The PCB is in absolute disrepute and the sin is clear enough: appointing Salman Butt as a national selector.

Butt was convicted and banned by the ICC for spot-fixing during the tour of England in 2010. It should be inconceivable that a person with such an immoral stain on their record, whatever rehabilitation they have undergone, is chosen to a position of responsibility by the PCB.

Salman Butt was no inexperienced youngster trapped by circumstance, as Mohammad Aamir had claimed himself to be. He was the captain of the Pakistan cricket team, found at the centre of the spot-fixing nexus organised by his agent, Mazhar Majeed.

The agent, Butt, and Mohammad Asif — the other convicted player — were sent to prison by a British court.

The spot-fixing incident became a watershed in cricket history because of the context involved: a Test match at Lord’s, the ‘home of cricket’.

Picking a convicted spot-fixer as a national selector crosses a red line

It came at a time when the England and Wales Cricket Board was seeking to help Pakistan, which found itself in cricketing exile following the terrorist attack on Sri Lankan players in Lahore in 2009. A man of Butt’s education and supposed intelligence could not have failed to understand the significance of the tour to his country and its people.

But it was a moment of utter shame for Pakistan cricket, for all the players, but especially for Butt, given his he was entrusted the responsibility of leading the side.

Even then, people called for the players to be quickly rehabilitated and return to Pakistan’s colours. Such is the ‘hero culture’ in Pakistan that loyalty to the country’s heroes is greater than loyalty to the country’s honour.

The ICC rightly insisted on a period of rehabilitation. PCB complied. Aamir did eventually return, and helped Pakistan win the Champions Trophy in 2017.

Perhaps his case was the saddest of all, a young talent plucked from the stage in his prime. Butt and Asif never found their way back in, although Butt has endured as a commentator — indeed, one endorsed by the PCB.

Other players were also caught up in the scandal. One of them was Kamran Akmal, another of the new cohort selectors. No evidence was found against him, although if you took a straw poll of Pakistan fans who watched Akmal’s disastrous and inexplicable wicket keeping in the Sydney Test in 2010, they would say that his bizarre misses were evidence enough. Akmal defended his performance and was cleared by Ijaz Butt and his PCB.

Another player who was connected and questioned is the new chairman of selectors, Wahab Riaz. In a strange but memorable scenario, Riaz lent his jacket to Butt’s agent, Majeed, who then apparently used it to conceal £10,000 in cash given to him by an undercover reporter from the News of the World newspaper — which, ironically, went out of business in 2011 — much like the cricketers it disgraced.

Riaz was cleared, but the stain of association persisted. His subsequent career for Pakistan, probably most memorable for heroics in World Cup knockout defeats to the hosts India and Australia in 2011 and 2015, respectively, helped move the notoriety of his jacket to the back of our minds.

His recent appointment as a nervous-looking, paper-shuffling chief selector, completed his personal rehabilitation.

Yet, it seems that the contempt with which some people hold integrity, and professional and sporting ethics, knows no bounds. It may have been unwise and unmerited for the PCB to appoint Riaz in the first place, albeit sadly inevitable given the political control of Pakistan cricket.

It may have been imprudent to appoint Akmal given his history and lack of demonstrable qualities. But the PCB would have been merely guilty of its usual incompetence in those matters.

The appointment of convicted spot-fixer Butt as a national selector, however, crosses a red line. In Dante’s Inferno, the lowest circles of hell, the most sinful and least ethical, are reserved for people who are guilty of fraud and treachery. Spot-fixing is fraud and treachery all rolled into one, it is no trivial matter.

Every person may well deserve a second chance, but would a crooked policeman, politician, doctor, or lawyer be welcomed back into their original profession with aplomb? Certainly not. They are most welcome to build a new life elsewhere. So why should it be any different for cricketers?

Pakistan cricket has acquired something of a reputation for unethical appointments. Past selectors have enjoyed work as commentators and coaches — a clear conflict of interest. Inzamam-ul Haq was embroiled in a controversy over his involvement in a firm that manages international cricketers, while he was chief selector. Indeed, the PCB has tottered from one embarrassment to another under Zaka Ashraf.

The outrageous appointment of Salman Butt confirms that neither Ashraf nor Riaz are fit for office. Both should be sacked or resign, and a new PCB chairman and selection committee appointed. The current leadership is in disrepute.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2023

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