Pakistani cricket has never been able to distance itself from controversy. Whether it’s forfeiting test matches or handing players life bans you can guarantee something will be going on. Recently though it seemed things were on the up. Rewind the clock to the 21st of July and they were all smiles; Mohammed Amir and co were streaming on to the pitch at Headingley Carnegie to celebrate their first win over Australia for fifteen years, they had a new captain in place and the apparent trouble makers in the squad had been kicked out.
Over the last few days however, and following on from their victory at The Oval, it has been a swift fall from grace for those involved in the Pakistan cricket team. Allegations in The News of the World suggested that players were being paid to bowl no-balls and video evidence was provided of a middle-man declaring exactly when these no-balls would be bowled.
This has led to many in the game calling for the players involved to be banned for life. My colleagues at work had differing views on the topic, ranging from “I just want to give Amir a hug” to “Hang them, hang them all”. The latter view there clearly coming from one of the more traditional members of the office, but the sentiment of his opinion has been mirrored across the cricket world. Can we really condemn these cricketers to the extent that we currently are? Firstly we must remember the principle of innocent until proven guilty, and secondly the alleged crimes of these players must be put in context.
Geoff Lawson, former Australian test cricketer and ex-coach of the Pakistan side has been one of the few voices not quick to criticise the alleged; “The first time I met Mohammad Amir was when he was 16, coming to an Under-19s camp. He comes from a small village near the Swat valley and was delayed by three hours because the Taliban had closed the highway. That doesn’t happen in this country.” Amir is still a young man, he would be a wide-eyed fresher at this university come October, and he’s a young man who has come from such a background that the lure of money would perhaps be hard to turn down.
It is very easy to criticise those accused of using their position within international cricket to make themselves and criminals money but are we really in a position to heap so much criticism upon them? Having never been offered a huge sum of money to do something illegal it’s hard to say how you would react. I would love to say I would never do it but can I be sure? Bowling a no-ball and receiving fifty thousand pounds for it seems attractive, if not proper. Even if we can be sure that we wouldn’t be swayed is it right that we judge those that do give in? Perhaps those accused of the crimes were in a position where they couldn’t say no. You can be sure that their naivety was exploited; any money made by the athlete in spot-fixing is small in comparison to the cash made by those in control.
So if these allegations are true, what happens next? For me a ban for life is too harsh. There has to be a distinction made between bowling a no-ball in order to make money, and purposely altering the outcome of the game. It is true that test matches can be won and lost by the narrowest of margins but forfeiting three runs in an innings cannot be on the same level as Hansie Cronje’s conjuring-up of a target for England to chase in January 2000. If those accused are found guilty of just the crimes currently splashed across the newspapers then a lengthy ban and a heavy fine would suffice. The extra glare the players would be under for the rest of their career would be penalty enough. If it becomes apparent that there is more to this, and it seems naïve to suggest there won’t be, then the punishments might have to be heftier.
That however would be a crying shame. Pakistan’s win at The Oval seemed like the beginning of so much, not the end. Salman Butt comes across an intelligent and considered man; a man who has been tasked with the honour of leading his country. Mohammed Asif, for all the controversy he’s gone through, is still a superb cricketer and one of the finest bowlers around. Mohammed Amir is the saddest story of them all; a frightening talent who has everything required to become one of the world’s best. Anyone who witnessed his spell of bowling at Lord’s on Friday morning will attest to his potential greatness.
Why are they in a position where people are allowed to access them and offer them money? How can we allow them to be tempted like they apparently have been? It’s a crying shame for them and for cricket but let’s not demonise them to the extent that they’re considered villains already. And even if these allegations turn out to be true we cannot take the view of my colleague who suggested we “hang them all” because if it is life bans these men are headed for they will face punishment every day for the rest of their lives, knowing the careers they could have had.