May 15, 2014

What price credibility in Pakistan cricket?

Pakistan cricket, like Pakistan itself, is about political and personal whims. There are no notions of honour among the powerful, and to expect people to act on principle is delusional

Mushtaq Ahmed was one of the many cricketers criticised in the Qayyum report © AFP

Mushtaq Ahmed was the first cricketer I interviewed. It was 1996 and Pakistan had just defeated England in the Test at Lord's. Mushtaq spoke freely, almost at random. He was not yet an evangelical Muslim but he was already a hero, a World Cup winner in that famous year of 1992.

Manchester United have a Class of '92, Giggs, Scholes, Beckham et al, and Pakistan have their own. By a twist of fate, a cruel injury, Waqar Younis missed that World Cup campaign. But when he returned to cricket later in the year it felt like a second coming. Waqar was an utter sensation at the start of his career. He was pretty good after 1992, a world-class fast bowler, but he never quite recaptured the speed and the domination of his early years. Incidentally, Waqar was the second cricketer I interviewed. In contrast to Mushtaq, he didn't say much. He didn't need to, his feats spoke loudly enough.

Now those once-unsullied heroes of Pakistan cricket, are reunited at the helm. Waqar is national coach, Mushtaq his spin bowling ally. Moin Khan, class of '92 again, chairman of selectors. Thinking ahead during that 1992 bubble, a future combination of Waqar and Mushtaq might have seemed an unlikely prospect. Much can happeen in 22 years; strangely, more has happened than anybody ever expected.

It was during that tour of 1996 that I first heard rumours of corruption. Players, administrators, everybody was knee-deep in trouble, I was told, and they had been for many years. I found it hard to believe at the time. Indeed, I didn't believe it. These were men fighting for their country's honour, living the dream that any young Pakistani would want to live. Corruption wasn't possible when so much pride was at stake, was it?

Apparently it was. Three years later and the 1999 World Cup delivered a thrilling spectacle, haunted by the spectre of match-fixing. Pakistan's collapse in the final at Lord's prompted an inquiry, although defeat to Bangladesh in Northampton raised more eyebrows. I was at both games, and it was almost impossible to doubt the integrity of the players. Cricket is full of unpredictability and mad moments. Any batsman or bowler is only a heartbeat away from a rash decision, a moment of doubt, a failure of technique and timing, especially at the highest level. How can we watch and hypothesise with any confidence about intentions?

Justice Malik Qayyum, a lawyer known for high-profile political trials, conducted a judicial inquiry into the allegations against Pakistan's cricketers, essentially the class of '92. Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, fortunately for their reputations, were well retired and well out of it.

Qayyum's was a curious inquiry and a more curious judgement. Saleem Malik and Ata-ur Rehman were banned. A host of others, including Waqar, Mushtaq and Wasim Akram, were criticised.

Some commentators said Qayyum had ruined reputations without evidence. Others were dismayed at how fashionable players were able to continue their careers; Malik and Rehman, unloved and un-powerful by contrast, were easy targets. A third view was that Qayyum had handled a difficult inquiry with considerable skill and pitched the verdicts perfectly. Looking back, it seems improbable that Qayyum overestimated the extent of corruption or the extent of involvement of players.

Worse still, his judgements created confusion. Mushtaq was one of the players who, Qayyum recommended, "be censured, kept under close watch and be not given any office of responsibility". Some prohibition; Mushtaq has coached England and is now with Pakistan. First the PCB, which appointed him as assistant coach during the 2007 World Cup, then the ECB, and then the PCB again, despite the ICC's anti-corruption rhetoric, employed Mushtaq in defiance of Qayyum's verdict. Of course, Qayyum might have got it wrong. Mushtaq, if ever guilty, may be a reformed character. We need to move on.

We live in a world that favours redemption over perpetual damnation, and rightly so. Nonetheless there was no statute of limitation on Qayyum's recommendations, yet they are paid little heed, conveniently filed away in the inconvenient-truths department of international cricket administration.

Two uncomfortable conclusions emerge. First, the ICC and its member boards are less serious about corruption in cricket than they pretend to be. The man who told anybody who cared to listen that corruption began at the top, the late Imtiaz Sipra of the News in Pakistan, perhaps had a point? Second, the PCB has no interest in the outcomes and recommendations of its own inquiries.

What system tolerates such low standards? How is it possible to respect a governing body that operates with such expediency?

The rule of Pakistan cricket, like Pakistan itself, follows political and personal whims. There are no grand visions or notions of honour among the powerful. To expect people to act on principle is depressingly delusional.

Mohsin Khan recently questioned the PCB's decision-making processes when he was overlooked for the post of head coach. He wasn't even interviewed. We know you well, said his old team-mate Zaheer Abbas, and we chose a better man. Waqar might be a better man, but Mohsin's record, the best of any recent coach, deserved a proper hearing, an opportunity for a former dashing opening batsman to show his class.

In truth, nobody expects a fair process from the PCB, be it in player selection or board appointment. There are no higher ethics being applied, there is no shame in hiring people with questionable backgrounds.

This isn't an attempt to demonise Mushtaq Ahmed. Who couldn't fail to feel a tinge of sympathy and affection for a born-again cheeky chappie such as he? But actions speak louder than words, and the cricket boards of England and Pakistan, as well as the ICC, distance themselves from credibility at each test of integrity.

Cricket is a game built on nobility, honour, and a reponsibility to do the right thing. It is a tragedy that these values are no longer even skin-deep.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Android on May 18, 2014, 4:22 GMT


    Pakistan Cricket is in tatters...

    it might never be the same...

  • S on May 17, 2014, 0:22 GMT

    Kamran-bhai, I am a bit confused. You aren't a 100% sure that the Qayyum Report is reliable - and yet, you seem to hold the mild stricture that Report passed on Mushtaq Ahmad to be something that both the ECB and the PCB should honor. Isn't that contradictory?

    As an Indian, I am amazed at the Pakistan team's ability to leave all this at the boundary (for the most part) and win as often as it does. And when it comes to corruption, we Indians have you (and everyone else in the world) completely beat. The concept "conflict of interest" makes no sense to anyone in our cricket or political administration.

  • ESPN on May 16, 2014, 15:47 GMT

    Kamran I eagerly await your book expose into Pakistan cricket, whenever it comes out I'll buy it!

  • Bilal on May 15, 2014, 20:05 GMT

    Kamran I hope you see this TV show Aamir Sohail hosts these days ... you would be surprised on how things work at grass root level in PCB ... after listening to him I feel its a miracle that a team produced by this system can challenge any team at World stage ... as for the corruption starting at the top I couldnt agree more

  • kent on May 15, 2014, 18:28 GMT

    "Cricket is a game built on nobility, honour, and a responsibility to do the right thing." I really love that Kamran. Which can be substituted by a phrase that originated in Australia" "Its just not cricket.", which is used when the honourable or noble thing is not done. I am a lover of Pakistani cricket, their players are among the most talented and exciting in the world, and any knowledgeable cricket follower will agree. It is a travesty of the highest proportions to see influences other than on the field of play having such immense impact on their game. I say without fear of contradiction that on any given day, a Pakistan side with its best players available can match any other side in the world. A strong flourishing Pakistan team is a boost to world cricket, their exhilarating batters and skillful bowlers adds immeasurably to the game. Simply, without Pakistan in the world game: "its just not cricket". Kamran as a cricket fanatic, I share your pain.

  • Damian on May 15, 2014, 14:12 GMT

    As a genuine cricket lover who has closely followed the game for over four decades in-spite of many obstacles, I fully endorse the writer's views.

  • Nadeem on May 15, 2014, 13:38 GMT

    I do not think that living in 2014 that you are right. We used to play cricket for honor and prestige of the country. We play cricket now for money and only money. Cricketers have become professionals, from 200 rupees in 60's to 200000 rupees in 2014. Too much money is involved in cricket so where ever you see lot of money you will see corruption too no matter what. Cricketers are not culprit all the time but the management is.

  • Dummy4 on May 15, 2014, 12:55 GMT

    The PCB may (well) be an organisation of dubious integrity, but the current Supreme Court hearings in India suggest it is not alone. Also BCB and SLC still have issues around paying their players, the ECB cosied up to Stanford, ZCU is a basket case, and a report into potential corruption in SACB "disappeared". If cricket's governing bodies appear to behave with a complete disregard for ethical considerations, why should they expect better of the players?

  • Ryo on May 15, 2014, 12:22 GMT

    Come on man. Leave Mushy alone. Look at his chubby face. Just look at it.... So chubby.

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