Justice Malik Mohammad Qayyum, the Pakistan high court judge who headed the inquiry that eventually banished Saleem Malik and Ata-ur-Rahman from the game and implicated a number of other Pakistani players in the match-fixing scandal, has revealed that a "soft corner" for Wasim Akram might have influenced him while handing the former Pakistan captain his punishment.
In his report submitted in 2000, Justice Qayyum - now retired - had fined Akram and recommended he never be allowed to captain Pakistan again. To quote his verdict: "This commission feels that all is not well here and that Wasim Akram is not above board. He has not co-operated with this Commission. It is only by giving Wasim Akram the benefit of the doubt after Ata-ur-Rehman changed his testimony in suspicious circumstances that he has not been found guilty of match-fixing. He cannot be said to be above suspicion."
But over five years after the report was finally released, and more than seven years after the inquiry began, Justice Qayyum told Cricinfo that he hadn't wanted a "great player" like Wasim to be banned, especially towards the end of his career. "For Wasim I had some soft corner for him. He was a very great player, a very great bowler and I was his fan, and therefore that thing did weigh with me. Two things - one, I didn't want that the cricket should be deprived of his participation, and the other was that I didn't want that towards the end of his career... he should be banned or something like that. My idea was not to find people guilty and then punish them. It was more of a case where I had to do something to put an end to the practice in future. What had happened had happened. You couldn't turn the clock back but you had to make sure they wouldn't repeat what they were doing."
When asked whether any other player had been let off lightly, he replied, "The quantum of punishment is more of one's subjective decision, and I was lenient towards one or two of them."
When Cricinfo finally managed to get through to Akram in Singapore on Thursday morning, he said that he was yet to read the piece. He heard out the relevant portions of the piece but said he would respond only after reading it later in the night.
Meanwhile, Akram's solicitor, Naynesh Desai, told the Independent: "It beggars belief that he can say something like this six years after the event. He is not suggesting that Wasim lied to him, but that he had let him off because he liked him. It looks like the judge is peeved about something and he is having a pop at everyone. How can he help Saleem Malik on his appeal when he banned him from the game in the first place?"
When it was made public in May 2000, despite it being the result of a comprehensive and wide-spanning inquiry, the report received some criticism for being too vague in its findings, implying involvement of players in the team by imposing fines but not confirming it beyond reasonable doubt.
About Malik's ban, however, Justice Qayyum was unequivocal, saying he wouldn't have banned him unless he was "100% sure" of his guilt. "Saleem Malik was one of the favourite players," he continued, "and if I wasn't 100% sure, I wouldn't have punished him. Even now I have very good relations with him. In fact he has been coming to me for advice and what should I do. He went to the court and challenged my report and his case was dismissed. I can't say much at this stage because the case is still in the Supreme Court."
Qayyum, who is now President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, was broadly happy with the support the Pakistan board gave him at the time, but he regretted the fact that his investigations into games under suspicion at the 1999 World Cup - Pakistan's loss to Bangladesh foremost among them - was blocked. "I was asked to investigate into the World Cup also but when they knew the line which I was taking, then they somehow got it stopped."
Asked whether he would have recommended anything else, he continued, "I could have done it but that was only if I was asked to investigate into the World Cup match against Bangladesh. However, Qayyum was categorical that the Pakistan board had adopted all his recommendations and nothing had been swept aside. "Whatever I recommended they adopted all that. There was no eyewash or anything. No putting of dirt under the carpet."
A subsequent inquiry, overseen by Justice Karamat Bhandari, to investigate the 1999 World Cup, exonerated all the players of any allegations of match-fixing in June 2002. "By that time I had resigned from the high court, so I couldn't be the judge. I was at one time told that you should also enquire into the World Cup - the game when Pakistan lost to Bangladesh - but then, for reasons best known to the government, they stopped me from doing that. I didn't enquire into the World Cup. The subsequent enquiry that was set up is by Justice Bhandari. He exonerated all the players and there must be reasons for that."
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo