The drugged cricketer November 1, 2006

A peculiarly Pakistani muddle

Amid the shame of the verdicts against Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, one aspect of this whole business is bothering me

Amid the shame of the verdicts against Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif, one aspect of this whole business is bothering me. The Pakistan Cricket Board sensibly handed the matter over to an independent tribunal. Smart and fair move. The tribunal has delivered its verdict. Tough but fair? Well, perhaps not.

Any legal case--and that is exaclty what this was--requires a due process, and that includes the opportunity for the defendants to test the evidence and present their defence in a proper manner. The tribunal has tried to argue that Pakistan's premier bowlers were given the opportunity to defend themseves. M'lord, I beg to differ.

The simple point is that neither player had legal representation. Asif, who the tribunal has tried to portray as some kind of village idiot, defended himself. Shoaib, who the tribunal has tried to portray as a charlatan, was defended by a doctor turned administrator turned journalist. Now all professionals must recognise the limits of their profession. Doctors are not lawyers, and it might have been better for Shoaib if his good doctor had butted out.

You might say that this was not a formal court case but a quasi-legal process. You might say that the players exercised choice. But I'd say that it is the responsibility of the court (quasi or otherwise) to ensure that the defendants are adequately defended, and in this regard Shahid Hamid has failed. Indeed, if it is true as reported that Hamid was chatting about the drugs hearing during another case and before the verdict was out, he has prejudiced the hearing and called into question its integrity. Add to this the incredible sensitivity of this issue in Pakistan and you might imagine that a wise lawyer would insist that the evidence against the players is tested as robustly as possible by the defence.

The point of this is not to come up with some ruse to find the players not guilty. The point is to ensure that the process has been a proper and fair one. If after such a process the verdict stands then they must be punished--and let's be clear that the tribunal's decision to punish the players differently is barely credible. But my interpretation of the tribunal proceedings is that this was not an adequate process. How can justice be done without defence lawyers? If there was one lesson from the Hair controversy it was that you should never leave for a cricket hearing without a lawyer, better still a whole team of them.

The verdicts have been given face validity by whisperings from Shaharyar Khan and others around the team about their suspicions of Shoaib's illicit drug use. Well, if that is the case then when was that evidence produced at the hearing? If such senior people knew of such misdemeanours or even suspected them why was Shoaib allowed to play for Pakistan at all? If Shaharyar Khan knew, you can't tell me that Nasim Ashraf didn't.

The Pakistan Cricket Board is hoping that it will be given credit by the international community for its tough stance. Truly, all drug cheats must be banned. Unfortunately, gaining credibiilty is not simply about draconian punishments. It is also about due process. I fear that Pakistan's pace bowlers--guilty or not--have not had justice. If I were them and I were innocent, as they insist, I would appeal and I would beg and borrow to gather the best lawyers I could lay my hands on. These cricketers have been badly advised throughout their treatment and now through their disgrace. This whole incident has the hallmark of a peculiarly Pakistani muddle.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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