Gaining an interview with Chris Watts is the hottest ticket since lunch with Cameron Diaz. They are rarely granted and this year only ‘The Cricketer’ and ‘Daily Telegraph’ have been fortunate enough.
As the ECB media officer Andy Walpole commented, “Chris Watts has been inundated with requests and we have said yes to only a few.” While the interview below is not an exclusive, it is a rare collectable.
I achieved a recent coup in the Sussex CCC Media Centre. While the other journalists were beavering away with their live commentary texts on the CB40 Yorkshire match last week, who should happen to walk in but the man I’ve tried to meet and interview for near-on 6 months. I’d left two phone messages asking for an interview at his ECB office but he’d never responded, so to find him sitting down next to me and offering a handshake was a little serendipitous. And who was this person? Chris Watts, the new Head of the ECB Anti-Corruption Unit. Chris didn’t disappoint.
We immediately hit it off after my opening gambit praising his work to the hilt. And it is genuine praise. What he’s doing takes steely conviction. To shake up the status quo in a sport where friends are few and far between, requires a special kind of courage.
I asked him about his first outspoken interview where he stated, “There is more likely to be corruption in domestic county cricket than Test Matches.” A comment that upset the sport’s status quo to the core and caused Bumble and Aggers to tweet madly like disbelieving innocents. “I wanted to warn people of how I perceived the possible challenges ahead,” explained Chris. “Having worked in the police service for over 30 years, I am used to dealing with complex and sensitive issues.” Watts is full of praise for the ECB. “They have been very co-operative and helpful throughout my first 7 months. I could not have asked for more.”
How has his initiation gone? He smiled, “It’s been an interesting time.” And the cricketers’ amnesty? “A useful exercise”. Watts is excited by a new ECB initiative for this summer. There’ll be an anti-corruption officer at many OD domestic matches. They will liaise with the county hierarchy; purvey the dressing room area; chat to umpires before and after a game; mix with the crowd and look out for any unusual behaviour.
How has the recent PCA anti-corruption tutorial been received? “The PCA has been very cooperative and genuinely are helping. Players have been open and willing to get involved and have all completed the tutorial. The overseas players are also required to complete it within two weeks of receiving the link. They can’t be registered and therefore can’t play for their county until they have. Some will be sent the link before they arrive in the country for the T20 tournament.”
And how is he liking cricket? “I am a keen rugby follower and have enjoyed international cricket, but the domestic game is new to me. I am enjoying the matches I’ve seen and looking forward to the start of the T20 competition. I was at Lord’s for the West Indies Test and the support the crowd gave Strauss on reaching his century was truly touching.”
What makes Watts unusual is that he’s an outsider. He knows few people within cricket. There is no old school tie or network of former professionals as friends. Some might say a good thing. He cannot be tainted or influenced.
At present, Chris is visiting county grounds introducing himself to the club hierarchies, the players and local media. While at Sussex he chatted to their CEO Dave Brooks. Personally, I have nothing but admiration for Chris Watts. He is a pioneer, crusading amidst a highly sensitive and uncomfortable area of cricket which many would like to see remain buried – where denial is a better choice than uncovering any potential poison.
As for Danish Kaneria the ECB hearing is impending and therefore he’s off the record. The case begins on June 18th.
Chris Stonor has been a journalist for over 25 years specialising in subjects as diverse as music, memorabilia collecting, alternative health, financial investing and futurism. He took a lengthy sabbatical during the noughties to pursue a variety of business interests including financial investments and an Ebay online retail business. Chris has returned to the journalistic arena, refreshed and with renewed enthusiasm, pursuing new fields including his passion for cricket.