Spot fixing: A dark day in cricket

Nishad Vellur

It’s official. Cricket has just lost its ‘gentleman’s game’ status. A series of damning incidents unearthed in the past few months, courtesy a sting operation conducted by the now-defunct News of the World tells us the story of a known yet unproven fact. Interestingly, the same NOTW was accused of indulging in unethical news-gathering practices to secure information for creating sensational stories. And we all know what happened to NOTW.

In a series of unfortunate events which has been haranguing Pakistani cricket, the latest one to haunt it is the gaol term handed down to three of its very talented but wayward cricketers. On October 3, 2011, these cricketers and an agent were handed jail terms by a British court for fixing a Test match against England at Lord’s last year.

Mohammad Amir was sentenced to six months, Mohammad Asif to one year in prison, Salman Butt to two years and six months, and Mazhar Majeed will be jailed for two years and eight months. A sad day, indeed, to go down in the history of cricket.

Justice Cooke, who delivered the sentence, said, “In Pakistan, where cricket is the national sport, the ordinary follower of the national team feels betrayed by your activities, as do your fellow countrymen in this country. You Butt, Asif and Amir have let down all your supporters and all followers of the game.”

It was definitely a dark day for cricket. Perhaps, the darkest day for Pakistan cricket, which is already in a fix. This is the first incident in the history of cricket that players are being sent to jail for fixing. Not that this is the first time in which a player has been charged with corruption. But definitely the first where players were caught red handed, probed and jailed.

While I refrain to take a moralist view, it can’t go unnoticed that the verdict will serve as a double-edged sword: On one hand, it shows that truth prevailed, on the other, someone who indulges in the practice will think twice before ‘fixing a game’. After all, jail is not a place anyone would want to end up at, let alone a cricketer. This could also possibly mark the end of their careers as all three have already been banned by the ICC for the next few years.

“Hopes, dreams, ambitions have ended in disgrace in a London courtroom,” Kamran Abbasi, a Pakistani cricket writer, said. Salman Butt, who orchestrated the whole thing as captain, would not have imagined that he would end behind bars after scaling heights in the Pakistan cricket team. A promising cricketer, Butt hails from a middle class family, who had all the privileges of a good upbringing and good education. Butt was the answer to the void created by Pak great Saeed Anwar’s departure. Justice Cooke succinctly puts it, “You were a natural captain, picked out as such from the age of 17 for national teams, and had the advantage of a good education. You were a man of status,”…but “not only were you involved but you involved others and abused your position as captain and leader in doing so.”

Responsible for ‘orchestrating the 2010 activity in England’, the judge also said, “I consider that you were responsible for involving Amir in the corruption – an 18 year old from a poverty stricken village background, very different to your own privileged one, who, whilst a very talented bowler, would be inclined to do what his senior players and particularly his captain told him, especially when told there was money in it for him and this was part of the common culture. For an impressionable youngster, not long in the team to stand out against the blandishments of his captain would have been hard.”

At the end, it was greediness that finished Salman Butt’s, Asif’s and Amir’s career.

Match-fixing/spot-fixing has become tantamount to Pakistani cricket in recent times and the reactions within cricketing circles pointed out lack of good guidance to the player inside the PCB. Another view blamed Pakistan’s inconsistent policies and incompetency in dealing with the corrupt. They were also blamed for ignoring fixing allegations for almost a decade.

It is naïve not to believe that fixing is much wider than what meets the eye and Pakistan have become the hotbed of all these activities. To make it even worse, Pakistan board has done little to curb this syndrome. In November 2010, cricketer Zulqarnain Haider ran away from the team hotel in Dubai. He claimed that he was being threatened by bookies to fix matches in a series against South Africa. There were also other cases where former cricketers and officials within the country has brought up incidents which threw light into the existence of fixing, but so far no concrete steps have been taken up by the Pakistan authorities to nip it in the bud. The sentencing of these three cricketers is the final nail in the coffin: it illustrates the country`s lackadaisical approach to uproot this malaise.

The current verdict may act as a deterrent for cricketers who may be tempted. And all cricket lovers can hope that this whole episode will mark a new beginning in this gentleman’s game.

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