I am not a lawyer and I do not understand what the suspension clauses of the sentences to Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif mean. I also do not understand the hue and cry from some quarters about how the punishment given to Butt is lenient and the one handed down to young Mohammad Amir is too harsh. In any case, the ICC tribunal headed by Michael Belof (QC) has, I am confident, gone through the case as carefully as possible and even made sure they have not jumped into conclusions taking time before passing the verdict. And I am fully in support of it.
The wheels of judiciary will, however, recommence in two directions. The players would most likely appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Switzerland) against the bans imposed by the ICC. Plus there is the complication of the case pending against the players by the British Crown in London. Subtracting the legalese, what this means is we have not seen the end of this sad spot-fixing drama nor have we seen the last of these three players in terms of the present case. Be that as it may, it is important to look into the implications of the judgments handed out in the case for the general health of cricket at large and ICC in especial.
From Ian Chappell to Giden Haigh to individual cricket boards to sometimes the average cricket fan, just about everyone concerned with the game has had a slingshot at the International Cricket Council, pooh-poohing it as an organisation that, to put it short, is good for nothing. On the one hand there is this prevailing impression, one which does have a grain of truth in it, that the ICC as the game’s official governing body is not making enough crucial decisions and not making them assertively enough, giving room for powerful and notorious member boards to exercise their own muscle power in the running of the game. The lack of a firm stand by the ICC on the (non-)use of UDRS is a case in point and has come under the hammer recently from cricket analysts, players and former players alike as the Indian team, backed by an unhealthily potent BCCI, continues to deny its use for reasons the world and its uncle cannot fathom.
Allowing teams to play local and international games arbitrarily outside of the FTP window, lack of monitoring over the increased number of one-sided pitches around the world, failing to clamp down more stringently on drug abuse in the game and mishandling of corruption are only some of the important issues the ICC has been found wanting in. That ICC’s top jobs have increasingly had a political slant to them with someone like Sharad Powar at the Presidency, and John Howard’s Vice-Presidency candidature splitting the cricket world right down the middle, have only contributed to exacerbating matters.
In this context, the ICC’s efforts in leading the charges of corruption against the three Pakistani cricketers to their logical conclusion were as necessary a few months back as they are commendable now. That the ICC has had at its helm a CEO like Haroon Lorgat, who is at once a discreet administrator but a forthright speaker, as the fixing controversies raised their ugly hood again after ten years is probably a blessing. Irrespective of whether the verdicts stay as they are or are modified after appeals or are completely overturned, the tribunal’s judgments against the discredited Pakistani trio could yet turn out to be a landmark in ICC history as an example of the governing body’s no-nonsense attitude against corruption.
Although I feel for Amir, and a lot of fans (including many Indians, surprisingly) who thought he was the next young Pakistani fast-bowling magician in the making, his surprise at being given a five year ban for bowling “just two no-balls” rings more rhetorically than sensibly to me; and in the process it also rings with that inalienable “convenient” tune of our times, the hesitancy to square up to one’s mistakes and accept them even at the brink of disaster.
The issue that is at stake is not whether an inconsequential illegal delivery was bowled or whether a match was deliberately lost; if that were all at stake then the amount of attention given to the case by the ICC and cricket fans, leave alone an ever-hyped and –hyping world media, would seem absurd. The issue is one of principle, of upholding fairness as one of the most important virtues of the game not in the least because it is belief in the game’s fairness and its tendency to even things out that makes heartbroken fans still come back after a depressing loss and route for their team. Violation of that fairness, even if only for something miniscule and even if for money that is not somebody else’s daily meal, is a violation of the spirit of the national flannels one plays in, of the unspoken trust that connects a sportsperson with other sportspersons and the world that worships him, and of sport’s greatness in general. Sport, as is often believed, does not test only human strengths; it also tests whether one can tide over one’s weaknesses and in that respect Butt and Asif are perhaps more to be blamed than the rookie Amir but none of them is above the game. It is also sad that three Pakistani cricketers, three of their better ones arguably, were caught red-handed at a time when Pakistani cricket was already in doldrums. But examples needed to be set and one hopes the judgments have sent out the right signals to the generation of young and upcoming cricketers.
In less than two weeks, the attention will shift inevitably from these and other issues to the 2011 Cricket World Cup, as the one-day game’s most coveted prize returns to the sub-continent after fourteen years. Even as one prays that it should not be the Australians lifting the cup for a staggering fourth time in a row, I will settle for a tournament where cricket alone will talk: if that is ensured, whoever wins it is a secondary issue. I would obviously love it if India goes on to win it but the tournament’s conduct is far more important than its eventual result.