x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Suspect Pakistan cricketers were selected for team

This second installment of a three-part series looks at claims that Pakistan's cricket board has ignored opportunities to crack down on cheating.

Shahid Afridi, the captain of Pakistan’s scandal-hit cricket team.
Shahid Afridi, the captain of Pakistan’s scandal-hit cricket team.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) appointed several players to the national team that became embroiled in a spot-fixing scandal in England this summer, even though their conduct had already been called into question.

In March, a PCB committee assigned to investigate the team's dismal performance against Australia in 2009 recommended that seven players be disciplined. The recommendations included fines, suspensions and an outright ban from the squad. Their alleged offenses ranged from "infighting" to "bringing the game and country into disrepute".

Despite the gravity of the charges, an arbitrator in May overturned the committee's recommendations against five of the seven players. All five went to England and one - vice- captain Kamran Akmal - was questioned in the spot-fixing investigation but not disciplined.

The board that is charged with overseeing Pakistan's most popular sport has had opportunities to crack down on cheating by national team players but has done little to curb it, said Asif Sohail,a former special assistant to the PCB chairman, Ijaz Butt. No member of the board would comment for this story.

Mr Sohail told The National that the board suspected match-fixing at the 2007 World Cup, hosted by the West Indies. Pakistan had been expected to do well because of their prowess in the one-day format, but instead were knocked out in the preliminary round.

Because of the team's dismal performance, the board, then chaired by Nasim Ashraf, appointed a committee led by Mr Butt, to investigate.

Mr Sohail, a retired Lahore-based sports journalist appointed co-ordinator of the investigation, said the committee asked all team members point blank if there had been any match-fixing and, if so, whether there was any evidence.

He said several younger players pointed out a passage of play during the tournament's inaugural match with the West Indies. Captain Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammed Yousuf - two of the world's best batsmen - scored a mere five runs off 41 balls, a suspiciously poor performance.

The incident appeared to typify a match-fixing scam, but the board took no action because the junior players could provide no proof of a fix, Mr Sohail said.

It is not only players who benefit from the board's apparent lax regulation. Joining Pakistan's national side in England as the assistant team manager was Shafqat Rana, another controversial figure in Pakistani cricket. He has been implicated in the UK spot-fixing investigation.

According to Pakistani press reports, the PCB heard in 2008 that Mr Rana, a member of the board's three-person player selection panel, had accepted a bribe from businessman Sikander Riaz to assure that Riaz's son be named in the Pakistan second-string team. His son was assigned to the team for the 2008 season.

Shakil Sheikh, the president of the Islamabad Cricket Association, spoke about the alleged bribe during an interview on Pakistani television earlier this year.

Mr Riaz is well known in Pakistani cricket circles and would often throw lavish parties for players and officials.

The allegation was not investigated. Nonetheless, Mr Butt, appointed PCB chairman in April 2008, decided not to renew Mr Rana's contract as a member of the selection committee.

But in September 2009, Mr Butt employed Mr Rana in team management roles with the junior national side.

He subsequently was made assistant manager of the national team for this summer's England tour.

It was one of several decisions Mr Butt was destined to rue.

Team management reports leaked to the Pakistani press after the spot-fixing scandal erupted this summer showed that Mr Rana had prior knowledge of suspicious dealings between players and Mazhar Majeed, the agent at the centre of the alleged scam. Players had been prohibited from meeting with Mr Majeed. So, when captain Salman Butt (no relation to chairman Ijaz Butt) told Mohammed Aamer, an exciting young bowler, to prepare to meet the bookmaker, Mr Aamer reported it to Mr Rana.

Mr Rana reportedly instructed Mr Aamer to do what the senior players said, Pakistani press reports said.

The leaked reports were confirmed by board chairman Butt at a September 9 press conference in Lahore.

In fact, Mr Rana's appointment was not the only questionable management assignment. Team coach Waqar Younis had been fined for refusing to co-operate in 2000 with a commission that was investigating allegations of match-fixing by Pakistani players. Ijaz Ahmed, the fielding coach, had been jailed in 2009 for issuing a Dh1.7 million cheque that bounced.

Mr Butt displayed odd judgment in other decisions, Mr Sohail said.

For example, the board chairman had in October 2008 sought to appoint Salim Malik as director of the National Cricket Academy in Lahore. He changed tack after he was reminded that Mr Malik had been banned from cricket for life.

In February, Mr Butt had to cope with yet another suspected scandal when the International Cricket Council (ICC) informed him of suspicions that Mr Akmal and a second player were involved in spot-fixing during their 2009-2010 matches against Australia.

The chairman indiscreetly announced that two players, who he did not name, were under observation by the ICC, and formed an inquiry committee.

Intikhab Alam, the team manager, and his assistant, Aqib Javed, both told the committee they suspected the two players were involved. Videotape recordings of their depositions were leaked to the Pakistani media and posted on YouTube.

The first part of the series can be read here.

thussain@thenational.ae