There’s only one Imran
Whether in cricket or in politics, corrupt leaders – bar notable exceptions – are often all Pakistan has
Poor Pakistan. Floods of biblical proportions; millions homeless; a president who pretends to be shocked by cricket’s latest betting scandal when his own persona is the embodiment of corruption. A prime minister shedding crocodile tears because of the cricketing “shame” rather than tending to allegations that flood-relief money has gone missing. And now a sleep-walking cricket captain attempting to deny the ugly truth, but without real conviction, hoping against hope that he will ride out the crisis like others before him and that his bosses in Pakistan’s cricket establishment will cast a veil over this one as well.
Even if guilty, Salman Butt and his vice-captain Kamran Akmal will try to give the appearance of having no idea of the seriousness of the allegations and will try to talk their way back, hoping, as in the past, that after a few gentle raps on the knuckles they can revert to business as usual. That would be a real tragedy, a green light to semi-legalise match fixing, and not just in Pakistan.
The Pakistan Cricket Board is a long-standing joke, its chairmen replaced with every change of government. The current boss, Ijaz Butt, is the brother-in-law of Pakistan’s defence minister, a crony of President Zardari. The International Cricket Council and the England and Wales Cricket Board – somewhat pathetic bodies dominated by political and financial interests respectively – should not fudge this one. Whether Pakistan batting collapses were psychological or based on material interests we still do not know. But the moral collapse of this team stares all cricket-lovers in the face. Any perpetrators should be on the next plane home and the ringleaders given life bans. If guilty, the teenage bowling sensation Mohammad Amir should be banned for some years. His idol, Wasim Akram, is not the best role model on this front.
Some of the media comments on this affair are interesting, but irrelevant. Yes, WG Grace was a cheat on and off the field. Yes, captains of other teams – India and South Africa – have engaged in similar practices. Yes, the betting syndicates are a major part of the problem. So what? Since when has one crime justified another? How many times have I heard apologists for corrupt Pakistani politicians justifying their pillage by arguing that Europe and America also have corrupt politicians. The problem is that in Pakistan that’s all we have, with few exceptions – one of whom is Imran Khan, who was also Pakistan’s finest and most incorruptible captain.
The rotten core of Pakistani cricket long predates the emergence of Zardari and the present bunch of rogue politicians. There have been three semi-judicial inquiries since the 80s, the last of which, presided over by Justice Qayyum in 2000, suggested that allegations of match-fixing in Pakistan began when Asif Iqbal was captain (1979-80). He was said to have lost the toss against India, simply informing his surprised counterpart that he’d won – somethign Asif has denied.
From then onwards the cancer grew and grew. Players like Basit Ali and Rashid Latif, who refused to join the racket, testified before Qayyum as to its scale and spread. Latif, a good wicketkeeper, had taped conversations between key players and the betting syndicates. They were subsequently blackballed by the cricketing establishment. This was light punishment. A bookie who testified to the inquiry and fled to South Africa was cornered and killed in brutal circumstances.
The captain is crucial to the whole enterprise. Without him serious fixing is difficult: hence the bookies’ dislike of Shahid Afridi. If the one-day series goes ahead, Afridi should insist on picking an untarnished XI, regardless of experience. Better to lose genuinely than on the say-so of the betting mafia.
Qayyum did not find the three superstars Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Inzamam guilty of specific acts, but all were criticised and fined small amounts. The genial if slow-witted Yawar Saeed, team manager during some of those scandals – and this one – was “of the view that all the members of the team showed 100% commitment and were not involved in match-fixing”. It appears to be still his view. Waqar is now coach of the current team. Was he totally unaware of what was going on?
Forgiving these guys for wrecking our enjoyment of cricket is difficult enough. I now have a personal grudge as well: for the first time ever I was forced to buy and read the News of the World.