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Collective punishment for individual indiscretions?

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Since The News of the World (NOTW) broke the story last Sunday (29th August), ‘deliberately’ bowled no-balls have dominated the back pages. For those who are not aware (there cannot be many of you) the NOTW filmed a meeting between one of its undercover reporters and a man they claimed is a ‘fixer’, Mazhar Majeed. During the meeting, the so-called ‘fixer’ gave the reporter details of exactly when in the match no-balls would be bowled. According to the story, these details matched up exactly with three no-balls bowled by Mohammed Aamer and Mohammed Asif in the Lords test versus England. The tabloid claimed to have paid Majeed £150,000 for the information.

Just to clarify, it has not yet been proven that those implicated in the scandal (Majeed, Pakistan captain Salman Butt, Mohammed Aamer and Mohammed Asif) have in any way acted illegally. The allegations remain just that; allegations. Butt, Aamer and Asif all had their mobile phones seized by police last weekend whilst they investigated claims of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers.

It should also be made clear at this juncture that what has supposedly happened here is very different to match-fixing. Both are wrong, but there is one key difference. Match-fixing affects the overall outcome of a match whereas spot-fixing relates to specific incidents within a match. Both can be used to make a lot of money.

The story has rocked the sport to its core with everybody having their say. Nasser Hussein said he was devastated that Aamer was involved as it could spell the end of an extremely promising career before it has even really started. One legend of the sport, Kapil Dev, has claimed that another, Imran Khan, should step in and take charge of the Pakistani set-up. The unanimous verdict however, is that anybody found guilty of such a disgraceful action should be dealt with in a very uncompromising manner.

Mohammed Aamer (left), Salman Butt (centre) and Mohammed Asif (right) have all been implicated in the scandal. (This image is the property of BBC Sport)

Before any potential punishment can be handed out, several issues need to be fully explored. Firstly, it must be established why this may have happened. Is this just an example of pure greed where people have thought about nothing more than lining their pockets? Secondly, have the families of those reputedly involved been threatened with violence in the case of non-compliance? Thirdly, and most importantly, is anybody actually involved in any wrongdoing?

Butt, Aamer and Asif all protest their innocence and have voluntarily pulled out of the rest of the tour of England whilst the whole issue is investigated and today (2nd September) Pakistan’s High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan has claimed that the players may have been set up by a tape filmed after the balls were bowled. Whatever the case, it will ‘all come out in the wash’ as they say. If anyone is found to have knowingly engaged in spot-fixing they need to be punished.

Life bans have been discussed as one potential punishment. This will be a huge loss in the case of 18 year old Aamer. He has just become the quickest bowler to reach 50 test wickets and looks like Wasim Akram mark 2. Such a loss would only impoverish cricket.

There is a precedent for a life ban. In 2000, South Africa’s Hansie Cronje was banned for life after being found guilty of match-fixing (not spot-fixing).

However, there currently seems to be huge outcry for a ban on Pakistan as a team. Why? Sure, the individuals that have been implicated in the scandal play for Pakistan, but why should the whole team be punished if they are found guilty? It just does not make sense. Did people clamour so vehemently for a ban on South Africa when Cronje, Gibbs and co. were found guilty ten years ago? No. Pakistan is already a sad story as far as cricket is concerned, banning them would only serve to make it more so and deprive the sport of a country steeped in cricketing history.

Forced to operate as a team of exiles due to security issues in their homeland, Pakistan tours the world and has, in the process, become what The Guardian’s Stephen Moss refers to as “cricket’s equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters.’ The players therefore have to spend much time away from close friends and family and must surely miss playing in front of a fervent home crowd in Karachi or Multan. Stopping them from playing the sport they love because of what may turn out to be the selfish actions of a select few would only make their situation worse. Ban anybody found guilty of engaging in any form of fixing by all means, but please do not ban the team as a whole.

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