Wasim tells judge about 'wild' claims (9 October 1998)

9 October 1998

Wasim tells judge about 'wild' claims

Peter Deeley

Peter Deeley hears testimony from top Pakistan players in a Lahore courtroom

PAKISTAN cricket came face to face in a overcrowded courtroom yesterday with what a witness described as "the poison that is sweeping the game" - greed, jealousy and corruption.

It was the day when present and former Test captains Aamir Sohail and Wasim Akram testified to the judicial commission investigating allegations of bribery and match-rigging, and it seemed half this city wanted to be present in a room not much bigger than a cricket square.

Almost lost in the scrum of lawyers, journalists, court officials - even onlookers who wandered in off the street - the players stood before the raised dias on which sat Judge Malik Mohammad Qayyum, an admitted cricket lover.

He treated both reverentially: they were not just players but "national assets". The judge told Aamir that because he was captain and in the middle of a Test series against Australia, he was being deliberately careful in his questions to avoid upsetting other team members.

At the end of Aamir's testimony, the judge told him: "Now go and practise [before the second Test] but I am not sure what benefit it will do you."

Judge Qayyum told Wasim: "You are a legend in your own time but . . . " and went on to question him about an injury before the 1996 World Cup quarter-final in Bangalore. Wasim, who was captain, missed that game and there have been allegations of heavy betting on the match - won by India.

Wasim said it was unbelievable any Pakistani could imagine him being involved in match-fixing in a match of such national significance.

He said there had been talk of Pakistan throwing the one-day series in England in 1996 "but, in fact, we just got beaten by the better team".

He admitted living next door in Lahore to a bookmaker named Jo-Jo but said they were only "social acquaintances". All betting is illegal under Islamic law and the judge wanted Jo-Jo brought before him, only to be told he had fled the country.

The judge asked Wasim: "You appear to be very unpopular among your team-mates. Why?" Wasim replied in Urdhu, but then in English launched an attack on Majid Khan, chief executive of the home board.

"Majid's attitude to me has always been antagonistic. On no occasion has he ever appreciated me or congratulated me - even when we won the series against England and the West Indies.

"The board have never helped me respond to these wild allegations and I have been left on my own. What am I and my family going through? That doesn't seem to matter."

But the judge told him reassuringly that he regarded his case as "very different to that of Salim Malik".

Aamir told of various tours when players had been made to swear on the Koran because The Management heard rumours of match-fixing: Sharjah and Sri Lanka in 1994, South Africa and Zimbabwe in 1994-95.

"I have no personal knowledge of match-fixing or betting but we were being constantly told by the others [team members] and the management that some of the players were involved. Some bookies had also told us."

Aamir said that when the team found Wasim pulled out of the India World Cup game, "the morale fell. The atmosphere was as if we had already lost the match."

Former board chairman of selectors Zafar Altaf pinpointed the Packer cricket revolution in the late 1970s as "the first time players sold themselves for dollars rather than national pride".

Zafar suggested that to look into that period "would be like digging a grave: there are only maggots left".

He named former Pakistan player Asif Iqbal as the man "who began match-fixing". Judge Qayyum said "such allegations are well-reasoned" and observed that Asif was hardly likely to come and give evidence since he was now in Sharjah.

At the end of the day the judge heard evidence privately in his chambers from former fast bowler Ata-ur-Rehman, who had first accused Wasim in an affidavit of offering him a bribe to bowl badly in a one-day international in New Zealand, then later withdrew the allegation.

Judge Qayyum had threatened Rehman with jail but after hearing him again would only comment that "he is not going to prison - not yet". A relieved Rehman left with a convoy of armed escorts.

Salim, along with his brother-in-law Ijaz Ahmed and Wasim, are the central characters in the allegations and next week the greatest of all Pakistan cricketing icons, Imran Khan, is due to testify.

Unless Imran produces the 'smoking gun', this inquiry seems likely to founder.

In Melbourne, Australian Cricket Board chief executive Mal Speed urged for the International Cricket Council to be given more power to prevent future scandals dragging on like the Pakistan match-fixing affair.

Source :: Electronic Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk)