HERE we go again! The spectre of match-fixing has yet again reared its ugly head, this time in the cash-rich Pakistan Super League (PSL), and yet another set of emerging players have bitten the dust.
Both Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif have now joined a long list of players in Pakistan’s cricket history who have attempted to side with the bookies to throw a game, or a session, and compromise the nation’s image for their parochial interest — by making quick bucks at the game’s expense.
However, the fact that the two confessed to their crime is the key here. Or else it would have seen a similar pattern of claims, counter-claims, allegations, and denials of the past where none of the culprits ever conceded to have switched their loyalties to the devil and company.
That the Pakistan Super League was always susceptible to fixing goes without saying. Perhaps, for once, the sharp vigilance of Pakistan Cricket Board’s anti-corruption unit paid off, though valid queries are even now being made about the opportunities for players to move out of their domain and interact with the bookmaking mafia.
PSL chairman Najam Sethi is harping on the board’s zero tolerance policy on corruption as usual. But all he needs to do is take a good look around him to know how many tainted players he has been surrounded with.
The bitter truth is that all the PCB administrations since the turn of the century just cannot absolve themselves of the colossal damage caused to the game by their inability to indict or ban the match-fixers for life.
The poor precedent set by Justice Malik Muhammad Qayyum back in 2000, where he recommended that the dirty dozen except Salim Malik be pardoned against a meagre fine and lacklustre warnings, has caused the fixing saga to reverberate through Pakistan cricket with alarming frequency.
The 2010 scam at Lord’s was one such incident. But rather than handing out a severe penalty to the tainted trio of Mohammad Amir, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif after their ICC bans had expired, the PCB gleefully orchestrated a fierce ‘comeback campaign’ to re-draft Amir into the national side in 2015.
Today, the national selectors, led by veteran Inzamam-ul-Haq, are clearly showing a soft corner for Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif so that they may make a return to international cricket.
To put it succinctly, the message has been loud and clear for the wannabe corrupt band of players: “Let’s fix it to make some extra bucks, and if caught, serve the ban, get a clean chit and return to the game.”
PSL was a tournament that became an instant success, had the world agape at the scale of its enterprise and profitability, but was sadly accompanied by an ugly underbelly almost from its inception because Dubai is known to be a favourite hunting ground for the bookies.
If anything, the PSL organisers should have paid heed to England-born Ravi Bopara’s views on Karachi Kings skipper Shoaib Malik’s surprise decision to bat in a crucial game against Peshawar Zalmi during the inaugural edition last year.
Malik resigned from captaincy ahead of the play-off round to leave his colleagues and viewers absolutely flabbergasted as the Kings fell short of qualifying.
The euphoria around PSL and the celebrations greeting it this time round promised to bring great relief to the dismayed Pakistani cricket fans after a horrendous three-month period of defeats in New Zealand and Australia.
Instead, the fixing row has left them shell-shocked and they are compelled to debate the credentials and managerial skills of the current PCB bosses.
Since last February, when the PSL was launched, the media has been irked by the organisers’ arbitrary approach about the lack of transparency in the league’s affairs including its finances, the reasons for holding players’ draft in Dubai instead of Pakistan, the code of conduct for the players, franchises, etc.
By extension, all these things hold true for the PCB as well. How can it not be, since the PSL administration is cut more or less from the same cloth.
Though it is indeed quite late in the day to stem the rot, the PCB bosses will do well to prevent PSL going the national team’s way if they announce stringent measures to weed out corrupt elements from domestic cricket — where it all usually begins — and put in place a well-oiled system to groom and educate the players prior to their exposure to international cricket.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2017