Ijaz Butt was told to reform or be expelled
The prospect of expelling the PCB chairman Ijaz Butt as an ICC director was raised at the ICC board meeting in Dubai last week, underlining just how thin the ice is that the Pakistan board is currently skating on. Well-placed observers vary on the degree of the threat but some believe Butt was compelled to accept a series of wide-ranging measures to reform Pakistan cricket without protest because the alternative would have been to face expulsion.
The possibility is believed to have been raised by an individual member and not the ICC. It arose from members concerned about a specific potential conflict of interest in the spot-fixing scandal, in which three Pakistani players are allegedly involved. The Pakistan board and Mohammad Asif, one of the three players implicated, are using the same London-based lawyer which, according to the ICC code of ethics for directors, could be interpreted as a conflict of interest.
This particular spur, however, is merely part of a much broader canvas of the cricket world's discontent with Butt. ESPNcricinfo reported last month that the possibility of suspending him had crossed the minds of officials who were unhappy with how Butt had reacted to the spot-fixing crisis and then acted with the ICC and other boards such as the ECB.
The focus of the two-day board meeting was on anti-corruption and, in particular, concerns over the health of the game in Pakistan; specifically three broad areas were up for discussion, including an update on the spot-fixing investigations, how the game tackles corruption globally and how Pakistan is to be helped. At its conclusion, the ICC set an ultimatum to the PCB to implement a series of effective anti-corruption measures in its domestic set-up within 30 days [from October 13].
The remit of the ICC's task force on Pakistan has also been broadened to look at ways of improving the structure of governance in Pakistan, "to carry out any reforms," according to the ICC, "which may be deemed necessary to restore confidence in the administration of the game."
It is understood that the actions of the Pakistan board through the year brought matters to a head. The revoking of punishments handed out after the Australia tour inquiry, in which the PCB found players guilty of deliberately underperforming, worried member boards.
The handling of the spot-fixing crisis - in particular its refusal to suspend players - and a spate of statements made in the aftermath by Butt and others have exacerbated matters. The feeling in the cricket world before this meeting, one source said, was that "Pakistan cricket was in denial." The measures "lay down a path for how that can be dealt with."
The reconstituted task force is expected to sit down this week to begin carving out terms of reference for its operation; at some point ECB chairman Giles Clarke, who is head of the force, is likely to visit Pakistan. There are expected to be "discussions" and "recommendations" in whatever areas Pakistan needs help but the basic governance of the game is likely to feature heavily. "There will be greater scrutiny and monitoring of the way the game is governed in Pakistan now," an official familiar with the brief said.
But first the task force will report on the PCB's efforts in putting into place those anti-corruption measures. They have to be completed within the 30-day deadline - and there is a full series with South Africa in Abu Dhabi and Dubai to organize in that time - failing which, theoretically, a range of sanctions are available. Action can be taken against Butt's position on the ICC board and financial sanctions can also be applied; withholding prize money from ICC tournaments, for example. The worst-case scenario, "the last resort," as one official put it, would be to suspend Pakistan's membership. It is understood that sanctions are likely be against the member and not an individual.
The signs, according to an ICC-watcher, are not good even given the ICC's slow approach to such decisions. "Usually there are various stages to go through when suspension becomes an issue, as was the case with Zimbabwe," he told ESPNcricinfo. "Task forces do their work, there is much discussion, fact-finding trips are made and so on. But in this case, such is the situation and the concern over Pakistan that things could move quickly. You need a 75% majority to suspend a member so where is the support for the PCB? The threat of suspension is very real."
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo