London: English county Essex insisted on Tuesday that they had taken the correct action in the case of corrupt former seamer Mervyn Westfield following court room accusations they had "turned a blind eye".
In February, the 23-year-old Westfield became the first county cricketer in England to be prosecuted for spot-fixing and was jailed for four months. Westfield was convicted on one count of accepting or obtaining a corrupt payment to bowl in a way that would allow the scoring of runs.
In February, London's Old Bailey was told Westfield was paid 6,000 pounds to bowl so that a specific number of runs would be chalked up in the first over of a match between Durham and Essex in September 2009. It was claimed Westfield was "targeted" by team-mate Danish Kaneria, the Pakistan leg-spinner, whom the court was told set up the deal.
Kaneria had earlier been released without charge by police. Westfield's case came to light after another Essex player, Tony Palladino, went back to his flat in September 2009, where the bowler showed him "the most money he had ever seen".
But, during sentencing, lawyer Mark Milliken-Smith told the court; Essex players and coaches "turned a blind eye" to corruption as he tried to seek a more lenient jail term for Westfield. However, Essex, during their annual press day at their Chelmsford headquarters, east of London, refuted such claims ahead of their 2012 season opener against Gloucestershire on Thursday.
"Essex Cricket wish to make it clear that the players and management involved in the discovery and reporting of suspicions concerning the possible collusion of Mervyn Westfield and Danish Kaneria in spot-fixing at the club in 2009 which ultimately led to the conviction of Mervyn Westfield, took the correct action in reporting those suspicions," a statement issued by the county said.
"The game owes a debt to the positive actions taken by the Essex players who came forward. Without them, the corruption that occurred may never have been exposed. As the incidents and protagonists are now the subject of regulatory proceedings and investigations, until those are concluded neither the club nor the players will be making any further comment."
The statement echoed previous comments from Essex chairman Nigel Hilliard to the Daily Telegraph.
"It is widely reported that the barrister (lawyer) mitigating on behalf of Mervyn Westfield suggested that there was an air of complacency in the Essex changing room," Hilliard said.
"In fact, it was only after the incident came to light that several players realised conversations considered to be jokes at the time had real meanings. The sport is in a better situation now as a result of greater knowledge, new regulations and better education."
Westfield's case followed that of Pakistan trio Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir who, in an entirely separate incident, were all sent to prison for their part in a spot-fixing scandal involving the bowling of deliberate no-balls during a Test match against England at Lord's in 2010.
Highly-rated 19-year-old Amir was released from prison in February after serving half of a six-month sentence. Butt and Mohammad Asif are serving sentences of 30 and 12 months respectively that were handed down by a British court in November. The International Cricket Council also banned all the three players for a minimum of five years each.