As the spot-fixing trial unfolded before us, I couldn’t help but feel a little ashamed. Not for the cricketers involved, mind you. The last year has seen me exhaust all my reserves of shame on Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. I am now left feeling only indignant that I still have to relive their crimes during my hourly browse through cricinfo.
The shame I felt was directed more towards myself and my disposition during certain moments of the trial and sentencing.
It happened when Ali Bajwa, Butt’s lawyer, painted his client out to be a young man who lived to play cricket for his country. When Bajwa presented evidence which seemed to explain the presence of the currency in Butt’s possession. It happened again when I read about Asif’s silky smoothness on the stand as he amused the jury with his intricate knowledge of his craft. When Alexander Milne, his lawyer, appeared to divorce Asif from any association with Mazhar Majeed.
Finally it happened when Amir made his appearance during sentencing, visibly strained but still boyishly adorable, humbled but repentant. When he said all the right things in his apology to his country and when his lawyer, Henry Blaxland, tried to write off his infraction as an isolated lapse by a confused and gullible neophyte.
During these times I found myself thinking, perhaps hoping, that: “Wow, maybe they can pull this off. Maybe it will go their way.”
It didn’t. It shouldn’t have. And for letting myself think in those terms, I am as culpable for the actions of those men as they are themselves.
It has been interesting to follow some of the local reactions to the trial and the sentences, the sharpness of which has escalated as the proceedings approached their denouement. The rhetoric has ranged from defensive (“what about Warne & Waugh, Herschelle Gibbs, Marlon Samuels and whoever Hashan Tillakaratne had dirt on?”) to oblivious (“this is an English conspiracy probably fueled by the BCCI to target us poor Pakistanis”) and culminating in outrage (“they deserve to be flogged and hung by their entrails for what they did to cricket”).
The pattern of thought reflected above is altogether disproportionate and wholly inappropriate to the situation at hand. It is irrelevant whether they are being made scapegoats to address a broader issue with international cricket. It is pointless to debate whether they are being maligned or victimised due to their nationality and origins. And it is counter-productive to turn self-righteous and rail for your pound of flesh as if their crimes affect you more than they do anyone else such as their families.
The facts are clear. They were caught cheating. The exposure of their crimes was unprecedented. The particular jurisdiction where they committed these crimes tried them in accordance with due process and a jury of their peers found them guilty. A judge assigned the requisite punishments within the established sentencing paradigm for the crime. That is that.
We may have issues with the trial and reservations regarding the sentences. On a personal level, I bristle at the logic that practically equates the culpability of Mazhar Majeed, the mastermind behind the entire operation and who knows how many other rackets, to that of Butt’s and excuses the former from a harsher sentence. I consider it grossly unfair that Amir has to spend six months in a prison cell for bowling two no-balls in a match he clearly wasn’t trying to lose particularly in light of his 5 year playing ban which is a deterrent enough, isn’t it?
Apparently it isn’t. You and I might not agree. But at least we can agree on the underlying fact that they did it and deserve to be punished. To think otherwise would be shameful on our parts. To rationalise these events in any way which deflects from the culpability of the individuals involved is to indulge in the kind of reasoning and attitude that gave birth to this problem in the first place. Because it was not a phone call from Majeed which corrupted Butt. Neither was it the urging of his seniors which soiled Amir. Rather it is the fundamental moral equilibrium of these players, developed over time, which renders them vulnerable to these temptations. It’s the mind and not the money which opens the door for the bookies of the world and it is this collective mindset which we need to address.
Let’s face it: the money will always be there. Majeed wasn’t lying about one thing which is that fixing (match, spot or otherwise) is an immensely lucrative industry and, like any profitable industry, its entrepreneurs will adapt to the vagaries and challenges of the market. It is laughable to expect this decision to deter bookies worldwide. Maybe they will be more cautious. Perhaps fixing in certain well-regulated jurisdictions like England will be cut back. In any case, all the money is in Twenty20 and just as the loyalties of players migrate to that format, so too will the bookies. Four jail-terms after decades of rampant fixing in cricket will not deter a bookie from making thousands of dollars by asking a keeper to drop a catch or a batsman to block out an over.
I am also skeptical of the root and branch reform which will no doubt be propounded by the various cricket boards over the world. Greater vigilance and more stringent punishment will be promised but to what end? The solution, I feel, is not so much one of deterrence as it is of direction.
You see, I don’t even think the players themselves recognise the scale of this crime given the level that it is institutionalised and implicitly promoted within the sport. Somewhere along the line, an educated middle-class man like Butt or an under-privileged lower class boy like Amir have their moral compass calibrated in a manner which accounts for and even justifies cheating.
How this warped understanding comes about is what the PCB, our public schools and perhaps the nation needs to address. It is no doubt connected to the same sentiment which made me hope that my heroes would somehow get away with their crimes and which made us point defensive fingers everywhere except at ourselves. It is this mindset which we need to eradicate to have faith in the Asad Shafiqs, Junaid Khans, Patrick Cummins’, Angelo Mathews’ and Ajinkya Rahanes of the world.
Part and parcel of cultivating a more evolved moral understanding and direction is the concept of redemption. It is immeasurably easy to blame these players for the embarrassment they have heaped on the nation and the discredit meted out to the game. It is much harder to allow them some respite after they have made the requisite reparations. But this we must do as a lesson to all that repentance will forever be valued.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.