the ICC.

The biggest fear has been the rise of illegal betting which has threatened the sport’s already unhinged credibility. Illegal betting and match fixing have grown alongside the popularity of One-Day cricket and its newest bedfellow, Twenty20.

There is no doubt that cricket has flourished, not just in terms of revenue, but also in reach. Although it is acknowledged that 125 countries play cricket, the ICC has only 10 full members, 38 associate members and 59 affiliate members.

It is estimated that more than half of the global population are followers of association football (soccer), but cricket also enjoys a huge fan base which is in excess of 2.5 billion admirers, putting it ahead of sports like field hockey (2 billion) and tennis (1 billion).

This perhaps, has made cricket the perfect bait for illegal gambling, which has the ability to influence the outcome of a match or alter individual performances.

In its latest report, released in Dubai on Monday, the ICC’s new General Manager of its Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) Alex Marshall, said: “We would like to work on prevention, so making cricket resistant to corruption is about preventing it happening in the first place.”

Making cricket resistant to corruption is the right way to go, but how realistic is that approach? Historically, the cheaters, like the drug users in athletics, cycling and swimming, have always succeeded in staying ahead of their pursuers.

It is the same with the powerful illegal gambling cartels who are so hard to identify and eradicate. In the over proliferation of modern sport, everyone is at risk, but perhaps none more than the players themselves and the unsuspecting fans.

Every wondered just how big the illegal betting cartels are? They are enormous and worth billions.

And most of this revenue is generated from their allies in popular betting sports, like cricket.

Which brings us to the ICC’s ‘prevention and resistance to corruption,’ approach in a bid to save the sport from further harm.

It’s a positive approach, but not easy, as the late South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje found out when he accepted money from a blacklisted bookmaker to throw matches in 2000.

Illegal syndicates are discreet and complex networks that operate on multiple levels of power and trust. They are also hard to intercept, given the spread of sophisticated digital communication.

So, its goes without saying that the ICC sleuths and officials have their work cut out for them if they are to keep off the bandits and save cricket’s credibility...