Little wonder that Pakistan cricket has finally crashed: handed over as it was to inept people of little merit for so many years now. It has been in a slow, dizzying tailspin for so long that whilst fans in Pakistan feel completely let down by the players in the most recent spot-fixing scandal, no one is really surprised. It’s as if they were half-expecting the final denouement to happen—even in this quite despicable manner. This was a scandal foretold. It was inevitable.
Whilst the justification brigades and conspiracy theorists have already hit the internet blaming everyone else (yes, including RAW) for engineering it, people generally believe the scandal is for real. It is as if the team’s pathetic recent, particularly the disastrous tour of Australia, had prepared them, so to say, to expect even worse from the cricketers, or shall we just call them, simply, players.
It is important to revisit the Australian tour to really understand the present disaster. The team manager, Intikhab Alam, exposed the players as more of a mob than a well-knit, disciplined cricket team. There were allegations of infighting between the various ‘groups’, indiscipline of the worst kind, and general mayhem. Alam went to the extent of saying that it almost seemed as if some of the players were “mentally retarded”.
There are very apparent reasons for this sorry state of affairs. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), headed by the quite obviously incompetent Ijaz Butt for no other reason but the fact that he is related to people in high places, has become completely ineffective and riddled with politics and favouritism. No penalty is carried out to the full, guilty players being pardoned after a simple apology; no firm action is ever taken against the worst cases of rampant wrong-doing. Selection is based more on parochialism and less on talent.
Nor is Butt the only one who deserves blame: the chairmanship of the PCB has long been a fief of the head of government to be handed to a favourite as if this critical post was a plaything. The sad part is that whilst there have been strident calls for revamping the PCB and putting it in the hands of qualified, dedicated people, the government has not acted.
But back to the present scandal. From reports that have become public, some players had been behaving badly from the start of the series, visiting night clubs in the company of insalubrious characters such as bookie Mazhar Majeed who fell for the News of the World’s undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood’s sting operation. This behaviour proves there was something fishy much before the scandal broke. Let us see how this case impacts our players.
There is only one way for Pakistan cricket to go, and that is to dismiss the whole shoot: PCB, team and all. Our players should be banned from playing any international cricket for five years during which time cricket academies should be set up at the district level which should train players and form two teams each. These teams should then play each other with the winners playing the winning teams from other districts. At the national level, matches could be held between provincial teams and from this pool of talent, a national side chosen.
The PCB’s secretariat (yes, they have a plush secretariat too, including executive dining and living facilities and accommodations that would shame a seven-star hotel) ought to be cut down to half its huge size and proper accounting procedures instituted. The royal style—fat salaries, first-class travel, five-star hotels, daily allowances that would put even a prince’s privy purse to shame—that the PCB bosses arrogate to themselves should be controlled and the money, thus wasted, spent on the cricket academies.
It is shameful, what happened in London, and the strictest action must be taken by Pakistani authorities without waiting for the ICC to act. Neither should we make excuses for the errant players, nor look for chinks in the case. For example, there are already reports that the three no-balls could not be called match-fixing in themselves. But, and this is a proven fact, Majeed made the three no-balls happen during the exact overs he had indicated to Mahmood to establish his bona fides as a match-fixer for the one-day matches. And that is when serious money changed hands and Pakistan cricket came crashing down. The saddest part is that young Aamer, the find of the decade, will get snowed under too.
(The writer is a columnist for the Dawn newspaper.)
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