A judicious withdrawal
Now they have been left out. Ijaz Butt rushed out a statement that Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Amir will not be suspended unless they are proven guilty. I believe he was wrong and the decision to withdraw them from the limited-overs series is the correct one. The last week has been such a traumatic one for Pakistan cricket that there are many compelling reasons for the decision.
The central question that any administrator, player, or supporter has to answer is what is best for Pakistan cricket? Is it a show of defiance that refuses to agree to any sanction against Pakistan's players using the age-old right of innocence until proven guilty? Or is it a firm stance against any misconduct or corruption in the name of Pakistan cricket? It has to be the latter and here are my reasons:
1 The spectre of match-fixing and spot-fixing has never left Pakistan cricket. The Qayyum inquiry of a decade ago was a compromise, an exercise in punishing some offenders but fearful of damaging the prospects of the national team. The compromise failed. Pakistan cricket declined since the end of the 1990s. The players who were fined but not banned have struggled to shake the odour of misconduct. Their ongoing association with Pakistan cricket is an easy target for conspiracy theorists every time a controversy arises. Importantly, the match-fixing scandal didn't end with the Qayyum inquiry but limped on.
2 The two most important lessons from the Qayyum inquiry are that no player should be above the law, and that clear, decisive judgements and action are required.
3 In these circumstances when your players and country are being accused it is understandable that many people automatically leap to the defence of their countrymen who are under suspicion. It is right to seek and ensure justice for your fellows but not at the expense of achieving the correct judgement. The PCB should be guardians of Pakistan cricket and its integrity and not blind advocates of the players.
4 As such, the PCB's prime motivation should be to get at the truth of what has happened. While there might not be sufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution to succeed under British jurisprudence there is clearly a case to answer for some of Pakistan's players based on this week's revelations. Anybody who cares for Pakistan cricket will want to know whether players have sold their team, their fans, and their country.
5 While answers are sought it makes sense to withdraw the concerned players from the touring party. This does not mean that they are guilty but it is best for them to be withdrawn from the media spotlight at this moment. International cricket is a tough enough arena without having to cope with such damaging allegations. The PCB should even consider sending out a whole new touring party and management not involved in the England Test series to underline its commitment to the integrity of the sport.
6 Sport is of no value without spectators, and unless spectators can trust that they are viewing a fair contest they will walk away. The greatest damage done by this scandal is the potential insult to paying spectators. The limited overs series now has a chance of succeeding and rebuilding everybody's confidence in the integrity of these encounters.
7 Corruption in sport is not new. Pakistan is not the only country to be tainted by match-fixing accusations, it is a scandal that affects all cricket-playing nations. But that argument should not be used as a pretext to avoid putting your own house in order. Match-fixing is an international issue and if it is in Pakistan cricket then everything that can be done to eradicate this monster from its realm must be done.
8 It would be much better for any of the players to return to international cricket with their names cleared rather than play on under a cloud. Even a player who has committed a less serious offence will find it easier to be rehabilitated once any charge has been properly addressed and any punishment served. For players who may have fixed the outcome of matches, the punishment should be life bans. Less serious offences can carry alternative punishments under the ICC code.
9 The PCB has shown it is quick to hand out bans and fines without even a proper explanation of why. Hence it seems ironic that Mr Butt was so quick to rule out any sanction on this occasion and has invoked the cry of 'innocent until proven guilty' whereas on the last occasion the verdict was 'guilty until proven innocent.' Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan, in particular, have suffered as a result. Here we have legitimate cause for concern, if not punishment, which is why a judicious withdrawal of the players is entirely justifiable and feasible.
10 I don't believe the tour should be stopped but the stench of corruption must be removed from it. This might be harsh on a group of Pakistan players who turn out to be innocent but their withdrawal, without any acceptance of guilt at this stage, is best for the integrity of Pakistan cricket and the spirit of the game. The PCB needs to make decisions on the basis of building a strong, clean team to represent the country and not become mired in brinkmanship or petty politics.
Unfortunately, too many supporters have lost faith in the motivations of too many players. They have no confidence in the decision making of the cricket board. They have no expectation that Pakistani politicians will be able to change the cricket board. Of course, fans have never really had much faith in administrators or politicians. But once trust in players begins to be shattered then fans become disillusioned and walk away. For that reason alone, the decision to withdraw the three players for the rest of the tour is the correct one.
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Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here