Corruption and cricket is in the news yet again. The trial of Chris Cairns has reached its conclusion. Mohammad Amir has returned to top flight cricket following a five year ban for spot fixing. And then we saw a poor performance from Pakistan in the third ODI that saw allegations of foul play from former England captain, Michael Vaughan. He subsequently deleted the tweets suggesting Pakistan had deliberately underperformed, but it certainly brought the issue of fixing back to the forefront.
A report in the Daily Mail said that the ICC was investigating the match, although that suggestion has been down played, with ESPNCricinfo’s George Dobell saying that the ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) had a quick look at the data available to them for the match and decided there was no case to answer.
This will always be an emotive issue. If we cannot trust the veracity of results then the game is gone as a spectacle. It is imperative that any allegations of fixing are investigated fully and those found guilty punished. However, unsubstantiated claims made as a result of conjecture, like those from Vaughan, do far more harm than good. If anyone has suspicions and evidence to back that up they should report it to the ACSU. They are not hiding. Their number and email address is not hard to get a hold of. Tell them everything you know.
Just spouting off without any real knowledge on which to base your suspicions brings the game into disrepute. It makes the remarkable the questionable. We need to rejoice at unlikely things happening, not view them through the narrowed eyes of suspicion and doubt. Crying “FIX” as loud as you can when a team underperforms just makes it a lot harder to spot it when something is amiss.
We have to allow the authorities to do their job and if they need more funding and personnel to do that the ICC needs to give it to them. Fixers being caught should be celebrated, but we need to consider the punishment that they receive.
Many have argued for a blanket life ban for all those caught and convicted of match fixing. While the sentiment is understandable, any system that does not treat each example on a case by case basis does not offer any sort of justice. With any crime there is varying degrees of guilt. Amir is a prime example of this. He was young and, as the judge at his trial put it, “unsophisticated, uneducated and impressionable.”
Salman Butt on the other hand was older, in a position of authority and responsible for recruiting others to the plot that saw them bowl no balls to order at Lord’s in a Test match. To suggest these two men were guilty of the same crime is a logical stretch.
Former New Zealand Test bowler, Iain O’Brien, has suggested that the distinction that needs to be made is one of corruptor and corrupted. Those that are the ring leaders who draw other players into a scam should be banned for life he says. Those that go along with it should be punished, of course, but they should have the opportunity to come back to the sport. This line of thinking has a lot of merit.
23-year-old Amir was away from cricket for almost five years, spent time in prison and is left with his reputation in tatters. That is not an insignificant punishment, and for us to have a just system we have to believe that rehabilitation is possible.
The question is whether his team will have him back. It has been reported that Mohammad Hafeez has said he will not play with his former teammate, and it is suggested that this sentiment is common in the Pakistan dressing room. Since that dark day in North London in 2010, the reputation of the Pakistan cricket team has come a long, long way. Every approach, no matter how insignificant, is said to have been reported by the squad. Those in the side are doing all they can to put these kind of practices as far away from them as possible. No team is better educated on this issue than Pakistan.
The issue is that Amir is very good. The time away from the game has not taken away any of the excitement of watching him bowl. He is currently playing for the Chittagong Vikings in the Bangladesh Premier League, a tournament that has been the centre of fixing allegations in the past, and he is performing superbly. He is taking wickets and going at less than a run a ball. He is the best bowler on show. By a distance. Only Al-Amin Hossain’s hat-trick has come close to matching Amir’s efforts.
Pakistan are not so well off for phenomenal fast bowling talents that they can leave someone so gifted on the sidelines for long. Whatever you may think of the punishment that he received, he has now done all that was asked of him and “served his time”. There are worse crimes than bowling a no ball because your captain asked you to. Not many in a cricketing context, granted, but there are more nefarious things to do.
No one is asking you to forgive Mohammad Amir, but perhaps you should allow yourself to think that people can change. No one is asking you to pretend that fixing doesn’t exist, but the next time you allow yourself to think that a poor performance is a crooked one, you could hold fire before you tweet about a fix.