NO BALL!

Play this video
Play this video

With Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik issuing fresh warning to the national cricket team on match fixing ahead of their World Cup semi final match against India, Hardnews explores the history of such scandals that have rocked Pakistan cricket in the past  
Sandeep Kumar Delhi

The six-month-old scandal finally came to an end when the International Cricket Council (ICC) tribunal found Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammed Amir guilty of spot-fixing and enforced a ban of 10, seven and five years respectively. The shameful incident came to light during the fourth Test between Pakistan and England at Lords when News of the World, a tabloid, did a sting on a bookie, Mazhar Mazeed, whereby he confessed that he had offered money to Butt, Asif and Amir to bowl deliberate no balls on demand. 

The five-minute-video created a sensation in no time around the cricket world, and especially in Pakistan, which scores higher with a distinct and dubious legacy in match-fixing scandals. So why do scandals stalk the Pakistani Cricket Board (PCB) and its talented but erratic players? What makes these young, brilliant players with a bright future get addicted to this criminal enterprise which destroys their careers forever? 

The latest spot-fixing episode shows Salman Butt along with Asif and Amir being offered money by Mazhar Mazeed to bowl deliberate no balls. The recorded video shows Mazeed predicting that Amir would bowl the first over of the England innings, and that he would bowl a no ball with the first ball of the third over. The sixth ball of the tenth over to be bowled by Asif would be a no ball. The amazing prophecy followed in real life on the ground. This was a completely new twist to match-fixing, never witnessed before. 

The ICC punished the Pakistani trio under the 'Anti-Corruption Code for Players and Player Support Personnel', enforcing a ban of 10, seven and five years respectively. The sanctions against Butt and Asif have five and two years suspended. This means, the trio cannot play any official cricket - international or domestic - for a minimum of five years, until September 2015. 

Match-fixing represents the dark side of any game, be it cricket, boxing or any other sport. In recent years there has been a spurt in match-fixing incidents. A match is said to be fixed when one or more players agree to influence the result of the game, through criminal and dubious manipulation, to change the course of the game at any stage with the involvement of a third party - for financial gains etc.

Pakistan, which has produced great cricketing icons in its cricket timeline, has the dirtiest history of scandals. The first incident was witnessed in 1994 when Shane Warne, Tim May and Mark Waugh flashed allegations that Pakistani skipper Salim Malik offered them money to bowl badly and lose the match. The PCB reacted in a wise manner and ordered an enquiry. In 1998, fresh allegations were hurled by Pakistani fast bowler Ata-ur-Rahman. Rahman accused Wasim Akram, the skipper, of allegedly offering him Rs 3 lakh to bowl badly during a match. 

Former players like Rashid Latif and Abdul Qadir have blamed PCB for not taking the matter seriously. Latif went a step ahead to name Wasim Akram, Ijaz Ahmed, Salim Malik and Inzamam-ul-Haq as the biggest match-fixers of the era. All the charges were not proved, but the muck stuck.

In 2000, PCB appointed a one-man judicial commission to investigate the matter and later enforced a life ban on Salim Malik and Ata-ur-Rahman. It also clarified that Akram and Mushtaq Ahmed will never represent Pakistan as captain. The same year, South Africa's cricket chief Ali Bacher publicly declared that he was informed by Majid Khan, former legendary batsman and then PCB CEO, that two of Pakistan's matches against India and Bangladesh during ICC World Cup (1999) were fixed. 

The ICC World Cup (2007) in West Indies exposed a series of controversies for Pakistan. Pakistan lost their opening match against the host team. Skipper Inzamam and Yusuf were accused of playing excessively slow, which had clearly led to the team's defeat. The next match brought further shame when Pakistan slumped to a humiliating loss against minnows Ireland. The very next day, tragically, Bob Woolmer, head coach of the Pakistan cricket team, was found dead. A murder investigation was announced by the Jamaica police into Woolmer's death since his naked body was found in his hotel bathroom. 

The media speculated that Woolmer was poisoned to death. The Pakistani team, including Inzamam and assistant coach Mushtaq Ahmed, were questioned by investigators. It was speculated that the murderer might have been a Pakistani fan or bookie, upset over the poor performance of the team, or that the murder was triggered due to the big financial loss incurred by the organised mafia of bookies and agents. 

Later, the Jamaica Constabulary Force closed the case. It stated that Bob Woolmer died a natural death and was not murdered. However, Peter Philips, the Jamaican security minister, ordered a review of the investigations into the mysterious death even as Dr Ere Seshaiah, the pathologist who conducted the postmortem, defended his report. 

In the next two years, Pakistan played little international cricket. On March 3, 2009, shockingly, there was a deadly armed attack by terrorists on the Sri Lankan cricket team. Some were wounded and others narrowly missed getting killed. Since then, no country has chosen to play in Pakistan. No World Cup match is being played there. Ironically, England was asked by PCB to host Pakistan's 'homeground' matches. Hence, the Australia-Pakistan series of 2010 was played in England.

The trouble started yet again with the 'Pakistan tour' of Australia in 2009-10. Pakistan failed to win a single match in the entire series. After loosing the first Test by a huge margin, Pakistan threw away the second match from a perfectly easy winning position. Chasing a small target of 176, Pakistan was bundled out for 139. Predictably, former players accused Mohammad Yusuf of bad captaincy and demanded the expulsion of Kamran Akmal, the wicketkeeper, who dropped four 'sitters' during the match. 

Pakistan finished the tour on a disastrous note, losing the Test series 3-0, the ODI series 5-0, and the lone T20 game. Consequently, PCB imposed a life ban on Yousuf, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan, and fined seven other players for throwing away the games. In what has become an unethical pattern, later, the ban was lifted and the fine reduced for Umar Akmal, Kamran, Afridi, Malik and Yousuf. 

Indeed, Pakistani cricket is loaded with dubious action replays of cricketers who are banned/suspended/fined, or who have resigned/retired in protest, and then chose to come back, or are recalled, only to be dropped yet again, or accused of shady behaviour. Besides, amid these continuous flip-flops and scandals, everything remains hunky-dory.

After the infamous England series came the mysterious 'escape episode' of Zulqurnain Haider. The wicket-keeper, after playing a match-winning knock in the fourth ODI, suddenly deserted the team on the morning of the fifth and final ODI against South Africa. Haider disappeared, and then fled to London. In a press interview to Geo, a Pakistani TV channel, Haider confirmed that he received threats from unidentified people in order to fix matches. The 24-year-old, who had just embarked on an enterprising career, announced a tearful retirement from all forms of the game. 

Predictably, he has been left to his faith, even as he threatens to expose the names of current cricketers involved in match-fixing. Indeed, cynics argue, Haider might one day come back, and no one will even wink.

Former players Imran Khan and Wasim Akram called Haider's act cowardly, and asked him to report the matter to PCB. Sports Minister Ijaz Jakhrani didn't support Haider's actions and called it a disgraceful act. A fact-finding committee set up by PCB failed to find any clear motives. The entire murky affair has been buried in a sleazy cover-up. 

With the 10th ICC World Cup on, skipper Shahid Afridi has promised to erase all bad memories of the past and give 'hundred per cent' team effort to regain the 'glory' of Pakistani cricket. It is hoped that his words come true.

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MARCH 2011