Time to move on | Pakistan Today

Time to move on

The other day Mohammad Asif was released from prison in England after serving his jail term. Mohammad Amir had been released earlier. When these two look back on their abbreviated careers, they will doubtless have more than a few regrets about what transpired and how two of the most promising talents in the sport were so cruelly cut short.
Certainly Mohammad Asif at his best was nothing less than a magician with the ball, with impeccable control over line and length and movement in the air and off the seam. Amir had everything, the pace, the movement and a maturity beyond his years. He was already being talked of as the next Wasim Akram. Perhaps, with time, he could actually have been better.
Both the boys were from small towns with very humble backgrounds and as a result, were suckers for the glitz and glamour at cricket’s higher level. They were also not used to the amount of money that they were earning and more importantly, were not fully aware where the line of impropriety should be drawn and the consequences should they be caught.
Asif had had issues in the past, prior to the ‘no-ball affair’, but for Amir, this was the first known time. When they were told by the captain, the venal Salman Butt, of the easy money available for just a few no balls bowled on cue, they jumped at it, especially when they knew that it was their captain who was protecting them and encouraging them to do it.
What Salman Butt and his boys had not reckoned for was the penchant of media like The News of The World towards sting operations and entrapment and they and their manager Mazhar Majeed fell for what was in cricketing terms, a sting operation that would make Robert Redford’s Sting movie pale in comparison. In spite of all their excuses and explanations, the writing was on the wall and all four were justly convicted of match-fixing. It is only fair that the two junior perpetrators have been released first and the master minds, the captain and the manager are still serving time. The greatest blame for all this undoubtedly falls on Salman Butt, an educated, well spoken man who had been groomed for the job from age-group events, but let his team and country down in a manner he will have a hard time to come to terms with.
Salman Butt’s career is over. He was always a journeyman cricketer and his best was probably behind him. But what of Asif and Amir, two stars who dazzled the cricket world with bowling that was out of this world? Is there a chance for them to make a comeback after having served their lengthy bans, following which they would have suffered irreversible deterioration of their skills? It is unlikely, because no bowler can survive on just bowling for five years in the nets. Firstly, there is a lack of motivation and secondly, there is no way to anneal and temper his technique outside the cauldron of competitive cricket at the highest level. In other words, their international careers are effectively over.
Unless: The ICC relents and shortens their bans by half or more. They would be reluctant to do so in the case of Asif, who has had a few brushes with impropriety in the past. Amir could have a chance, with no less a cricketer as Mike Atherton going in to bat for him. Eighteen is an impressionable age and the ICC could cut him a bit of slack. But the big question is as to what role the PCB should play in this affair. Should they actively work towards getting the sentences reduced or should they let things take their course.
Undoubtedly, the latter is the better option. If the PCB campaigned to get the sentences reduced, it would send an entirely wrong message to all Pakistani cricketers that if they do get caught doing something wrong, the PCB will support them. The PCB should stay completely out of this issue. If the ICC should see fit to reduce or waive the sentences, then, after due process, the PCB should allow the players to be considered for selection. Nothing else.
Unfortunately, what happened in England was without a doubt only the tip of the iceberg. Rumours of entire Test matches being sold down the drain abound. The Test in Australia where our wicketkeeper missed a clutch of catches and purposely missed a run-out is still a nightmare in our memories. The Danish Kaneria episode is under way. So the million dollar question is not who was doing spot-fixing or match-fixing, but who if any, was not. It is said that it takes six or seven players to fix a match. That leaves very few players who would be out of the loop. And probably, they would also be looking to get in! This is how things had regressed when the no-ball affair occurred.
We should therefore look at the positive side of this whole sordid affair and realize that this was not entirely a bad thing. Despite the loss of two world class players, the lessons learned and the fear of the ICC Anti-Corruption Unite will go a long way towards cleansing our cricket.
The present Pakistan team is a pleasure to watch and to support. It is impeccably led by Misbah and the body language on the field and the commitment level has visibly improved. Let us leave Salman Butt and his cohorts in the past and continue to move on. Should things change with time and the two fast bowlers are able to make themselves available, with good domestic performances, they should be considered for selection just like any other cricketer.
In the meantime, they have to do their time. Because, if they are finding this to be hard, they should not have committed the crime in the first place!

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