September 3, 2010
Another blow against Pakistan and world Cricket

Fri, Sept 3, 2010

Pity the people of Pakistan! As if having two-thirds of your country devastated by floods, causing billions of damage to land and property and untold misery to tens of millions of people were not enough of a burden to bear; as if Taliban terrorists operating openly and dragging the Pakistani people into international conflict were not sufficiently a scourge; as if having to endure American drones dropping bombs, ostensibly against terrorists but killing and maiming innocent civilians, children included, were not more than any country should endure; the people of Pakistan now find themselves having to bear shame and disgrace as a result of alleged actions by their cricketers.{{more}}

There is not much that these people have at present of which they can be justly proud. Their cricket team, though prevented from hosting international competitions, is perhaps the one bright spot. In spite of all sorts of in-fighting, at both the administrative and player level, the mainly young Pakistani cricketers continue to display talent which gives their fellow citizens enormous pride at the international level. Now even this has been tarnished in the light of the latest scandal during the tour of England.

Following the arrest of a London-born alleged match-fixer, Mazhar Majeed, last week, it emerged, based on Majeed’s statements to a London paper, that a number of Pakistani cricketers are involved with him in what is called “spot-fixing”. This involves arranging with cricketers to defraud persons who place specific bets on say, the number of runs in an over, the probability of no-balls and such bets. Three Pakistani cricketers: the teenage fast-bowling sensation, Mohammed Ameer; his partner paceman, Mohammed Asif; and captain Salman Butt, are now under investigation for involvement in the scheme. A fourth player, wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal, was also investigated, but seems not now to be at the centre of ongoing investigations.

The latest cricket scandal is a most troubling one for international cricket in particular and sport in general. Cricket itself is struggling to hold its own on the international stage and has been forced to turn to the shorter forms of the game to maintain spectator support and interest. Ironically, this has opened the game even more to spot-fixing. It is to be remembered that the reputation of Test cricket itself has taken a massive battering over the last 15 years for match-fixing. Bans had to be imposed on a number of players, the most infamous of them being the late South African captain Hans Cronje. Other Pakistani cricketers, including a former captain, Saleem Malik, were heavily punished for involvement in such scams.

Huge sums of money pass hands through illegal gambling, particularly in cricket-mad India and Pakistan. In turn, the cricketers are themselves grossly tempted and pestered by these “fixers”. Some succumb to what appears to be relatively minor transgressions of passing information to bookies, (recall the case of the naive Jamaican Marlon Samuels), or to accepting money for acts such as deliberately bowling no-balls, as Ameer and Asif are accused of doing. But, in gambling terms, the returns can be quite lucrative. Majeed was caught red-handedly accepting 150,000 pounds for allegedly organising to get the pair of bowlers to bowl no-balls precisely pre-arranged. The same Majeed bragged that he had made US$1.3 million for “fixing” the outcome of a Test match between Pakistan and Australia earlier this year.

What all this does is to throw the whole game into disrepute. How can spectators be expected to pay to see cricket, the outcome of which may well have been “fixed”, pre-game? Can sponsors invest money in what may turn about to be a huge fraud? It is a most troubling issue for the International Cricket Conference, the world authority on the game. It has wider implications for sport as a whole, for cheating and match-fixing, to benefit greedy individuals, is not limited to cricket only.

Naturally, there have been strong calls for firm action, including life bans for those found guilty. That is but part of the solution, for a whole host of factors – social, economic and psychological, are involved. Young athletes, given their inexperience, are particularly vulnerable. Spare a thought for the 18-year-old Ameer for instance. He comes from a village in the notorious, Taliban-infested, Swat valley, the scene of heavy fighting in Pakistan. Could the plight of his people and the desire to help combine to make him vulnerable to an offer which may well have seemed relatively harmless, such as bowling two no-balls? Asif himself has a chequered past, having been sent home from a previous tour for using a banned substance and then fined and banned for possession of opium. But he is reputed to be caring for a sick mother. Did he and skipper Salman Butt influence the young Ameer in any way? How can we avoid other youngsters being manipulated by their seniors and unscrupulous characters?

These are issues which go far beyond cricket and the world of sport. They occur in other spheres of life, especially in the world of business. Avarice and greed may be at the heart of it, but other factors chip in to make unwitting accomplices and hapless victims. Corruption is a threat to all.