Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo
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Shoaib Malik's appeal against the punishment handed out to him by the PCB earlier this year has been "partially accepted" by an independent arbitration tribunal, which has overturned his one-year ban and halved his Rs 2 million fine.
"The board's legal advisor has reported to me that after monitoring Malik in the last three months they feel he has improved his behavior and attitude," Irfan Qadir, the arbitrator, said. "I have decided to uphold his appeal and lift the ban as the purpose of disciplinary action against players was to make them rethink about their careers."
Malik was relieved after the decision and said the purpose behind his appeal was to "clear this stigma" against his name.
"His appeal has been partially accepted," the PCB's legal advocate Talib Rizvi told Cricinfo. "The ban has been lifted and his fine has been halved. The board has the right to review the decision but as of now he is eligible to play for Pakistan again."
"I am very happy that with the blessings of Allah my stand has been vindicated and all the baseless charges and allegations have been quashed," Malik, 28, said in a statement. "It's a sort of new life for me and I am very happy."
The charge against Malik was never clearly explained by the inquiry committee that decided on the punishment but it was widely thought to be for what a number of management officials and players called his negative influence on the side. This was confirmed in a subsequently leaked video of the inquiry committee meetings, in which Malik's role within the squad was blasted by a number of players including Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Yousuf.
Qadir, a retired judge, will now send a report to the PCB chairman Ijaz Butt, who will put the decisions in front of the board of governors. "We're going according to our constitution which says an appeal can be filed in such cases," Butt told Cricinfo. "I will now receive the report from the arbitrator and then put it up in front of the board of governors for their approval."
Though Butt refused to say so, it is expected he will approve the findings and that the board of governors will ratify it as well, thus removing legal obstacles from the way of Malik's potential return. Malik was named in the list of 35 probables for Pakistan's next two assignments, in Sri Lanka for the Asia Cup and then a long summer tour to England, but it is unlikely he will make the cut for the first task. The 15-man squad for the Asia Cup is to be picked in the first week of June and the governing board's next meeting is likely to be after that.
The decision also paves the way for some of the other players' punishments to be reduced or removed. The board has eased its stance in recent days against the punished players. Butt first told a national assembly meeting that he would review the punishments again before lavishly praising Younis Khan - another player punished by his board. Younis' hearing, which was due to take place immediately after Malik's, was adjourned to June 5.
Malik's relief, Cricinfo understands, is part of an agreement the board has reached already with at least three other players. According to board sources, like Malik, Afridi and the Akmal brothers will also see their monetary fines cut by half. Of the other players punished, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan's next hearing is scheduled for June 19, while no dates have yet been set for Afridi and the Akmal brothers.
When and if players such as Malik and Younis return - and if Mohammad Yousuf comes back from retirement - questions are likely to be asked about how cordial Pakistan's dressing room will be, given the startling levels of mistrust and disunity in the side. The PCB says they have given the team's manager Yawar Saeed and other officials greater authority in clamping down against any future incidents.
"I have instructed the team manager and other officials including the captain that any act of indiscipline, any such problem, and they have my full backing in immediately sending a player back," Butt said. "They need not even refer the case to me, they can send the player back immediately as they will have full authority to do so."