Australia's chief executive, Graham Halbish, called it cricket's greatest crisis for 20 years. If the Salim Malik Affair is ultimately survived without excessive disorder, it will be largely due to the game's inclination to suppress a scandal rather than investigate it. When three Australian players allege that the captain of Pakistan offered them bribes to throw matches, and when talk is rife of illegal betting scams throughout Asia, which have burgeoned since the introduction of satellite TV coverage, then crisis is a reasonable word.
The International Cricket Council's failure to take a central role by conducting an immediate inquiry - preferring instead to act as a conduit between the two nations involved - identified it as a body hopelessly unempowered to manage the international game convincingly. In an increasingly litigious world, governing bodies in many sports are reluctant to act, for fear that their authority will be undermined in a civil court. There must be a measure of sympathy for their predicament. But ICC's policy of damage limitation leaves most questions in this affair unanswered, and leaves Salim Malik's reputation forever besmirched by assumptions and innuendo.
Malik was cleared of the allegations by an independent inquiry in Pakistan. Frustrated by ICC's failure to take control, the Pakistan Board placed matters in the hands of Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, a former Pakistani supreme court judge, and one-time attorney-general and governor of Sindh province. Ebrahim's investigation was hampered by Australia's unwillingness to subject their three players - Shane Warne, Tim May and Mark Waugh - to cross-examination in Pakistan, saying they feared for their welfare, and that they would be prepared to travel to London for any ICC inquiry. That left Ebrahim's investigation strictly limited. After studying a sworn statement from the three Australians, and cross-examining Malik, who was represented by counsel, at length, Judge Ebrahim concluded on October 21, 1995: "The allegations against Saleem (sic) Malik are not worthy of any credence and must be rejected as unfounded."
He angered the Australian Cricket Board with his final remark, suggesting that the allegations appear to have been concocted for reasons best known to the accusers. The ACB, a week later, condemned such comments as extraordinary and damaging. The Board also contended that ICC should have conducted an inquiry and was empowered to do so, under Rule 2 of its Code of Conduct. That states: "Players and team officials shall not at any time engage in conduct unbecoming to an international player or team official which could bring them or the game into disrepute."
The allegations arose from Australia's tour of Pakistan in late 1994. Warne's sworn statement contended that, on the fourth evening of the Test at Karachi (where Pakistan had never lost a Test, and where illegal bookmakers appear to wield considerable power) he received a phone call from Malik, in the presence of his room-mate, May. According to Warne, he visited Malik's room, whereupon Malik offered him $US200,000 (about £130,000) to bowl badly on the final day. Warne's affidavit assumed the money was to be shared between them; May interpreted it as $200,000 each. Ebrahim refused to believe that Malik should offer a large sum of money not for any direct personal gain, but for the sake of the nation's pride. The judge appeared unaware of any suggestion that betting might be involved.
Warne's second charge in his affidavit concerned a conversation between Malik and Mark Waugh at a presidential reception before a one-day international in Rawalpindi. It was alleged that Waugh was offered $200,000 for four or five Australian players not to play well the next day. Incredibly, Pakistan did not hear of Australia's accusations for five months, and then only because the facts were deliberately leaked in finest Deep Throat tradition to Phil Wilkins of the Sydney Morning Herald. By that time, rumours of corruption on Pakistan's tours of South Africa and Zimbabwe were rife and two players, Rashid Latif and Basit Ali, went into temporary retirement, reportedly to bring matters to a head. Pakistan's loss to Zimbabwe in the First Test in Harare had been one of the greatest upsets in Test history. Before the match, Zimbabwe had been quoted at 40 to 1 with some Asian bookmakers, but went on to record their first win since becoming a full Test nation.
Intikhab Alam, Pakistan's team manager, confirmed that his team had been asked to swear on the Koran after the series against Australia that they were not involved with any betting syndicates. "I think that people have gone mad," he claimed. "There is no truth in it. It is terrible. These are very serious charges against the Pakistan team." Nevertheless, more than one Pakistani player intimated that bribery and betting activities were out of control and must be addressed. That Judge Ebrahim made no reference to Asia's illegal betting market was a regrettable omission. Betting syndicates in Bombay and the Gulf were credited with enormous influence. Bets were taken not just on the result of matches, but on the toss, individual scores and even the number of runs scored in an over. Ladbrokes thought that their level of cricket betting in England was minuscule by comparison.
The crisis spread its tentacles far and wide. Mushtaq Mohammad said his question to Australia's captain, Allan Border, about how he would react if someone offered him £500,000 to throw the 1993 Edgbaston Test against England had been purely hypothetical, a joke that had been misunderstood. Sarfraz Nawaz, the former Pakistani pace bowler, who had re-emerged as a sports adviser to the Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, claimed an anti-corruption committee had launched an investigation the previous year into six or seven players, including Malik. Imran Khan broke off from his wedding preparations with a vehement denial of reports that he had called for any perpetrators, if found guilty, to be hanged. He said the word he used was "banned".
Salim Malik was replaced as captain, and suspended, pending investigation, only for him to return as a batsman on Pakistan's tour of Australia in November 1995. Warne dismissed him, fourth ball, in the First Test in Brisbane. "It shows there is justice in the game," he said.
David Hopps is a cricket writer on The Guardian.