2010: Summer of Pakistan September 24, 2010

Caravan of clowns

The ICC, the PCB and the media are to blame for the heightened controversy and suspicion during Pakistan's tour of England

Command and control are the golden rules of handling any crisis because you can only be in control if you have command of the situation. Sadly, this summer’s spot-fixing controversy has once again revealed that too many cricket administrators, past and present players, and journalists are far from in command once the heat is on anything more complicated than the execution of a forward defensive.

Controversy has dogged each and every Pakistan tour of England for almost three decades. The reasons are complex but dominated by the weaknesses in Pakistan’s cricketing structure, a desire not to be walked over, and rabid suspicion of any Pakistani conduct by an unhealthy proportion of the English media.

To be clear, the video evidence concerning the Lord’s Test was alarming and action was required. It was a shame that the reluctance of the Pakistan board to suspend its three players forced the ICC to take action, which it was right to do. But that doesn’t excuse the events that have unfolded in the aftermath, as the crisis has exposed the failings of institutions and individuals across the globe.

1 The ICC initially responded well but the surprise of the News of the World allegations left everybody wondering what the ICC’s anti-corruption unit has been doing for a decade? Is it credible that an investigative journalist is more skilled and resourceful than an international unit?

When the ICC followed up by questioning the integrity of the third ODI and twenty-two cricketers without releasing any meaningful evidence, the impression was of an organisation out of its depth. Reform of the ICC is necessary and must be a top priority. A game governed by an organisation weaker than its members will always flounder.

Without urgent change the ICC will continue to lose its command of international cricket. The member boards must vote for a stronger ICC executive with greater powers. Yes, these turkeys must vote for Christmas.

2 Enough has been said about the PCB already but a key point is that the PCB’s unprofessionalism and weakness in governing its own players and sport makes Pakistan cricket an easy target for corruption, manipulation, and condemnation.

The PCB may not change until the Pakistan government changes, or somebody in a position of power acquires a conscience, but surely the ICC should be demanding minimum standards from its member boards. Unfortunately, when the ICC itself is a dysfunctional organisation, imposing any minimum standards on its members is wishful thinking.

Pakistan cricket must put its house in order and that is impossible with Ijaz Butt ruling the roost. He must go.

3 Michael Atherton surmised that Ijaz Butt is a clown and should be ignored. Butt’s ill-conceived rant against England’s cricketers was unbecoming of the chairman of a national cricket board. If Butt had evidence he should have handed it to the ICC for action, not blurted it out to the national and international media.

Yet Butt is in the company of distinguished clowns. Ian Botham and Michael Vaughan have called for Pakistan to be banned, a whole nation banished for unproven accusations against a handful of cricketers and the bleating of a known blusterer. Botham has history with Pakistan, history that diminishes his great deeds on the cricket pitch. Cricketing ability, we know, is no proxy for logical thinking or fair-mindedness.

While Botham is shameless in his attitude towards Pakistan, and his rant as equally unexpected as one from Butt, Vaughan should be ashamed, a reputation as a cerebral cricketer dashed in a moment of hyperbole. If Butt is a clown then Botham and Vaughan have joined his caravan of clowns. Fortunately the ECB has steered a sensible course through this crisis and ensured that shrill voices were ignored and the series played out to a conclusion.

All the clowns, not just Butt, are best ignored.

4 Despite the summer scandal, a decent proportion of the English media has remained considered in its approach to the crisis and supportive of the plight of Pakistan cricket. It is even wrong to suggest that the News of the World might have some vendetta against Pakistan cricket.

I believe that if it had discovered similar evidence against English cricketers it would have launched into the scandal with equal relish. That is how this newspaper goes about its business. Nonetheless, the usual suspects in the tabloid press have used the crisis to declare open season on Pakistan’s players, calling for the expulsion of Pakistan cricket from the ICC and attempting to dig up any dirt that they can grasp.

Sensationalism is part of their agenda, and just like Botham they have a history of conflict with Pakistan cricket. Would these voices attack a nation’s sport with such venom if that nation were India or South Africa, for example? Of course not, Pakistan cricket is an easy target, a product of a misunderstood nation crippled by atrocious governance. Where Mr Butt and his players failed is that they provided so much ammunition that they became a tabloid dream.

A summer that offered rehabilitation has ended in recrimination. A caravan of clowns rushed through a desert of integrity, passing an occasional oasis of sparkling cricket. It left heads spinning and hearts broken.

We can’t expect players and ex-players to be masters of logic. We can’t expect the media to give a sucker an even break. We can, however, expect a sport to be governed properly. Cricket can be healed but not without reform of the ICC and failing national boards like Pakistan’s.

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

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