x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pakistan's woes may go beyond a quick fix

Revelations about deliberate no-balls spur questions about team's rash of mysterious results in recent years. Yasser Alvi reports.

Pakistan cricket was reeling yesterday after shocking revelations about players being involved in "spot fixing" and wider allegations emerged of players deliberately losing matches. Pakistan cricket fans, a volatile bunch at the best of times, were in two camps regarding the allegations of wrongdoing in the Test match against England - those who are shocked, and those who are saddened that their worst fears appear to be confirmed.

The video evidence indicates only that spot-fixing occurred - that an agent allegedly influenced players to deliver no-balls at pre-determined moments in the match. However, allegations of deliberate under-performance by key players in other matches was the hot topic of discussion yesterday in Pakistan. Many former players spoke about match-fixing in the aftermath of the news, citing Pakistan's many surprising and unexpected results in past two or three years.

Some, such as Sarfraz Nawaz, a former Pakistani Test cricketer, were quick to say, "I told you so." They believe that several results - the Sydney Test loss to Australia earlier this year, the Galle Test defeat to Sri Lanka in 2009, the Dubai one-day international defeat to New Zealand later that year, and the Asia Cup loss to Sri Lanka this summer - are among the mysterious defeats suffered by Pakistan that should now come under close scrutiny.

Some of those matches were referred to in the video of two undercover reporters meeting with Mazhar Majeed, the alleged fixer, who was arrested in London yesterday. He is a British national who, along with his brother and business partner, is the agent of many Pakistan players. The immediate focus turned to the four Pakistan players named in the video. Two of them - Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer - appeared to deliberately deliver no-balls in the Lord's Test. Images captured from the broadcast of the match showed them clearly stepping over the crease by several inches.

Most Pakistanis seemed to hold the view that all players involved should get life bans if and when their involvement is proved. Iqbal Qasim, the former chief selector and Test cricketer, argued that all those even remotely involved should be kicked out of the national team for good, and replaced by uncapped players. The worst that would happen is that Pakistan would deteriorate, the thinking goes, but that this would be a small price to pay for ridding the team of a cancer.

But some fans baulk at such a severe punishment, especially for the immensely gifted and very young Aamer, who is only 18. They cite his youth, inexperience and lack of professional nous as mitigating factors. Yesterday, Majeed's somewhat colourful reputation was another popular topic in Pakistan, and the players were warned by team management about letting him into their hotel rooms in London. A key thread emerging from this new crisis is that the Pakistan Cricket Board does not monitor agents. Umran Khan, part of the professionally organised Dubai based sports management company Aces Middle East, said unregulated agents are a major problem in cricket.

"The solution is to have a proper registration process for the players' agents," he said. "All those who wish to represent international cricketers need to be pre-qualified, vetted and approved by the ICC [International Cricket Council] as is done by Fifa for football. "At the moment, anyone with connections can claim to be an 'agent' and thus have access to players. The ICC needs to make becoming an agent very difficult.

"In my view, if corrupt agents didn't exist, match fixing and corruption in cricket could be stamped out or at least made very difficult." This was not, of course, the first time such accusations have been made in cricket. The sport has an unfortunate history of match-fixing and of the involvement of illegal betting syndicates; rumours have been around for almost three decades, since the days of Kerry Packer, and when limited overs cricket first gained huge popularity in the Indian sub-continent.

Actual evidence of wrong-doing is more recent, arising in the late 1990s. Eventually, three leading players - Hansie Cronje, Mohammad Azhar-ud-din and Saleem Malik, the captains of South Africa, India and Pakistan, respectively - were found guilty or confessed and were given life bans. The ICC subsequently responded to the gravity of the situation and a high-powered Anti-Corruption Unit was set-up, headed up by the UK's most senior retired policeman. It seemed for a while that the unit's stringent new measures had worked, but this new scandal appears to indicate that the issue never really went away. Yasser Alvi is a writer at PakPassion.net

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