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February 7, 2011

Pakistan cricket

End of grief

Kamran Abbasi
Salman Butt offers some support to Mohammad Amir on a tough first day for Pakistan, England v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Edgbaston, August 6, 2010
No player is bigger than the team. Nobody is irreplaceable  © PA Photos
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Denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance: the five stages of the grief reaction that Pakistan fans have experienced over the spot-fixing controversy. Denial and anger were left behind in the English summer. Bargaining for a better outcome was almost exhausted by the Doha hearing and the criminal case launched by the UK's Crown Prosecution Service. It may continue with an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. But now that we know the ICC's verdict, the predominant sentiments are sadness and acceptance.

Once the News of the World videos and transcripts were released the future looked bleak for Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Amir. The integrity of cricket had to be protected, and the ICC had to do that by pressing charges. Encouragingly, a healthy proportion of Pakistan fans have shunned knee-jerk defence of their fallen heroes in favour of a desire to ensure that corruption is punished.

Appeals are inevitable. None of the punished cricketers will want to give up their best years in international cricket without a fight. The ICC process has been questioned at regular intervals as if to prepare the ground for such an appeal. And with the ICC tribunal's admission that more flexibility in sentencing would be desirable, the defendants have a hope to cling on to.

Not that many Pakistan supporters have great sympathy for a reduction in sentences, except in the case of Mohammad Amir. Effectively, the suspended portion of the sentences aside, all three players will serve a five year ban; equity in sentencing that appears inequitable. Salman Butt might have got more and Mohammad Amir might have got less. ICC's punishment needs to be severe but those passing sentence do require greater flexibility when determining bans.

Where all this leaves Pakistan cricket is an interesting question? It might have been a body blow to the image of cricket in Pakistan, but the last decade has seen that image dragged through the lowest gutter. Expectations of noble deeds have almost vanished. It might have been a body blow to the prospects of the team, but a team shorn of tainted cricketers has produced some of the best results in recent memory. Pakistan have lost some star quality and regained some spirit. As Liverpool football fans will avow after the loss of their £50 million pound star striker, Fernando Torres, no player is bigger than the team. Nobody is irreplaceable.

The verdict might have also brought the Pakistan Cricket Board to its knees, humiliated and broken as a governing institution. Those impressions of the PCB might still stand but the stark reality is that the cricket board and its head are immune to any pangs of conscience or acts of contrition. Strangely, as far as the PCB is concerned, the issue is entirely between the players and the ICC. A proper administration would now be deciding, based on its own evidence and judgement, on which players to punish further and which to support in appeals against their sentence.

But these are shameless days. Integrity is dead, corruption is king. Fans have become indifferent to the endless stream of controversy. The UK's court case might also tarnish reputations beyond those already snared by the ICC. There is no vision of a brighter future in Pakistan cricket except in the performances of the current squad, who have rallied to salvage some honour from this miserable age. In that, at least, there is some hope. Indeed, I have not abandoned hope for Pakistan cricket but I have abandoned grief.

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

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Keywords: Corruption

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kamran Abbasi
Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He was the first Asian columnist for Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com. Kamran is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. @KamranAbbasi

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