D. Suba Chandran
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore
When the second edition of Pakistan Super League (PSL) was unveiled during early February with so much fan fare, none would have expected the shock in the first few days of the game. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) led by Najam Sethi has made a bold statement by provisionally suspending the two players for getting involved in corruption.
Is it the end of story? This is not the first time that some of the Pakistani players have been charged on corruption. They were caught, legally tried and even served a prison term. Why would then they engage in spot fixing or match fixing? What lures the players more than playing for one’s own country at the highest level? In Pakistan’s context, why does the problem persist?
The current round of corruption case in Pakistan cricket started with the PCB provisionally suspending two of its players during early February - Sharjeel Khan (one Test, 25 one-day internationals and 15 Twenty20 matches ) and Khalid Latif (five one-day internationals and 13 Twenty20 matches). When the news broke out, they were playing for Islamabad United, the team that won the trophy in the first edition of Pakistan Super League. Later, Nasir Jamshed another opening batsman, who has played for Pakistan (two Tests, 48 one-day internationals and 18 Twenty20 matches) was arrested in the UK on charges of corruption.
All three of them are in late 20s and early 30s. Sharjeel Khan was a part of the national team, that had recently played in Australia in early 2017. His last five scores in the one day internationals in January 2017 against a strong Australian team would read: 79, 74, 50, 29 and 18. His last three international scores were half centuries. Why would such a talented person be willing to get tainted?
Nasir Jamshed was no push over; he has three one day centuries as Pakistan’s opening batsman and holds the record with Mohammad Hafeez for the highest opening partnership (better than Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar, one of the most successful Pakistani opening pairs!) Not long ago, Jamshed was a hero for the Pakistani team; as an opening batsman, his back-to-back centuries helped Pakistan to win a series against India. His slide started in 2015 World cup and has been sidelined since then.
So why would someone like Sharjeel Khan (who had a great future) and Nazir Jamshed (who could have easily returned to the national team) would want to engage in corrupt practices?
Cricket and Corruption in Pakistan: History repeats itself
In Pakistan, there is a history, where even the most successful players do get smitten by this fixing process. Remember the trio in 2010, when they were playing in England – Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir? Butt was a young captain, and a successful opening batsman having played more than 110 international matches for Pakistan with 11 centuries and 24 half centuries. Asif and Amir were emerging pace bowlers and were expected to replace Akram and Akhtar. When the news broke out on spot fixing of a test match in UK in 2010 involving the three and their links with the Cricket underworld, it was a shock for everyone.
Before the Butt trio, in the 1990s, there was a long case against senior players including Salim Malik and Wasim Akram of corruption. The Australian players had complained in particular about Salim Malik trying to bribe them to underplay. The Commission that pursued ended up banning Salim Malik for life.
Perhaps, in Pakistan history repeats itself, as the corrective measures were not sufficient enough. As Shahid Afrid complained recently: “until the PCB sets or makes an example of such players it will be difficult to stop this menace.” He is right; if the PCB allows the tainted players back into cricket, it is bound to send a wrong message.
PCB: Problem Condoning Board?
The primary problem lies with the Board. And perhaps with the rest of society as well, which is willing to over look corruption. Other boards, for example South Africa never allowed the tainted players to return to the playing eleven. In India, it was a mixed result; though the players accused of corruption never took the field again, they were accepted by the public. Ajay Jadeja ended up as a TV commentator and Mohammad Azharudin as a Member of Parliament. In South Asia, the problem is external as well; the bar for acceptance of corrupt practices is low.
What happened to Chris Cairns in New Zealand – perhaps was the best example; he ended up washing cars, to pay his legal bills. Hansie Cronje, one of the greatest captains of South Africa was banned for life by the King Commission; he never played cricket again, and unfortunately died in an air crash.
When Mohammad Amir was allowed by the PCB back into the national team after serving a prison term for match fixing, that too despite opposition from senior players – it sends wrong signals to other players. Our Boards will have to learn from dealing with corruption.
Young and Inexperienced: The Lure of Fame and Money
Perhaps, the age of the player and his background has something to do with getting carried away. Butt was in his mid 20s and Asif in his late 20s, while Amir was just a teenager! Leaders like Imran Khan in Pakistan, and Saurav Ganguly and MS Dhoni were known for their leadership qualities and grooming the young players. Especially when they come from rural areas, the fame and glitter is bound to impinge on the young players. The Captains and the senior players are supposed to be role models. Perhaps for Pakistan, this has been a big challenge in the recent years.
There have been horror stories of groups within the Cricket team. Captains and senior players have to command respect by their performance in the field, and also communicate to the young players by their camaraderie outside the field. Perhaps the Misbah Haqs and Younis Khans could not take this process forward. Undoubtedly, they are great players of their time, as the records would prove; but the seniors need to be more than great players in the field.
Building a team and keeping the morale of young players – whether in playing eleven or outside it, has to be an added responsibility of the captain and senior players. Young players are bound to get depressed if they dont get the chance; at times, when the form deserts them, it is natural to get upset. All players go through a lean patch; but they should be kept engaged and encouraged to get back into the field, than looking for options outside.
Finally, the T20s and the new Leagues are a serious issue. For the Boards - national and international, they are a money making process. This has become an industry in itself. The lure of money and the glitter associated with the T20s may have added color to the Cricket, but has also brought in a host of problems.
Investigation and Trial: Lackadaisical and Lacking Teeth
There is a serious problem in South Asia in legally following up with corruption charges on cricket. The process of investigation, trial and the final verdict – we are known for our tardy nature. Perhaps, we are not better equipped to deal with such corruption cases. The case against Butt, Asif and Amir could be pursued resulting in a sentence, because the trial took place in the UK. Imagine the same in South Asia, with our investigation teams and legal trial.
Many in South Asia, even today are critical of Justice Malik Mohammad Qayyum inquiry in the 1990s against a series of players including Wasim Akram, Salim Malik and others. Of course, Salim Malik was banned for trying to bribe Shane Warne and Mark Waugh in 1994, but nor Akram. Justice Qayyum much later, was reported to have told: “For Wasim I had some soft corner for him. He was a very great player, a very great bowler and I was his fan, and therefore that thing did weigh with me.”
When the process becomes selective, it is unlikely to send the right signal. Why was Amir brought back into the team, but not Butt and Asif? If the Board is lenient and the judge has a soft corner for the player that he is investigating, it is bound to create a negative impact on the others.
The Cricket Underworld: Growing Strong
Finally, the mafia is powerful and surviving from London to Mumbai. Back in the mid 1990s, Salim Malik, according to open reports have offered Shane Warne 200,000 USD, if he could bowl badly in the test match. In 2010, Mazhar Majeed, who was the fixer was reported to have paid Mohammad Asif 65,000 UK pounds to bowl a no-ball at the Lord’s Test against England. Obviously, the rates should have gone up now.
While there is a mafia in many sporting activities, Cricket in our part of the world, given the craziness associated with South Asia, is always a potential area for the underworld activities – betting, match fixing etc. The finances involved are huge and the investigation agencies are yet to find ways to pursue the case against an underworld that cuts across countries and use sophisticated ways to interact and infiltrate. The Salman Butt trio story could be broken, not by the police, but by an undercover sting operation led by a media team.
Coming back to the Pakistan Super League, it is important that the PCB keeps the game clean and pursue a harsh approach vis-a-vis the tainted. Cricket is the only sporting event that attracts foreign players to come and play in South Asia. Except for Cricket, there is no other sporting event that has a regional flavour. Europe, North and South America have football and basket ball, that attract talents from rest of the world. A tainted process in cricket will end up in our only success story.
Perhaps, PCB could learn from the IPL; the latter disbanded two of its most successful teams – the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals. The PCB will have to take tough action and set an example for other players. Also rest of the State and Society will have to pitch in to keep the game clean.
This is one game that cuts across our ethnic and religious boundaries; let us keep it clean and play it straight. Isn’t the Straight drive, always a pleasure to watch in Cricket? Also simple and neat?