Old frontier mentality brings new world order to the crease
Published 06/11/2011 | 05:00
When Mohammad Amir was sentenced to six months in jail at Southwark Crown Court last Thursday, the judge had to return to the courtroom and make a correction. Amir is 19 years old and is too young to be sent to prison. Instead, he will serve time at a young offenders' institution and he will probably be released within three months.
Amir will then have freedom but it'll be the freedom of an ordinary teenager with a secret. A teenager who has done a terrible thing and squandered a talent that bordered on the supernatural.
Amir's life has already been ruined. He was sentenced, Mr Justice Cooke said, as a deterrent to others but the trial, if anything, offered as much encouragement to match-fixers as it did warnings.
It was the News of the World which uncovered the spot-fixing, not any of the cricket bodies entrusted with the authority to uncover corruption. The News of the World has ceased to exist. In the current climate -- in any climate actually -- there are few newspapers prepared to risk resources on a story like this. In fact, there will be newspaper bean-counters who will read that the newspaper failed to recover £104,300 of the £140,000 they handed over to Majeed and view the whole thing as a horrible failure, another example of journalists unable to comprehend the bottom line. Any corrupt cricketer paying attention would have noted that their chances of being caught now are slim.
The News of the World had revealed the intention of cricketers and their agent Mazhar Majeed to alter the course of matches for money.
The judge referred to it as a sting but he also referred to gambling on no-balls, a market which, as the excellent sportingintelligence.com has pointed out, does not exist in lawful or unlawful markets.
"The evidence was that betting on no balls only occurred in unlawful markets," Justice Cooke declared when sentencing the four. "The effect of what you were seeking to do was to defraud bookmakers, whether licensed or unlicensed and whether carrying out lawful or unlawful bookmaking in the country in question, where public policy may differ from this country."
Mohammad Amir is in jail because he bowled no-balls to order at the behest of the News of the World. At the same time as this betrayal, Amir had revealed his talent by taking four wickets for no runs.
Of course there was a deceit and on a grander scale than the sting uncovered by the News of the World. Mazhar Majeed promised more than a few no-balls. First they took the easy money on offer in this case. And they probably felt they were due some of that.
They found £1,500 of the News of the World's money on Amir, a sum some Premier League footballers would consider too paltry even to burn. But you don't need to look to Premier League footballers for comparisons and probably shouldn't.
Salman Butt was said to wonder how there were cricketers in his dressing room who had more houses than him and the process started.
The Pakistan team didn't need to be consumed by the petty envies of a dressing room, they had the great hatred of the ancient battles with India to nourish their resentments too.
Since the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, no Pakistani cricketer has been selected for the Indian Premier League, the brash and bombastic heart pumping money into cricket. In 2010, 11 Pakistani players were put forward for the auction for the IPL franchises and none was picked. Apart from the money available, this was also a great humiliation.
The governing council of the IPL says there is no ban on the players but it remains to be seen what happens next year.
India is at the heart of the new world order, but, like the old world order, it's unable to tolerate Pakistan. Ian Botham once said it was the kind of place he'd like to send his mother-in-law and the hostility to the environment was matched by hostility to the aggressive sharp practices of their players.
They could tolerate Imran Khan, who was smooth, but not Wasim Akram or Waqar Younis, two geniuses who spent their careers being accused of ball-tampering because there was no other way to comprehend their magnificence.
Pakistan cricket has been marginalised, although perhaps not misunderstood but understood too well.
If the ICC are serious about changing the game, they must make a greater effort to bring Pakistan back. Of course, Pakistan makes it difficult for itself. Since the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore, no side has wanted to play there and with good reason.
They have refused to play because of accusations made by an umpire and they have now allowed corruption into their team, as it has been allowed into every area of life in Pakistan.
They are as weary of corruption in Pakistan as they are everywhere else which is why there is great anger at the players.
They were lawless and uncontrollable. Salim Malik was banned for life in 2000 but spent years protesting his innocence or his innocence at being the only guilty party.
Last year Zulqarnain Haider quit cricket after he received death-threats from match-fixers. Some deterrents are more effective than others. "I'd rather flee than sell out the dignity and respect of my motherland," he said.
Cricket has gone down a road of mutually assured destruction. The idea that the great upsets in the game are genuine has been destroyed and, in return, the lives of Mohammad Amir and the less naive like Butt and Asif are shattered.
Nobody believes they are the only ones. Talk to anyone in cricket and they will tell you of players, coaches and umpires who, they think, have been involved.
These were the cricketers prosecuted. They had other options. In 2009, Matthew Le Tissier revealed in his autobiography that he had tried to put the ball straight out of play from kick-off during a game against West Ham in 1995 when spread betting took bets on first throw-in. The police decided to take no action.
"Obviously I'd never have done anything that might have affected the outcome of the match," he wrote, "but I couldn't see a problem with making a few quid on the time of the first throw-in." He remains at large.
Le Tissier is no danger to anyone as he works on his handicap and his banter. Pakistan is scary and mysterious, a frontier country with frontiersmen who play by different rules or no rules at all.
Justice was vengeful but it's hard to tell when someone is being used to deter or when someone is just being used. Cricket has its scapegoats but they are victims too. The ritualistic sacrifice of these heart-breaking talents must now be given greater meaning.
Sunday Indo Sport