MARTIN SAMUEL is the three-time winner of the SJA’s Sports Writer of the Year award. Today in the Daily Mail, he assesses whether there is any point in playing cricket with Pakistan
If it is possible to feel anything beyond contempt for the protagonists of a betting scandal that has hit the summer like a Bank Holiday deluge, then Mohammad Aamer is the tragic figure at the heart of the tale.
At the age of 18 he was to have his name on the honours board at Lord’s, an achievement that has eluded many of the greats of the game, not least Shane Warne.
His six wickets in the fourth Test on Friday – at one stage he dismissed four top-order batsmen for no runs – stood as one of the highlights of the sporting year. Here, we thought, was a young man destined for greatness. We looked forward to a decade or more in his presence, imagined his feats to come.
Will we see him again in Test cricket? Who knows?
Aamer is now implicated as one of the Pakistan players prepared to take money to bowl no-balls to order, for gambling purposes.
There is already talk back home of a life ban if found guilty and while such sentences have too often meant nothing in Pakistan – a sound-bite to take the heat off, followed by a hasty and self-serving reprieve – if this is true, his career is ended before it has begun.
If the allegations are proven – and it is hard to imagine any other outcome – at the very least his reputation is in shreds before the end of his teenage years. And this shows the degree of malevolence at the heart of professional cricket in Pakistan. They did this to him in months, not years.
They got their hooks into him as a baby, at a time when he would have had few confidants in the dressing room, few colleagues he could have gone to for guidance. These men, his team-mates, were meant to look after him; instead they corrupted him, blackened his soul and diminished his talent.
Their ruse is simple. Spot-fixing involves the pre-determination of a single ball in the game. A gambler bets that the next ball will be a no-ball, and it duly arrives.
It is easy to fix if the player is willing, easy to arrange that Aamer’s third delivery in his third over will be illegal.
By comparison to match-fixing, spot-fixing seems minor, but one leads to the other. Once the fixer knows his man will bowl no-balls to order, what more will he do?
Now there is no way out because the fixer always has the bargaining tool of disclosure. When the Pakistan Cricket Board’s team manager appeared to suggest that minor fixing offences merited lesser punishment on Sunday, he revealed the systematic nature of deception within Pakistan cricket.
They have sliding scales for exposed cheats; as if there is any difference. It is highly unlikely the teenage Aamer, fresh from Pakistan’s academy, introduced these ideas to his older colleagues, so he must have be en dragged into their conspiracy.
And once it was suggested to him, what was he to do? Go to a team-mate, when senior figures such as the captain Salman Butt and experienced team member Mohammad Asif, a veteran of 22 Tests, were involved?
Go to the police in a foreign country and attempt to shop the heroes of a damaged nation, beset by floods and human disaster?
Aamer would have been utterly alone with this nefarious proposal, his moral compass removed by the endemic cheating of his superiors.
And while this does not mitigate his involvement – he could have walked from the discussion and simply refused, even if he lacked the bravery to blow the whistle – it makes him the hopeless stooge of more experienced men.
There are bigger villains here than a raw teenager from the Punjab. Look at Aamer’s no-ball. It is a joke. It is so exaggerated, so utterly out of keeping with his bowling performance on Friday that it attracted the attention of the television commentators.
Look at Asif’s. Barely over, a small misjudgment, hardly noticeable. To the naked eye, one man looks as if he knows what he is doing, the other hasn’t a clue.
If the allegations are correct, both are cheating, but the older man appears better at it; one might even say more practised.
These are difficult times for cricket. There is a police investigation and hard evidence provided by a newspaper.
If the PCB had the real “spirit of cricket” at heart – the ludicrous brand name for their series with Australia on these shores this summer – they would do the decent thing and go home.
The question is: do we have the appetite for them to remain? How can we watch these remaining matches? How do we take them seriously? Every single action, each poor shot, every misfield, the strange collapses that are misguidedly considered part of the Pakistan cricket experience, must now be called into question.
Why should we continue to entertain Pakistan’s contempt for the basic decency of sport? Why should we offer our hospitality (considering that terrorism has made it impossible to play international cricket in Pakistan)?
This is no first offence, after all, merely the latest. Positive drug tests – one for Asif – that were swept under the carpet, cheats and charlatans rewarded.
When Justice Malik Qayyum held his inquiry into a succession of match-fixing scandals that came to overshadow the achievements of Pakistan cricket in the Nineties, one of his conclusions was that in future the captain and manager of Pakistan’s cricketers should be of impeccable character.
Salman Butt will not captain Pakistan in the one-day internationals but Shahid Afridi will, following a two-match ban after being caught biting the ball in a one-day international against Australia in Perth in January.
Afridi admitted tampering. He was also banned for deliberately damaging the pitch during a Test series with England in 2005. So much for men of impeccable character.
Maybe there just aren’t any left for the PCB to select. We do not have to tolerate this. We can say no, as we should have done years ago.
The fix was in. They were at it. They’ve been at it for years. No more. Not this time. There should be no way back. Pakistan can play cricket however they choose; we do not have to watch.
Michael Vaughan: Forget the one-day series, it’s time to clean-up the game
Scyld Berry in the Telegraph: It is only natural that cricketers – or some of them at least – should reflect the society from which they come.