x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A year after spot-fixing: The state of Pakistan cricket

Even after the spot-fixing scandal that broke this time last year, Pakistan's capacity of regeneration is indefatigable.

The ICC set up a tribunal to hear the case against the trio of, from left, Mohammad Aamer, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt, and later handed out bans of different periods.
The ICC set up a tribunal to hear the case against the trio of, from left, Mohammad Aamer, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt, and later handed out bans of different periods.

"It was like a tsunami," Waqar Younis said of the morning after the News of the World uncovered a spot-fixing scandal for which three Pakistani players would be banned.

"It was one of the worst days," the Pakistan coach said. "The dressing room was completely quiet, shocked. I don't really have the words to describe it."

Younis is not unfamiliar with bad days. They are the leitmotif of an incredible 14-year career forged amid the progressive decay of Pakistan cricket.

Ball-tampering, drug scandals, captaincy intrigue, clownish administration, in-team disruption, nearly 800 international wickets, half of one of the greatest fast-bowling partnerships, architect of innumerable madcap victories; Younis's career awaits only a worthy biographer. And yet, tabloid in hand, here even he was speechless.

The day arrived on a four-year back story of unrelenting controversy that began with the forfeited 2006 Oval Test, took in doping charges against two bowlers, surged through more leadership and management issues than Wall Street in recession and reached a manic pitch with the terror attacks in Lahore on the Sri Lanka cricket team. No one thought that blow could be surpassed yet late on August 28, 2010 it was.

A year on, Salman Butt, Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif - a spine for the side - are gone, probably forever. Even the News of the World is gone.

Pakistan are still standing; standing still if nothing more. They are not better without the three but they have not been worse either.

The bite, the glamour is gone, resilience and grit is in. Learning how not to lose, winning ugly, these are the new goals.

They have not lost any of three Test series since, though only one - against South Africa - was quality opposition. They reached the semi-finals of the 2011 World Cup in an unusually coherent manner.

And they have been competitive against all opposition in 50-over cricket; only India have won as many ODIs since then.

Herein lies the central truth that underpins not only the career of Younis, but Pakistan cricket.

It does not quite reach Rudyard Kipling's standards of meeting triumph and disaster, and treating them just the same. But just to remain, to be alive after facing both, is sometimes an achievement.

"Maybe it's an inborn quality of Pakistan," Younis said. "It gelled the side together and we came out like champs. My favourite series was against South Africa where we fought all the way. When you get badly hurt your fear goes and you come out proving people wrong." If not recognising it, Kipling might have approved.

Much of the credit, Younis believes, goes to Misbah-ul-Haq, the captain who, in a land of unlikely success stories, is among the unlikeliest.

Forgotten during his peak years, he returned unexpectedly in 2007 at 33 and became a heroic nearly man. Then began the slow, inevitable defeat to time and he was dropped at the beginning of 2010.

Yet after the scandal there seemed no one else left to lead so he was called back, as Test captain.

A year on, the leader in all formats of the game, he is the king of the field, and batting like one too, though an obdurate, pragmatic one; in 30 Test and one-day international (ODI) innings since, he has 15 50s. He averages 90 in Tests and 54 in ODIs.

Long acknowledged as an on-field brain (being one of the few Pakistani cricketers with a university degree has inflated the image) he has not looked a misfit as captain. "He's played such a huge role because he is authoritative, but calm and humble with it," Younis said. "His match thinking is superb. It's just sad that he is the wrong side of 30."

Off the field in boardrooms and glitzy offices it has been hairier. When the scandal broke, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) handled it with all the grace of a Don King hype-up. There was denial and inaction, aimless finger-pointing and then wild counter-accusation.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) had to be more decisive, the reputation of the game it governs suddenly at stake.

Despite being "shocked" and "disappointed" Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, moved swiftly to suspend the three, after the PCB failed to do so.

In October, less than two months later, they told the PCB to clean their house or face eviction.

The threat of suspension finally broke the slumber and a raft of anti-corruption measures, according to the PCB's chief operating officer Subhan Ahmad, has been implemented. "We've started delivering regular anti-corruption lectures to all travelling representative sides, domestic sides and umpires," Ahmad said.

"A domestic anti-corruption code mirroring the ICC's but tailored to suit Pakistan is in place."

The players' code of conduct has been tightened up. They have been cautioned about mingling with "punters" on tour, a catch-all term covering even well-meaning fans with once easy access, agents and ill-intentioned types, who make Pakistani players feel at home abroad, taking them out for meals, to clubs and maybe more. Next season eight anti-corruption security officials will roam the domestic circuit.

"We're close to 100 per cent implementation of what the ICC has asked us," Ahmad said.

Even before the scandal, under the chairman, Ijaz Butt, the PCB found itself in growing isolation.

After it, they became toxic; quarantined for fear of infecting others with their self-destruction.

But very slowly, perceptibly, they have nudged their way back, Ahmad playing a key role.

At the ICC annual meet in Hong Kong in July, hectic corridor diplomacy even engineered a few mini-coups; the deferment of change to the ICC's policy of appointing presidents by rotation, and a delay on governance changes, most affecting the PCB.

Vitally, they have also negotiated a playing schedule from bilateral negotiations until 2020, a sign that countries are now willing to engage Pakistan. Even the prospect of ties against India is alive.

"It is a continuous process," Ahmad said. "Since last year there have been many developments. Fences have been mended, and we're strengthening ties with traditional allies. To a large extent we've moved on. There are a few issues left, but soon it will be in the past."

The ICC did not come out of it badly, despite criticism that they relied on a tabloid newspaper, and not their own Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) to uncover the fix.

Just over five months later, their lawyers had completed a comprehensive prosecution of the players at an independent tribunal and secured significant sanctions, a landmark case. "I personally feel satisfied at the way we handled a very stressful and significant issue," Lorgat said.

"There are many critics who do not give the ACSU credit for its proactive work and also fail to appreciate the legal constraints under which it operates. All other global sports federations acknowledge ACSU as a leader in its field."

The three banned players have spent the year defending themselves in hearings, courtrooms, on television. Butt has been a regular television presence, even wading into the Shahid Afridi-PCB dispute to moralise about players tarnishing a country's name.

Aamer has twice participated in club games he should not have been in. Now they are subject to criminal charges in the UK, with potentially greater repercussions.

Asif and Aamer, in particular, are unlikely to be forgotten, but Pakistan's capacity for regeneration means new names will emerge.

"There's never been a shortage of talent," Younis said. "We've got the makings of a good side."

The PCB moves on, confident, according to Ahmad, "the problem was nipped in the bud," and that the case was restricted to the three.

"There are tighter checks on the players and they know it. The board has sent out a message," he said.

Yet Danish Kaneria remains unavailable after a separate corruption case, and clouds hang over Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal.

And any number of broader administration issues remain, all highlighted in the aftermath and the subject of an ICC review.

Calamity hangs around this board and the memory that the last time Pakistan sought closure on corruption in 2000, they did not get it. They got August 28 instead. "The scarring will remain forever," Younis said. "Eventually it can fade away."

Timeline of events

August 28, 2010: A News of the World investigation alleges that three no-balls, bowled by Asif and Aamer during the third Test, were planned in collusion with Mazhar Majeed, an agent, and the captain, Salman Butt.

September 2: The ICC provisionally suspends the trio and charges them with “various offences under Article 2 of the ICC Anti-Corruption Code for Players and Player Support Personnel relating to alleged irregular behaviour during, and in relation to, the Lord’s Test”.

September 19: PCB chief Ijaz Butt claims “there is loud and clear talk in bookie circles that some English players have taken enormous amounts of money to lose the match [the third ODI at The Oval].” The accusation comes a day after the ICC said it is investigating the same game after another tabloid provides them information.

October 13: The ICC tells the PCB to implement a series of anti-corruption measures or face suspension. It also said The Oval ODI was clean.

October 31: Butt and Aamer remain provisionally suspended after a two-day hearing in Dubai. Asif did not appeal.

November 12: The ICC appoints an independent three-man tribunal to conduct a hearing against the players in Doha, Qatar in January.

November 30: A Pakistani television channel broadcasts unseen video footage of Mazhar Majeed where he takes the names of four more Pakistani players he claims work for him.

January 6-11, 2011: A six-day ICC hearing in Doha defers a judgement on the players. During the week Waqar Younis and Shahid Afridi give testimony, as well as Mazher Mahmood, the reporter who broke the story.

February 5, 2011: The tribunal announces bans of 10 years and seven years (five suspended), and five years for Butt, Asif and Aamer, respectively.

May 20, 2011: The criminal trial begins at Southwark Crown Court in London. The first hearing is set for October 4.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae


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