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Archive for August 30th, 2010

From News of the World (left to right): Bowler Asif, skipper Butt, bowler Amir, keeper Akmal

For many of us who grew up in Pakistan, our childhoods were filled with memories of cricket blaring on the television, children playing the sport on the street, even the Howzat popsicles Wall’s promoted in conjunction with major sporting matches. Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, and Waqar Younis are all icons, not just in the cricketing world, but among all Pakistanis. We are a country that bleeds for cricket. So you can imagine the outrage that has been generated from the latest spot-fixing scandal, in which several members of the Pakistan national cricket team allegedly took bribes for rigging a match against England. Below, Shaheryar Mirza, a reporter with Express 24/7 and a self-confessed cricket fanatic, delves into the scandal below:

On Sunday, The News of the World broke a sensational story, reporting that a cricket fixer, Mazhar Majeed,  accepted  £150,000 pounds for allegedly directing Pakistani bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif to deliver three ‘no-balls’ at specific junctures during the final test match against England at Lords.  Hidden-camera footage shows Mazhar Majeed accepting money from a reporter posing as a member of  a ‘Far East gambling cartel’ and players Umar Amin and Wahab Riaz taking jackets lined with cash from Majeed, apparently in return for having done his bidding.  The News of the World’s video dossier also shows Majeed bragging that he bribed the players to deliver those no-balls at that precise time.

The players at the center of the controversy are Salman Butt (Captain) Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. A total of seven players are suspected to be a part of the fix (two could be Umar Amin and Wahab Riaz as they also appear in video footage), though Butt and Akmal are said to be the ‘kingpins’ of the scam. Video footage of the bowlers delivering no-balls exactly when Majeed said they would is the smoking gun, particularly since Amir’s no ball is so blatant and exaggerated and bowlers rarely ever miss the mark by that much a margin.

In the worst-case scenario, Pakistan’s players will be found guilty of spot-fixing and the investigations will lead to greater information on match-fixing and other such misconduct by Pakistan’s players and the offenders will be banned – for life.  The Pakistan Cricket Board, (PCB) which has also come under fire and has been held responsible for this embarrassment, could choose to make an example of the players to let themselves off the hook. Calls for the PCB to be dissolved can be heard on every channel in the country.

Pakistani players have had little credibility since the match-fixing scandals of the 1990’s and the Pakistan Cricket Board has always been accused of being soft on offenders.  That reputation will be more deeply entrenched among Pakistani fans and followers of the sport around the world. Like all scandals, the outrage will intensify as the scandal unfolds, but after punishment is meted out, it will slowly fade to the back of people’s minds and Pakistani players will continue to perform through a haze of suspicion, as they done have over the last decade.

However, the biggest casualty of this scandal will undoubtedly be Mohammad Amir. The teenage strike bowler is arguably the biggest find for Pakistani bowling since Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Not only does he have immense natural talent, he has ability years beyond his experience. Amir is also blessed to be born with a high cricket I.Q., for lack of a better term. Fans of Pakistan cricket will be torn between feelings of betrayal and the desire to see Mohammad Amir fulfill his potential as a legend of Pakistani bowling.

That is where the toughest question arises out of this scandal; should Mohammad Amir be banned for life if he is found guilty? The heart says no. Despite how embarrassing and filthy it is to cheat at Test level, and that too at Lords, the Mecca of cricket, a lifetime ban would be disproportionate. To make an example out of him would be understandable, but not justified. This is a first-time offense for Amir and he is not guilty of fixing an entire match. At the end of the day, he is an eighteen-year-old kid and could not have been complicit in a scam of this proportion without senior players leading him into it.

This is ultimately a failure of the PCB to adequately chaperone Amir and shield him from people like Majeed who have preyed on much more experienced and knowing players in the past. Those senior players like Salman Butt, Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Asif are all responsible for this if it turns out to be true. A lifetime ban for all three of the previously mentioned players would be justified and Mohammad Asif, in fact, would deserve such a punishment as it is obvious he has not learned from his past mistakes. While Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal may also be first-time offenders, one is the captain and the other is a senior player in the squad. Make examples of them. Not Mohammad Amir.

‘Match fixing’ where the entire outcome of the match is pre-determined and ‘fancy-fixing’ where certain scores by a batsmen or a specific number of runs within a certain amount of overs are predetermined, plague the game and every country that plays the sport. In numerous conversations I’ve had with reporters who have covered cricket for over two decades, fixing is mentioned casually as a fact in their conversations about the sport. Some insiders say that match-fixing has gone down to the extent of their knowledge, but it is still frequent and reaches the highest levels of cricket, including cricket boards.

The players and boards are still just pawns of a much greater game being played by gambling syndicates. The amount of money at stake in cricket has skyrocketed with India netting the greatest profits from the sport and as a result also plays host to the biggest gambling syndicates. Mazhar Majeed, the man at the center of the controversy, expressed that he deals with ‘an Indian party’. These gambling syndicates must be investigated all over the world. As long as they can readily get access to players, fixing will continue to plague the game. In an ideal world, honest players would be the greatest protection against this, but sport has proven time and again that people do cheat for the right price.

I run the risk of sounding like an apologist calling for Mohammad Amir to be excused for embarrassing the entire nation. But in my defense, I would rather see action taken against gambling syndicates. The first rule of journalism and also in crime-fighting is ‘follow the money’. The money lies with the syndicates as does the highest form of accountability. Give a lifetime ban to the three senior players I mentioned earlier. Dissolve the wretched and systematically corrupt Pakistan Cricket Board while you’re at it. Mohammad Amir should not be made an example for the Pakistan Cricket Board’s failure to prevent and punish fixing in the past. Do punish Amir, but the calls for a life-long ban are unfair. Mohammad Amir is a rare player who has the potential to give back immeasurably to international cricket for a decade to come. He could certainly give back much more than he would have taken away by bowling those two no-balls.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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