The current match-fixing crisis facing cricket is being reported as a stunning new development in the game. However, as any astute follower of the game will know, this situation is nothing but the logical next step for a sport that has for some time been spiralling out of control. As such, it is worthwhile looking to the past to inform the present, and thus find someway of understanding how cricket can move forward into the future.
As with most issues that face cricket, the current issue has many different aspects and contributing factors. The scandal itself is developing incredibly quickly. The latest news reports suggest that the alleged match-fixer Mazhar Majeed acts as a manager of many of the Pakistan squad, including former captains Mohammed Yousuf, Younus Khan and Shahid Afridi. In an interview with the BBC’s Jonathan Agnew, Pakistan cricket manager Yawar Saeed has stated that he has seen Majeed ‘hanging around’ the team over the last few years. Up to this point Saeed and current coach Waqar Younis have not been implicated, however it is difficult to believe that the brevity of this situation does not reach any higher than captain Salman Butt, who is one of those allegedly involved.
The other two main figures involved in this scandal are Mohammed Asif and Mohammed Amir, who are the bowlers who ‘performed’ the no-ball’s at previously agreed upon times within the match. Much of the sense of surprise regarding the scandal has been centred on the question of why these young and promising bowlers would be involved in match fixing. The answer can at least partly be found with a look at a game that is increasingly without clear leadership and control.
Mohammed Asif’s journey to this situation is certainly the more colourful one. Asif was banned from the Pakistani squad in late 2006 after failing a test for the performance-enhancing drug Nandrolone. Further to this, Asif was also detained in Dubai in 2008 on suspicion of having illegal drugs in his possession. What is most revealing about Asif’s situation is the way in which he has been handled not only by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), but also by the International Cricket Council (ICC). The PCB is an inherently political organisation. Former Pakistan cricket coach Geoff Lawson today described its leader Ijaz Butt as incapable. The board’s history with dealing with similar problems, such as the Salim Malik match-fixing scandal, and indeed the continually scandalous Shoaib Akhtar, is less than impressive. Even the response to the recent tour of Australia was questionable. Younus Khan was sacked prior to the tour after a player revolt, and the new captain Mohammed Yousuf was banned from the game, and later re-installed as a player, after what might well have been a betting inspired loss to Australia in Sydney.
Mohammed Amir’s tale, whilst being less sensational, is perhaps more revealing about the problems facing world cricket. Amir is cricket’s newest hot property. At 18 and with searing pace and fire in his eyes, he has captivated fans around the world. However, Amir comes from a country and from within a cricketing system, which Peter Roebuck has described as riddled with corruption. For too long the ICC has let cricket be a political toy that is fought over by various fiefdom’s around the cricketing world. Cricket’s governing body has also continually bent over to accommodate figures such as disgraced businessman Allan Stanford with his millions for West Indian cricket, and Lalit Modhi with his IPL, which appears to be corrupt to its core. Unfortunately, the way in which international cricket is managed has not helped this situation, and the true consequences of this are currently being played out. This is not to excuse Amir’s actions, but they must be understood in relation to his very poor upbringing, and a system that does very little other than allow corrupt practices to take place.
What must be understood is that this current scandal lies within a wider context of mismanagement and corruption at the highest levels. To simply cast out a few Pakistani players as scapegoats would be to simply do what cricket has done for too long. For cricket to emerge from this as a viable future sporting code it must address the core problems that have led to the current situation. If it does not, it risks being passed off as nothing more than a plaything of betting agents such as Mazhar Majeed.
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