The no ball, Pakistan match fixing saga.
The tender-trio have finally learned their fate.
Doha, Qatar. February 5, 2011. The ICC Tribunal finds Pakistani match fixing cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir guilty of spot-fixing during last year’s Lord Test match against England. Sentences are handed down for 10, 7 and 5 years respectively.
Today is a sad day for cricket enthusiasts across the world; there is little to celebrate in this decision. For me, the whole debacle has been an epic fail on so many levels, there are no winners in this debate.
The decision: The sentences lacked clear authority, nor did they define a telling precedent. When risk v reward is taken into consideration, there is little deterrence for future match fixing offenders.
The guilty: For at least two of the players involved, Asif and Amir, guilt by association. Guilty of poor social skills, intuition. Two of the most entertaining fast bowlers in world cricket are destined for the YouTube cricketing archives, for at least 5 years.
The circumstance, my angle: An existential analysis of what many have forgotten. Two extremely talented fast bowlers, swept away in a world of materialism, greed and gullibility. Did I mention, this is a tragic story on many levels?
Five months have passed since the News of the World sting that left world cricket reeling. The saga has now reached its fizzing conclusion, but in the wake of the disaster we are all left empty handed.
For the last 5 years, Mohammad Asif has been the indisputable, marquee medium-fast bowler in world cricket. His domination of top-end world batsmen has only been challenged by the resurgent bowling of England’s James Anderson. Sadly, Asif’s nut-busting spells of extraordinary bowling have been equally matched by a string of controversial incidents, plaguing what may have been an otherwise illustrious career. Accusations of drug use, bride snatching and an ongoing drama with the Rawulpindi Express Shoaib Akhtar, will forever hang over a hugely talented medium-fast bowler with a genuine ability to bend the ball at his will.
A breakthrough prospect with such a bright future, Mohammad Amir is an even bigger loss. Not since the Shane Warne doping debacle of 2002 has world cricket faced the prospect of losing such a marvel of the game. Prior to the Lord’s test Amir was the most promising young cricketer in the world, by a long, long way. In the classic mould of countryman Wasim Akram, Amir had the potential to put on a mouthwatering display of rip-snorting pace and banana bending swing with an infectious love of the game. It has somehow been overwritten that in match fixing Test he dismissed 6 England batsmen in 3 overs.
It should be remembered that Asif and Amir have experienced more hardship in their short lives than your regular international cricketer could even dream-to-imagine. Neither are from the regular cricketing middle-class, both are barely literate and in no way prepared for, or even aware of the pitfalls of nefarious association with match fixing syndicates. For them, life changed dramatically after cricketing super-stardom and the spoils that match fixing could afford them. Their tastes, expectations, perceptions – everything they had learned up to that point – suddenly became distorted, null and void.
Metaphorically, imagine being a kid riding a merry-go-round for the first time. You are excited, the merry-go-round is shiny, moves up and down and spins. The further you get into the ride, it quickens up. Suddenly crazy boogie-men jump out at you flashing large sums of money for match fixing, whilst the ride attendants morph in to denatured alien lizards with lasers and handcuffs. The ride stops when you throw up. In come the parents to inspect your vomit and provide insight, deliberating over whether you may or may not take the ride when you are just a bit taller.
Just look at where they come from and you may begin to understand.
Asif’s cricketing life was born and raised using taped-up tennis balls on the streets of a ghetto in Sheikhapura, about an hours drive from Lahore. At the time he was a loose limbed kid without a command of English, let alone distinguished grasp of his local tongue or match fixing. As I learned from a Pakastani colleague of mine, Asif was often the ‘Butt’ of many jokes in his home country, no-one took him seriously. Despite his on-field successes, Asif has been ostracised by the Pakistani cricketing board, fellow players and home supporters due to his low-caste status, poor level of literacy and non-existence in the pop cultural realm. A similar plight can also be held for the young Amir, also born in a rural ghetto about an hours drive from the south-east city of Rawalpindi. Barely considered a village, Amir’s home town of Changa Bangyaal is no more than a cluster of mud-brick houses bordered by agricultural fields. In what initially read like a rags-to-riches script worthy of an Oscar gong, now seems destined to pilot in the next season of True Bollywood Stories.
My point is (and yes, I do have one), is that we are still at a cross-roads with cricket as a professional sport. The bulging purse of international cricket is forever swelling, with those lucky cricketers littered with bountiful riches and endless celebrity. But, how do we make sure the wealth is spread evenly? I have no doubt that Pakistani cricketers are paid much, much less than most other international nations for whatever reasons whether it be corruption, match fixing, lack of sponsorship or a thousand other variables. Add to this, Pakistani cricketers being wholeheartedly shunned from the biggest gold pot, the Indian Premier League (again, for a host of reasons), you begin to see the bigger picture. For me, Asif and Amir cannot be held solely accountable for what has transpired in the past 5 months, they are victims of their own upbringing, thrust into a world where money is God, greed is king. These two are the world’s marquee fast bowlers (alongside Steyn, Khan, Anderson), yet their yearly incomes are minnow-ed by even the most D-grade of IPL hacks. What’s lacking is wage consistency across the board. The ICC should develop something along the lines of an international cricketers social security fund, keeping cricketers from poorer nations above the board, to deter from from match fixing and corruption. This system works for social security in Australia (Centrelink); a proactive approach to keeping money lined in the pockets of local junkies, quelling the need for said junkie to kick down the back door and run to Cash Converters with your kitchen television.
Let’s just hope that one career may be salvaged. With Amir returning in 5 years time, we can hope that he is still young and eager at the age of 23 and the match fixing sage can be relegated as a past indiscretion. In countries where wealth and poverty live side-by-side, the sweetness of success and glory must be taken in stride.
For more information on the match fixing case as it comes to light, stay tuned to Googlie Cricket blog.