Hopeless at Lord's
Omar Kurieshi, Pakistan's great writer and broadcaster, once sent me on a mission. It was in my early days of cricket writing, and he had recruited me for Sportsweek, his new publication. I was sent to talk to Wasim Akram, possibly the greatest left-arm pacemen of them all and a man besieged by match-fixing allegations. Kurieshi wanted to help him, rescue Pakistan's champion from the baying hounds with the smell of blood in their nostrils. I met Wasim, looked him in the eye, and asked him whether the allegations were true or not. The master of reverse swing was quick to reassure me of his innocence.
The point of this anecdote is not to question Wasim's integrity, it is to highlight a human trait that is not peculiarly Pakistani but has become a common feature of Pakistan's response to match-fixing or spot-fixing allegations. It is simply this: each allegation is seen as a conspiracy or attack on Pakistan, an attack that has to be repulsed at all costs, instead of a red alert about corruption.
These posturings are wearisome but they have now turned outrageous with Ijaz Butt's misfiring accusations against England's cricketers. I don't know which players from which teams are involved in fixing performances and results; only the players and the bookmakers know for sure. I do know that serious match-fixing allegations have surrounded international cricket for many decades.
But the strongest evidence I have ever come across was unearthed by the Indian authorities when they caught Hansie Cronje and others. The most shocking information I have ever seen about Pakistan cricket was released in the recent sting by the News of the World. It had taken a decade to restore much of the faith in the integrity of cricket that was lost last time around, only for it to be shattered by a few minutes of Internet video. I worry about transcripts, recordings, and marked notes but I care little for idle conjecture about slow-scoring, accelerations and decelerations at will; wins and losses at a whim.
I want resolution. I want corruption out of cricket more than I want to save the career of any corrupt cricketer; an attitude that anybody who cares for this great sport must share. I don't want the head of Pakistan's cricket board to put political posturing before establishing the truth surrounding these allegations. I don't want him to accuse another country's cricketers of throwing matches, especially a country that has lent a dime in a summer of need. Instead, I want him to clean up Pakistan cricket.
I want resolution from ICC too. I want the game's ruling body to be a worthy custodian, championing the best in this sport and eradicating corruption. I don't want the ICC to lie dormant until it is roused by media scoops, second to every scandal. I don't want the ICC to pretend that corruption is only skin deep and confined to a single country. I want the ICC to be an organisation that uses power with responsibility and creates a thriving sport full of integrity.
I know these are false hopes in desperate times. The last few days have seen two calamitous acts. First is the inexcusable announcement by ICC that the ODI at The Oval is under investigation, an announcement that left both cricket boards uninformed and 22 players under suspicion. Second is the unfitting attack by Butt on other players and cricket organisations. These harmful instances suggest that the ICC and the PCB have lost control of the crisis and are about to embark on a calamitous confrontation.
I know in my heart that it is probably best for this dread tour to finish now and save us further pain. Yet I also know that I will wend my way to Lord's in the hope that I might see a final stand from Pakistan cricket to defy its critics and to prove its honesty. I will contemplate the value of commenting on performances that may or may not be genuine. I will think back to the boy who once believed that cricket was a proud battle of skill, will, and bravery. I will imagine a time when cricket is again free of the obscenity of corruption. I will watch Shahid Afridi's men perform at the home of cricket, every cricketer's dream, and imagine what Pakistan cricket might have been.
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Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here