June Issue 2010

By | Sports | Published 8 years ago

During the best part of his tenure as a member of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Sports, Enver Baig crusaded against the menace of match-fixing which, he believed, was spreading in Pakistan cricket like ‘cancer.’

“I have no doubt in my mind that some of our players are involved in match-fixing,” he told Newslinein an interview. “There is no other reason why our team throws away matches from winning positions every now and then.”

During his tenure as a senator, Baig kept pushing for the implementation of recommendations made by the Justice Qayyum tribunal back in 2000 to curb fears of match-fixing in Pakistan cricket. The problem was that unlike him, not many were fully convinced that Pakistani players were involved in match-fixing. Even if some people at the helm of national cricket affairs had any suspicions, they chose not to make them public. After the ugly episodes of match-fixing linking some of the sport’s leading stars like Pakistan’s Saleem Malik, India’s Mohammad Azharuddin and South Africa’s Hansie Cronje, the official line adopted by the International Cricket Council (ICC) – the game’s ruling body – and its member boards, was that everything was now under control. In fact, people like Enver Baig were seen by cricket bodies around the world as loose cannons who were hurling allegations without any solid evidence.

But all that seems to have changed after some dramatic revelations made by several Pakistani players and officials of a probe committee that was investigating Pakistan’s disastrous tour of Australia which concluded last February. The PCB found enough evidence against seven of the country’s leading players to either ban or fine them heavily for their role in the catastrophic results achieved by Pakistan Down Under. While it took action against the players, it chose to bury the findings of the probe committee instead of making them public.

Three months after the PCB punished the players, the footage of the probe committee’s proceedings was leaked to the media. It showed former coach Intikhab Alam raising suspicions of match-fixing against some of the team’s former players during that infamous Sydney Test against Australia last January. Pakistan lost that Test after taking complete control of it because wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal dropped three catches and missed an easy run-out. Intikhab’s suspicions were seconded by Aaqib Javed, who served as assistant coach during the tour.

The plot thickened after Lord Condon, the outgoing head of the ICC anti-corruption unit, announced that Pakistan’s tour of Australia was under investigation. However, the PCB, along with its chief Ijaz Butt, quickly denied this, making it clear that the chapter of the Australia tour was closed. “If even the team’s coaches are raising the match-fixing issue, then why are our cricket chiefs trying to cover it up?” asks Baig.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s new Test captain Shahid Afridi gave another twist to the story when he called for decisive action over allegations of match-fixing. Afridi stressed that his team can truly focus on a series of challenging assignments only once the issue is resolved for good.

People at the helm of cricket continue to deny that match-fixing takes place, but allegations continue to spring up every now and then. Some times they are aimed at Pakistani players and at other times at the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL). More recently, there have been reports of ‘approaches’ made to cricketers by bookies at the county level in England. Pakistan’s leg-spinner Danish Kaneria was one of the players named by media reports of being involved in ‘spot-fixing’ during a county match involving his team Essex last season.

Skeptics believe that the menace of match-fixing is rearing its ugly head once again, even as world cricket authorities declare that all’s well. Others, however, want proof. “People talk about match-fixing but where’s the proof,” says Ijaz Butt. “I say first give us the proof and then talk about it.”

Salahuddin Ahmed, a former Pakistan Test cricketer and ex-chief selector, says that the only way to acquire any kind of concrete evidence against ‘corrupt’ players is by probing into the wealth acquired by them.

“I don’t agree with people who say that you can’t catch players involved in match-fixing,” says Ahmed. “All you need to do is probe into the wealth acquired by them. Even today, a cricketer playing for Pakistan cannot amass a huge bank balance or expensive property from his ‘legal’ earnings. If you discover that a player, who has just played for a few years, owns much more than his earnings would have allowed him, then you would know that there is something wrong. You just have to follow the money trail.”

The writer is ranked among the battle-hardened journalists covering sports. As sports editor for The News, he covers sporting action extensively in Pakistan and abroad.