Kaneria incident an awareness gap among US organisers
Last week's fines handed out to five Pakistan players involved in an unsanctioned tournament in Texas, which also featured banned former Pakistan legspinner Danish Kaneria, has revealed a gap in the awareness among tournament organisers in the US of established ICC laws covering banned players and the need to follow those laws even in unrecognised cricket. While USACA has issued a memo alerting players on the dangers of playing in unsanctioned events, private organisers have been publicly critical of the PCB's actions in disciplining its players and seem willing to recruit Kaneria to play in more events.
According to ESPNcricinfo sources, Kaneria was invited to play in the LA Open T20 tournament, to be held this weekend in California, but his participation is up in the air after heightened sensitivity due to the fines issued by the PCB and USACA's May 15 memo discouraging participation in unsanctioned tournaments.
The stir was created at the USA Friendship Cup, a Twenty20 event in Texas, where Kaneria played alongside current Pakistan players Shahzaib Hasan, Wahab Riaz, Nasir Jamshed, Fawad Alam and Abdul Razzaq. The event was not sanctioned by USACA and the players did not have No Objection Certificates from the PCB. However, USA Friendship Cup LLC president Sunju Patel felt the punishment was unfair due to the precedent set at prior events where both Kaneria and other internationals had played without being reprimanded.
"Danish Kaneria has been here at previous tournaments," Patel told ESPNcricinfo. "I think he was playing in Houston last year and he was at the US Open in Florida and there were quite a few international players at the US Open. However, nobody raised a question because people didn't see it as any kind of problem."
After news of the PCB's fine on the players broke, Patel went online and posted a statement criticizing the ICC for inserting themselves into the situation in, what Patel claimed was, a private event outside the ICC's jurisdiction.
"I am seriously furious at the ICC and especially at the people who have made sure that the officials at the ICC got the info," Patel wrote. "It was a free event which is more of exhibition games for any international players coming to play as the organisers are not making the event commercial. It is truly sad to see the players suffer in this event and especially the future of cricket in America. This is truly the land of opportunity and hope that we can continue to promote cricket at the highest level.
"I didn't think it was that big of an issue for them to get NOCs. I feel bad for the players who came and played in this tournament and then eventually had to pay a fine of $5000. I think that was pretty steep and a warning would have done the job, but I don't run the Pakistan Cricket Board and I'm not part of the ICC. I was truly not aware of the fact that Danish Kaneria or the other international players playing in the Friendship Cup would create such an issue."
Patel says that he has now instituted a rule for next year's tournament where bans on players issued by national boards will be recognised and such players will be prevented from participating. However, Patel says no such rule was in place before the incident because he thought Kaneria's ban only applied to ECB events.
Another administrator who feels that Kaneria's appearances should not be a cause for concern is Kamal Azeez, the president of the Southern California Cricket Association, a league which is now affiliated with USACA's rival body, the American Cricket Federation. He feels Kaneria's Test credentials are of great value for players to learn from, regardless of any ban.
"If someone is caught match-fixing in a certain country, they've broken the laws in that country," Azeez told ESPNcricinfo. "If this is a very talented player, players in Los Angeles would love to see him play. We are all about trying to see talent. The laws weren't broken in the United States and it wasn't something that came to our courts. Someone else coming in and telling us, 'Don't play this person', when you hear that he's a top-notch player, we'd love to see him play. Players and spectators want to see cricket. He hasn't been a bad member or broken laws in our league. Maybe USACA is depending on ICC funding. Is that why USACA is upholding [the ban]?"
Sakhi Muhammad, whose company Smart Choice Auto Group is a major sponsor of the USA national team, voiced his opposition to the fines imposed on the Pakistan players. Muhammad, who also runs Smart Choice cricket team that participates in many private tournaments including the USA Friendship Cup, issued a message: "PCB can send the bill to Smart Choice for our beloved Mr. Abdul Razzaq." Razzaq played on Smart Choice with eight USA players including Steve Massiah, Steven Taylor and Sushil Nadkarni, Canada's Ruvindu Gunasekera and West Indies' William Perkins.
Former New Zealand cricketer Iain O'Brien, who participated in the US Open T20 last December where Kaneria also appeared, believes that the US cricket community is naïve to the damage that can be caused by the presence of Kaneria or other players who have been banned for associations with fixing. In the past, the US Open T20 has also had Mohammad Azharuddin and Ata-ur-Rehman play. O'Brien says their skillsets and stats are no justification for allowing such a player to participate.
O'Brien says he took part in the 2013 US Open T20 at the invitation of a friend and was excited at the opportunity to be playing in Florida for the first time. Had he known that Kaneria was going to be there, he never would have attended.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna