The burning issue of Match Fixing

Of all the news concerning Pakistan's cricket, the burning issue of betting and match fixing shall remain the most important, until finally decided and closed. Chairman PCB Lt. Gen. Tauqir Zia's recent statement that "there was no planned match fixing and betting as far as Pakistan players were concerned" has caused a furore not only within the country but also abroad. It is so because the PCB chairman's pronouncement on the contents of the report were significantly at odds with Justice Qayyum's earlier statement that he recommended punishment for some players who were still part of the current Pakistan team.

Commenting on Chairman PCB's statement that none of the players in the Pakistan team currently touring the West Indies is involved in match fixing, Justice Qayyum who had already revealed the names of the players against whom he had recommended the penalty said, "It depends on how you look at it. He is looking at it but I do not know from what angle, he is looking?" The Judge was, however, mystified that why the General should be commenting on the contents of the report before it was released?

The officials of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) strongly reacted to the General's statement and termed it as a "whitewash". The Guardian newspaper has also hinted that if the report released by the PCB emerges to be different from the original report by Justice Qayyum about match fixing, there is a real prospect that England's winter tour of Pakistan might be cancelled. Such an eventuality will cause untold embarrassment to Pakistan, the responsibility for witch shall lie with the PCB for mishandling the whole issue.

Pakistan has a very learned comity of cricket enthusiasts who understand the game and its affairs to the minutest detail. They dig down to the bottom of every issue to find facts. The press is also quite vocal, projecting various issues in their right perspective. The confusion created by Gen Tauqir's statement is reflected by the local as well as foreign press as under: -

In its editorial dated May 12, 2000, reproduced below, the daily Sun writes:

A clean bill

"By pronouncing that the present team is not involved in match fixing and betting, Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman Lt. Gen. Tauqir Zia has literally rendered the Qayyum inquiry report redundant. It was not his job to decide about the health of these allegations; it was the court's job to weigh them and decide about the innocence, or otherwise, of the players. If he was to act as the final arbiter, why then was the judiciary involved in the inquiry? Who will compensate for the loss of its precious time? Interesting still is the general's promise that the judicial report will be made public within 10 days. Having already exonerated the players, the general's will be construed as an eyewash exercise, devoid of any real substance.

As a matter of fact, the general is perceived to be trying to lift the cricketers' sagging morale and redeem their image. The Australians were the first to open the Pandora's box by leveling the allegations of match fixing against Saleem Malik. Later, the name of some players, including Wasim Akram, also cropped up in the scandal. The cricket lovers in Pakistan rightly felt betrayed by their players and began to observe their every action in the field with suspicion. Pakistan's defeat in the final of the last World Cup was also attributed to the vice of match fixing. Consequently, such was the scale of the public wrath that the cricketers had to devise novel ways to slip into their own country on their return from England. Match fixing scandal also provided an opportunity to the foreign media to portray the Pakistani players as cheaters and the ones bereft of moral virtues. Responding to the public concern, the previous government constituted a judicial commission, headed by Justice Malik Mohammad Qayyum, to probe into the charges of player's corruption. The report compiled by the commission is yet to be made public. There are apprehensions that the report may be tampered with in order to save a few skins. General Tauqir's statement will only strengthen this perception.

One is not trying to say that the national cricketers have actually committed the crime and they be punished for it. The point is that a judgment on this case should have proved that there are skeletons in others' cupboards also. The match-fixing charges involving Hasnie Cronje and Kapil Dev have warranted the need to eradicate corrupt practices that have ruined the game of cricket. The Pakistan Cricket Board must address this issue on an urgent footing rather than creating further confusion and controversy".

A news report that appeared in daily DAWN dated May 15, 2000 on the subject, however, stated, that the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board and the Judge who investigated the charges of match fixing, are studying different scripts, as the deadline set by the ICC approaches.

According to a report published in Daily Telegraph of May 14, the paper expressed the view that "the ICC would have no alternative but to suspend Pakistan from international cricket in case the report was found to have been changed". The foreign press is showing the cheek to pose such serious threats as a result of the situation created by the PCB itself. It is an indication of the rumbling that the foreign newspapers are likely to create, if they find significant difference between the two reports.

Reactions of many people connected with the game have also appeared in the newspapers, the most alarming among them being the one from former skipper Rashid Latif, who has ruined his otherwise brilliant cricket career for exposing the slur of betting and match fixing.

Rashid Latif criticizes PCB

Rashid Latif has been the main character in exposing the match-fixing episode, as far as it concerns the Pakistani players. In an interview with the "Gulf News" he has violently reacted to Chairman PCB, Lt Gen Tauqir Zia's attitude of trying to protect the culprits. In addition to providing Justice Qayyum with solid proof of some players involvement, he also claims to have handed over to the court, photo copies of cheques received by the players on this account. This, however, sounds unbelievable because such transactions are not normally carried out through cheques.

Players Defending themselves

In the meantime the players who are suspected of involvement are coming out to defend themselves one by one. Fast bowler Wasim Akram has denied any kind of involvement in fixing of international cricket matches. He claims that since he has not done anything wrong, nobody can point a finger at him. Wasim asserted that at no time under his captaincy or any other captain, was Pakistan involved in any kind of match fixing. Referring to allegations of throwing the match against Bangladesh he stressed that Bangladesh played well and won the match fair and square.

Similarly former captain Saleem Malik vehemently denied the charges against him saying that he was ready to face any inquiry on match fixing. Malik who was accused by three Australian players of offering them bribes to play poorly during Australia's tour of Pakistan in 1994, defended himself by saying, "I was cleared by a Supreme Court judge in 1995 and again in 1999 but there are some people who always conspire against me with allegations". Saleem Malik has already been excluded from the Pakistan team with no prospects of a recall.

The ICC Decision

The decisions of the ICC to set up an Anti-Corruption Investigation Authority to investigate corruption, to keep a check on illegal practices in the game and to ban for life anybody found involved in match fixing, have been generally appreciated. Similarly, the system of obtaining an undertaking from the players that they are clean of corruption, being adopted by some of the Cricket Boards will also help in eradicating the evil practice.

Conclusion

The whole fiasco appears to be of PCB's own making. There was absolutely no need for Chairman PCB to issue a press statement at the stage when the Qayyum report was not even studied and endorsed by the President of Pakistan in his capacity as Patron of the Pakistan Cricket Board. Secondly he should not have been so emphatic in his opinion that no member of the Pakistan team was involved, especially when Justice Qayyum had reportedly, already disclosed having recommended punishment for some of the players. This unthoughtful act has not only made the PCB a target of criticism but also lowered its credibility. The Chairman PCB should have more competent and wise people as his advisors.