Pakistani cricket scandal – the worst match-rigging scam or just the latest?

The Pakistani match-fixing scandal of 2010 is the biggest cricketing scandal since Hansie Cronje claimed, “The devil made me do it”. Or, if it isn’t yet, it’s going to be, thanks to Pakistan’s entirely predictable and entirely wrong response. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

On 29 August, News of the World broke the story of how a businessman and club owner named Mazhar Majeed had fixed the Lord’s Test between England and Pakistan. According to the report, Majeed and four Pakistani players were in on the fix. “In the most sensational sporting scandal ever, bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif delivered THREE blatant no-balls to order. Their London-based fixer Mazhar Majeed, who let us in on the betting scam for £150,000, crowed ‘This is no coincidence’ before the bent duo made duff deliveries at PRECISELY the moments promised to our reporter. Armed with our damning dossier of video evidence, Scotland Yard launched their own probe into the scandal.”

Police have reportedly confiscated the phones of four Pakistani cricketers who were named by Majeed as being part of the fix: Amir, Asif, wicket keeper Kamran Akmal as well as skipper, Salman Butt. There are three other unnamed players Majeed said he controlled. Scotland Yard said they’d “arrested a 35-year-old man on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers”, after the News of the World report.

The fix, according to Majeed, was made on “brackets”, or groups of 10 overs in a Test match. Usually, betters wager on how well a player will do in 10 overs, based on their performance in the first three. For instance, if a batter gets a good run rate in the first three overs, punters will back that player to keep that rate up for the duration of the bracket. However, fixers could bribe the player to suddenly slow his rate down in a certain over, making those who were in on the fix large amounts of money by betting on the sudden loss of form or turnabout.

Photo: Two of the accused, Pakistan’s captain Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir at the end of the first day of the fourth cricket test match against England at Lord’s cricket ground in London August 26, 2010. Picture taken August 26, 2010. REUTERS/Philip Brown

News of the World said Majeed supplied information to crooked bookies and spread betters. However, Majeed’s information is so detailed, down to the exact moment when a no-ball will happen, that he probably had spot betters (where the risks are much higher) in his pocket as well.

The world of cricket is still reeling from the revelation that a good portion of the Pakistani team is allegedly corrupt. Former International Cricket Council president Ehsan Mani said, “It has come as an absolute shock to me. I don’t know how this could happen. What was the Pakistan team management doing? I also blame the ICC anti-corruption unit, when a newspaper could uncover all this, what was the unit doing? It is a shame for cricket.” Many others, including former players, administrators and politicians are calling for those found to have been involved in the scam to be banned for life.

The Guardian’s Richard Williams was most crestfallen in his assessment of the unfolding events. “Cricket was never a wholly clean game,” he wrote in his Guardian blog. “Whatever we like to imagine, it has seldom been entirely free from the dangerous lure of money, whether it was gentlemen wagering on the outcome of matches during the gambling boom of the 18th century, WG Grace and his brother Edward fiddling the takings at Gloucestershire in the Victorian era or Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting accepting wads of particularly filthy cash to lead tours to South Africa during the time of apartheid. But the alleged incidents of spot-fixing revealed by today’s story in the News of the World will damage the sport’s integrity as surely as if someone had detonated massive charges of high explosive under its foundations.”

Cricket was never a wholly clean game, indeed. From the 19th century, when aristocrats began engaging earnestly in cricket gambling, and Lord Frederick Beauclerk (president of the Marylebone Cricket Club, where the Lord’s cricket ground is located) colluded with players to fix single-wicket cricket games, to our very own Hansie Cronje, the stench of corruption has never been far from the gentleman’s game.

Photo: Pakistani cricket fans pose with a donkey as they hold placards and shout slogans against national cricket team players involved in a match fixing scandal during a protest in Lahore on August 30, 2010. Pakistani President Asif Zardari has summoned a detailed report from the Pakistan Cricket Board over allegations that some Pakistani players had taken bribes to spot-fix the fourth test against England at Lords. The placards read “Match fixing has embarrassed then nation, those involved should be given harsh punishment” and “names of players Salam Butt, Karam Akmal, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif”. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

So the incredulity that has greeted the latest scandal is odd. Anger, even outrage one can fully understand. But the incredulity is surely out of place, and perhaps a little condescending, given the game’s grubby history with cheating.

For now, the team itself is denying everything. Speaking at a press conference, Salman Butt dismissed the report as mere allegations. “Anybody can stand out and say anything about you, it doesn’t mean it’s true” he said. He blamed his team’s poor performance on their youth and inexperience. There are a couple of glaring holes in Butt’s defence, not the least being that his bowlers delivered the no balls that Majeed had predicted, at precisely the times he had predicted. In one of the deliveries, the bowler Amir’s foot is at least 20cm over the line, something that simply must raise eyebrows at this level of international cricket. Conjecture is inevitable. Was he making doubly sure that his foot was over the line, so that the referee would have no doubts about calling a no ball?

Butt and the rest of his team could learn a lot from the Hansie Cronje saga. When Cronje was first named as a party to a match-fixing scandal, he denied it, saying that the allegations were completely without substance. His later, tearful “the devil made me do it” confession was roundly rubbished by the world, and the disgraced former cricketer was cast into ignominy. If the Pakistanis are indeed dirty, then it’s tickets for them too, as the saying goes. There is no recovery from there. Cricket is still smarting from the shame of Cronje’s confession. Pakistani cricket itself has a particular proclivity for match fixing. Careers will end as everyone bays for blood. The least the guilty can do is to make this go away as quickly as possible by not lying. But they may already be too late. Butt has declared their innocence. The die has been cast. Pandora has opened the box.

Watch: Mazhar Majeed, News Of The World on video

Another group that seems hell bent on doing every wrong thing possible is the Pakistani cricket administrators. For now chaos reigns as administrators and politicians rush to lay blame or to get the hell out of the way of the impending doom.
“The (Pakistan cricket) board had promised us … they would not spare players suspected of shady dealings, but the PCB chairman went back on his word. This fresh controversy is a result of the board’s failure to take action against corrupt players,” declared Pakistani senator Haroon Akhtar.

“Rashid Latif (former Pakistan captain) had in 2003 in a letter warned the ICC to beware of this new trend of spot fixing in international cricket. No one took it seriously and this is the result,” said Rasid Ali, former Pakistani Test cricketer.
And this choice nugget from the Pakistani sports minister, which will surely have cricket bosses and players across the country reaching for their light sabres, “It was because of the players’ power that exists in Pakistan cricket that the PCB did not take action against the alleged players and the situation has come to a head in England. We need to educate our players, the management should be strong. It is time we take serious actions, including the sacking of current management, to save our cricket.”

The finger pointing and shouting isn’t going to help Pakistan now. They desperately need to address the allegations and rumours of match-fixing that have dogged their game for so long. Players and administrators who are found guilty must be ruthlessly culled. And everyone, the ICC included, need to ask themselves how this sort of thing continues to happen in cricket.

Read more: The News of the World report that broke the story, Salman Butt’s video response, Richard Williams in the Guardian, a collection of responses to the match-fixing allegations in the Telegraph.

Main photo: Pakistan’s manager Yawar Saeed and assistant manager Shafqat Ranan (L) read a newspaper during the fourth cricket test match against England at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London August 29, 2010. Pakistan intend to complete their England cricket tour despite a police investigation into corruption allegations involving the fourth test which concluded at Lord’s on Sunday. REUTERS/Philip Brown


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