September 20, 2010

Butt has shot himself in both feet

The PCB chief's statements attacking a board that has worked hard to bring international cricket to Pakistan are beyond the boundaries of sanity. But the ICC is also to blame

Ijaz Butt is not a tabloid. Even if he had been one, then hurling accusations at another team for having thrown a match probably wouldn't have passed for acceptable behaviour. He would have been chided for not going to the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit or police officials first and handing over some proof before revealing all; chided, that is, for not following a process.

No, Butt is not a tabloid. He is the sitting board chairman of a full member of the ICC. To say what he has said publicly scrapes even the barrel of unacceptable social decorum. To do so to the team of a board whose chairman has gone out of his way to help, as Giles Clarke has over the last year, is outside the bounds of sane behaviour.

Clarke heads the ICC's task force on bringing cricket back to Pakistan; he has pushed the idea of an international XI playing here. In September's Wisden Cricketer, Clarke writes knowledgeably and with some passion of the importance of international cricket returning to Pakistan. If a slap in the face was acceptable as a return for favours, then here is Butt's response.

Forget Clarke: what is the chairman saying to his own team? "Sorry Gul and company, that super win of yours, against all odds, from an unwinnable position and all that? Sorry, that was only because the other team might have thrown it." And it should be worrying, very worrying, that the debate Butt is starting displays a total lack of understanding of the nuances of modern fixing. How can Pakistan be blamed for fixing when they lose and when they win, asks Butt. If he doesn't know - or chooses to ignore - the irrelevance of spot-fixing to the ultimate result of a match, harder times lie in wait.

To be kind, it is understandable that the PCB feels under siege. The second set of allegations from the Sun feels considerably less substantial than the first. Scoring patterns, a few overs, dons in Dubai and Delhi, a source; compared to the News Of The World, this is all very inexact. Other papers in the UK have also speculated wildly and often inaccurately.

A breed under siege needs to hit back, to retaliate. And retaliation, if you feel you've been genuinely wronged, can be justified and useful. But a basic minimum requirement is to identify the correct target. It wasn't Clarke or the ECB who started this. It was a tabloid. Sue them for defamation, take them to court. Launch an investigation against them. Is the ICC's executive the target? Speak to other ICC members about it. Develop a consensus, build a coalition, make friends, influence people. Take them to court if you really feel the need. Ranting from this kind of a written statement is not retaliation, unless shooting yourself in the head is an acceptable form of retaliation.

The PCB may well even have a fair bone or two to pick with the ICC. The suits at the ICC's head office are more expensive these days. The interiors of their offices are flashier too. Overall the edifice is slicker. And they still can't, in this day and age, do something as basic as getting in touch with two leading boards to let them know that they are about to release a very significant statement that concerns a match their sides have just played. Neither the PCB nor the ECB, as is apparent from their stances, were told this statement was coming out.

The ICC claimed it tried to contact Butt all day on Friday before releasing the statement on Saturday morning. Butt was in Delhi, having met Sharad Pawar earlier in the week. Pawar is the president of the ICC. Butt and Pawar's meeting was widely reported around the world, on ESPNcricinfo, on TV in India and Pakistan, and by wire agencies.

The ICC, it appears, remarkably, was unaware of this meeting so they tried Butt on his phone, one that, because he was in India and because there is no roaming cellular service between the two countries, was unavailable. The ICC did not think to contact someone at the PCB HQ in Lahore, the spokesman perhaps, the chairman's assistant, the chief operating officer, or the GM cricket operations - both of the latter are regular ICC meeting attendees - to leave with them a message, or Lord help us, to find a way of contacting Butt.

Should the ICC have released a statement at all? On balance, if they hadn't, then a tabloid-fuelled frenzy of speculation and accusation could've been worse. Should they have done so without consulting either board? Absolutely not.

Newspapers don't run conspiracies, they run a business, which requires them to make money by selling more papers. And the ICC governs a sport that has fewer full, elite members than a human has fingers. By getting rid of Pakistan, it makes its own sport considerably less competitive

None of this - the ICC's incompetence, or even the allegations of the Sun - constitute, however, a "conspiracy to defraud Pakistan". It is a neat bit of wordplay (surprisingly neat actually), cynically designed to win over local opinion numbed into buying such theories instead of looking inwards. To one channel, in his wide-ranging assault, Butt said the purpose of the PCB's investigation was to prove to people in Pakistan that the board should not be blamed for this, as they have been equally since the Lord's Test.

A reality check is needed. Why would anyone conspire against Pakistan? To bring them down from the giddy heights of sixth in the Test and seventh in the ODI rankings?

Newspapers don't run conspiracies, they run a business, which requires them to make money by selling more papers. News of fixing sells, now more than ever. And the ICC governs a sport that has fewer full, elite members than a human has fingers. By getting rid of Pakistan, it makes its own limited, increasingly uncompetitive, sport considerably less competitive, and competition is the one thing that will sustain it. Strictly on the field, in such a tough summer, let's not forget that Pakistan have done better than many had thought, in winning two Tests, two Twenty20s and at least one, possibly more, ODIs. New Zealand, Bangladesh and West Indies hope for results such as those.

But how much longer can it go on? The PCB's relationship with the ICC has broken down entirely, that much is clear. Furthermore Butt has ensured that what few friends the PCB has are swiftly being lost. South Africa, privately, are making noises about playing Pakistan. New Zealand might do soon. More neutral Tests in England are unlikely. India is hostage to political winds.

If the darkest day in Pakistan's cricket actually does come, and talk of giving Pakistan a temporary break becomes reality, it will not be the result of any conspiracy. It will be the result of the worst administration ever to have run cricket in this land.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Faisel on September 22, 2010, 23:27 GMT

    I am really feeling shame but the corrupt Government of Pakistan is not effecting the peace, the economy, but the sporting image too, President of Pakistan is Patron of PCB and he should have removed the sick, incompetent and loser Ijaz Butt, it has happened in many prior Governments that Board Chief has been sacked for incompetency, but Butt has created history in destroying cricket in Pakistan, but no-one to ask him anything or take action against him, nothing has disgraced Pakistan Cricket more than his comments, non-researched and irresponsible statements and totally useless remarks, and everyone is silent, shame on President of Pakistan.

  • Prashant on September 22, 2010, 20:31 GMT

    Osman, I find some of your articles very well articulated and honest and true and everything and some, blindly pro-Pakistani. Of course I understand you are the Pakistan Cricinfo editor, but then you are a "Cricinfo Editor"! Having said that, I am all praise for this article. I completely agree with what you've pointed out here. Although an Indian myself, I must admit that watching Pakistan win matches gets me equally excited (except of course against India ;) ). To even consider that Pakistan may be given a break from cricket is unacceptable. Ijaz Butt is indeed the greatest enemy of Pakistan cricket. I hope he gets fired or is ousted or whatever. The world needs Pakistan to continue playing cricket and if that has to happen, Ijaz Butt better be removed from his position.

  • Madan on September 22, 2010, 17:42 GMT

    I would love to see Pakistan cricket back to normalcy. I pray for this to happen very soon. We would love to more street smart cricketers come up and enrich this sport. Lets hope the right measures are taken to ensure this becomes a reality.

  • Arun on September 22, 2010, 13:30 GMT

    A statement often made in management and bureaucratic circles is "Cover your butt at all times". Never have truer words been said, and it's advice that the PCB should take seriously. Butt should be covered and gagged for for all times. (In Butt's case, that is best accomplished using a suppository). Or thrown out on his ass for talking out of it. Jokes aside, I suspect that this statement will hurt Pakistani cricket over the next few years more than the spot fixing allegations. Butt needs to apologize, and better yet, resign for the greater good of Pak cricket. I can't understand how the Pak high commissioner is defending him: a diplomat, of all people, should be well aware of the consequences of an ill-considered word. Cric Admins can't do much to improve the game, but they can surely ruin it.

  • Dummy4 on September 22, 2010, 12:34 GMT

    Osman you are spot on.English commentators were lenient but now they r also bashing....but thats not the guilty of PAK team.they cant be banned and shouldn't.....

  • shazad on September 22, 2010, 12:02 GMT

    they are posting only those comments made in favour of the writer......have pointed out many blunders of the so called Osman but never shown on this page.....can only hope cricinfo posts this one too

  • Dummy4 on September 22, 2010, 10:45 GMT

    I think Butt's comments very smart and right and were mainly to show england and world how one pictures has two stories.

    How the F ICC would believe a story from a Tabloid newspaper and put allegations on Pakistani players and without and proof suspend them? Dont get me wrong if they are crooks they should be punished but why the F ICC is taking month to come out with a proofs? I thought it was said in the newspaper that all the proofs they already had. Matter fact ICC is in deep trouble to cover its own rear end now because those allegations were baseless and without any proof.

    PCB shoud seriously sue ICC and demand proofs right away matter fact asap and see where they stand. I think anyone who is on the losing end and they are the one who should be apologizing to PCB, ECB and to the whole world.

    SHAM ON ICC !!!

  • shazad on September 22, 2010, 10:30 GMT

    I was actully against Mr. Butt's policies before all this happen. now i would say a brave and right step, and praises him and will support him for bringing the truth and actul face of ICC and ECB/Other boards and their players to the whole World. The third ODI can't be fixed by Pakistan as there is only one team losing team can fix as rightly said by the BUTT. Either the findings of 3rd odi show 2nd innings batting side fixed to get out after reaching so close in colapse or World should admit that Pakistan's player are capable of bringing the match in their favour at any stage as shows the third odi. there is no question absolutely mr. Butt is i think did the right thing by pointing out mysterious side to ICC/World and now if ICC is neutral, it should investigate by the English players or temporary suspend them on their suspecious batting collapse. This is the big heart of Pakistani team they played odi series even after so much planned accuses. Good luck Pak.

  • Rauf on September 22, 2010, 10:30 GMT

    Ijaz Butt should learn the art of accusing the other side without being undiplomatic. This is called modern day diplomacy and Pakistanis need to learn it. This involves a willing print/electronic media (media in Pakistan is free) and an anonymous leak. This is a very old tactic when governments want to accuse the opposition of something but would not want to do it openly and be undiplomatic. You let the media do your dirty work. As far as ECB helping out Pakistan and Butt ruining it with his loud mouth. One should remember that there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests. ECB did this to make money out of hosting Pak neutral fixtures as they wanted to bank on Pak fans buying up all the tickets. This didn't happen during two tests against Australia. Only 1/4 tickets were sold and there was already talk (well before NOTW match/spot fixing report) of ECB perhaps not hosting Pak neutrals in future because of losses incurred.

  • Rauf on September 22, 2010, 10:13 GMT

    @Osman Samiuddin, @Kamran Abbasi: Why don't both of you crawl out from under your collective guilt of being Pakistani and write about something else other then Ijaz Butt's shananigans. Ijaz Butt has proven himself long ago to be not the brightest bulb in the room when it comes to diplomacy but can one of you guys write about the serious matter surrounding this match fixing issue. a) Why is British tabloid media after Pak team. It can't simply be about money to sell papers with sensational stories? b) Why did ICC not notify PCB about investigation after 3rd ODI and Sun report? c) Why is Trott not being disciplined by ICC after abusing Wahab Riaz? d) What was Ijaz Butt doing in India and his meeting with Sharad Pawar. e) What about Sydney test? Why did ICC not think that it was fixed but NOTW suddenly does. I am sure Pak fans have many more unanswered questions that you guys can write about but choose not to.

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