Is lack of money root of Pakistan side's evils?
A hugely talented but highly fractious team, divided into two constantly bickering camps and paid a fraction of their worth, decided to sell their souls to a betting syndicate for a few extra dollars. Not all the players, but one group.
Sound familiar? Pakistan cricket?
Actually, it was baseball's Chicago White Sox team of 1919, when eight members in the side, peeved at the parsimonious ways of Charles Comiskey, their owner, colluded with Arnold Rothstein, a New York gangster, to fix their games in the World Series for US$80,000 (Dh294,000).
The Pakistan cricketers could have a similar grouse. They are the lowest paid among cricket's top Test-playing nations, earning between Dh4,000 and Dh10,000 per month. Additionally, the riches of the Indian Premier League (IPL) have been denied to them for political reasons, and violence at home has rendered them a nomadic team, forced to play "home" matches in places like England or the UAE.
Coupled with the dire state of affairs in their home country - poverty, militants, natural disasters - their financial situation might explain why they are susceptible to corruption, some people believe.
"A cricketer [involved in spot-fixing] might not be thinking of personal gain, but of getting money to buy a generator for his village because they don't have electricity," Geoff Lawson, a former Pakistan coach, said in an interview after becoming upset with perspectives appearing in the Australian press.
"I'm sat here reading and I'm thinking: 'Mate, you're living in a different world. You don't understand the culture'," he said.
"You don't understand what's going on. You don't understand that [Mohammad] Aamer comes from a poor village in the Swat Valley, where he's had to dodge the Taliban for the past four years. You just don't have a context to put this in because you're coming from a Western, particularly an Australian, viewpoint'."
There is a story of Aamer, the 18-year-old suspended after the spot-fixing scandal in England, arriving more than four hours late on his first day at Pakistan's National Cricket Academy because his bus was held up by Taliban militants.
He and Mohammad Asif, another player implicated this summer, come from some of the most remote and impoverished parts of the country. Aamer is from Gujjar Khan and Asif hails from Sheikhupura - areas that were extensively damaged during the recent floods.
Lawson said he does not condone what Aamer is alleged to have done, but having spent two years in the country, the former Australia fast bowler is sympathetic to the problems of Pakistan's cricketers.
He also points to the fact they were overlooked for this year's IPL, the lucrative Twenty20 series, for political reasons.
Nine of the 10 players in Forbes' 2009 list of richest cricketers were playing in the IPL. MS Dhoni was at the top of the list with earnings of $10 million over the preceding 12 months. Sachin Tendulkar was second with earnings of $8m.
According to a recent report on Indian television, Tendulkar cannot buy his 41st car because his garage has space for just 40. By contrast, Salman Butt had to borrow money to complete a house, which he started building on the basis of expected earnings from the IPL.
If bookmakers needed a bait, this would be a perfect one.
"Why weren't the Pakistan players allowed to play there [this year]?" Lawson asked. "The Pakistanis were all putting their names up for the IPL, and none were selected. Pakistan were the World Twenty20 champions, but none of them were playing in the IPL. That had to do with politics and nothing else.
"That was believed to be a directive from the Indian Government: Do not pick these Pakistan players. And that's a phenomenal influence to have on whether you're going to make a substantial income or not, isn't it?"
The government in India has denied those claims, saying that the IPL franchises made the decision not to sign Pakistan players because of security concerns.
"Australians can go and choose whether they go and play," Lawson said. "[Ricky] Ponting and [Michael] Clarke chose not to go, and they can do that because they're making $2m to $3m a year. The Pakistan guys don't have that choice."
But not everyone believes the Pakistanis are drastically underpaid.
Mudassar Nazar, a former Pakistan opener, worked closely with the three cricketers suspended over the spot-fixing allegations. He is now one of the head coaches at the ICC's Global Academy in Dubai, but spoke to The National in an unofficial capacity.
"Admittedly the Pakistan players are not paid as well as some of the other cricketers," he said. "[But] even without the IPL, looking at the living standard in Pakistan, if you play for Pakistan for five or six years, unless you are heavily into gambling, you don't need to work for the rest of your life. You don't.
"So I don't really see any problem. It's pure greed."
He pointed out that matches were fixed almost immediately after Pakistan players were well-rewarded for winning the World Cup in 1992.
"Match-fixing allegedly started in 1993, or it started to rumble along," he said. "In 1992, it was the first time any Pakistani cricketer made money. After the World Cup, they were given land and they all made some 8.6 million Pakistani rupees (Dh367,000). It was an awful lot of money for a cricketer.
"Within three or four months, match-fixing had started. So it's not the money, it's the greed."
Still, discrepancies in salaries were significant enough that Lord Condon, the former chief of the International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, warned about the issue in 2001 when he first confronted corruption in cricket.
"Significant variations in player conditions, remuneration, representation and contractual obligations, whilst understandable, may have contributed to temptation and malpractice," he wrote in his first report. "It is argued that jealousy, insecurity and a potentially short international career have all added to the temptation to be drawn into corruption."
And Mazhar Majeed, the man at the centre of the recent spot-fixing controversy, referred to the salary situation when asking £150,000 (Dh878,600 ) from the undercover News of the World reporter.
"These poor boys need to [get a share of the money]," he said. "They're paid peanuts."
It has been suggested, too, Pakistan cricket's sordid history is perhaps a reflection of the culture of corruption prevalent in the country.
According to Transparency International's annual report of 2010, Pakistan is ranked 143 among 178 nations on the Corruption Perception Index. Bribery is rampant in the country and so is nepotism.
According to World Bank experts, "the extreme poverty and lack of infrastructure and basic services is in part fuelled by bribery, influence peddling, extortion and abuse of power".
The Daily Times, a Pakistan newspaper, once claimed, "the overall cost of corruption by political leaders in Pakistan is between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of the GDP."
"Certainly [Pakistan's] politicians set a very poor example for the rest of their nation with the way they run the country, there's no doubt about that," Lawson said.
"But you've got to put everything into perspective. And, to me, the biggest perspective about this incident - I see a double-page spread here about this [spot-fixing] incident and I'm not seeing very much about 20 million Pakistanis without water, food or roofs over their heads. There is a world of difference in those two positions."
Pakistan cricketers also face more uncertainties than most. The average career of a cricket player spans 10 years, but in Pakistan it could be a lot less because teams are often chosen under threats or on recommendations from "above".
The dressing room is a fragmented place, with former captains - and there can be many at one time - having their own camps. Youngsters hardly feel welcome in such an atmosphere and could be forced to do the biddings of their seniors if they want to stay in the team.
"In Pakistan you don't flout authority," Michael Atherton, a former England captain, wrote in one of his columns. "Could an 18-year-old resist the wishes of his elders, his superiors?"
Aamer, reportedly, has confessed he was following "[Salman] Butt's instructions", but Nazar insists no leniency should be shown towards the youngster if he is guilty.
"Whether it is greed or peer pressure, we don't know," Nazar said. "It could have been anything. We haven't got a clue. But if they are proved guilty, then they should never play for Pakistan ever again. No, because it has ramifications for all the youngsters and the present team as well."
Nazar was probably hinting at the 1998 Justice Qayyum report into match-fixing allegations. His recommendations were not entirely followed. Waqar Younis, censured by the report, is the coach of the current squad. Ijaz Ahmed, another name to figure prominently in match-fixing allegations, is a fielding coach of the side. Salim Malik has been exonerated by a court.
India's Central Bureau of Investigation had named many cricketers from different countries in their match-fixing report, but they were cleared of all charges.
So there has not been a strong deterrence for the cricketers, especially in a country where the president is seeking amnesty for himself from corruption charges. But crime has really not paid in the case of Aamer.
He allegedly received £4,000 for bowling those no-balls in England. Up to now, he has lost a £100,000 English county deal and a couple of sponsorship contracts.
"And that's just a start," Nazar said. "The IPL is not going to be closed to Pakistan cricketers for ever. Tomorrow, it will open. What is going to happen then? Aamer, do you think he would have gone for $100,000? He would have been one of the highest paid cricketers in the league.
"That is why this is so heart-wrenching. The world was at his feet. He would have probably been the first multi-million dollar Pakistan cricketer. He happened to be playing at the right time and his career was on an upward path. We don't know where he would have finished."
So why did Aamer do it?
Hansie Cronje, the late South African captain who was banned for life in 2000 for match-fixing, reportedly asked the same questions of himself. "I don't know why I did it," he once said. "I've asked myself the question so many times over and over again. I cannot find one answer that will give me an answer to that one question."
Updated: October 30, 2010 04:00 AM