With three Pakistani cricketers behind bars tonight and the trial itself throwing up more questions than answers, was the judge, Mr Justice Cooke, right when he indicated that this case represented the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as far as fixing in cricket is concerned, and if he was, just how big is the iceberg?
The most astonishing day of an astonishing trial came yesterday when agent Mazhar Majeed, under cross-examination prior to sentencing, admitted that corruption was rife in the Pakistan team and that there were competing cells engaged in corruption within the team. Majeed alleged that a player, named only as “X” and not involved in this trial, was the creator of this particular cell, in collaboration with Salman Butt, and that he paid £65,000 to fast bowler Mohammad Asif to “buy” his loyalty.
Now how seriously these claims, made by a man who boasted that he knew Brad Pitt and Roger Federer, should be taken is open to debate. Indeed, if they were isolated allegations then they could be dismissed as the deluded utterings of a power-hungry man, but they are backed up by startling evidence – both new and old.
To begin with, the News of the World investigation named several other players in connection with the scam last August, including Umar and Kamran Akmal, Imran Farhat and Wahab Riaz – all of whom have since played for Pakistan – and claims that were repeated in court by Majeed. Thankfully the ICC is at least considering launching an investigation into some of the claims, but their Anti-Corruption Unit have no police powers and some vital evidence is known to have been destroyed.
As for the PCB itself, they too are making small steps in the right direction. Their new team, led by the impressive Misbah-ul-Haq and boosted by a couple of potential new heroes in Junaid Khan and Azhar Ali, is going about its business in an understated but successful way in the UAE, and chairman Ijaz Butt has been relieved of his post. However, the reactions of a minority of their ’fans’ and some of the players’ families are alarming - a select few have suggested that the three players were victims of a set-up operation – while the feeling persists that if more had been done after the conclusion of the Justice Qayyum report a decade earlier then cricket may have been spared its present pain. It is a sad fact that players implicated in that inquiry, and in others since, continue to play and coach cricket in countries all over the world; a fact that serves to remind us that this is far from being a Pakistani-only problem.
Indeed, it would be easy to turn this case into a vilification of one country’s sportsmen as is so often the case, but the problem runs far deeper. Australians have been implicated in the past – Mark Waugh and Shane Warne are still under suspicion in some quarters – while Hashan Tillakaratne has warned of the problems in Sri Lankan cricket only to be silenced. English county cricket has the ongoing case of Essex bowler Mervyn Westfield, with Marlon Samuels of the West Indies; Herschelle Gibbs from South Africa and Maurice Odumbe of Kenya all linked to cases in recent past. The IPL and ICL have also been plagued by whispers over the years, as a format that is ripe for corruption is played among teams that have no real identity. Meanwhile the increasing television coverage of worldwide domestic cricket is making it ever easier to bet on games played many hundreds of miles away, thus creating the perfect conditions for corruption to thrive and leaving the impression that the Judge may just be right when he said that it could be the tip of the iceberg.
What do you think is the answer and if you were charged with cleaning up cricket what would you do? Please let us know in the comments below.