Queering our pitch - Hussain H Zaidi - Monday, February 14, 2011

Source : http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=31117&Cat=9&dt=2/14/2011

One can easily smell a rat in the conviction of three Pakistani players on corruption charges by the governing body of international cricket. Aamir, Asif and Salman, the convicted and banned players, being among the finest in the game, at bottom their conviction may be seen as an attempt to strike at Pakistan cricket, especially at a time when the World Cup is round the corner.

Courtesy the strides in electronic media, cricket holds sway in a way it did never before. Live ball-by-ball TV coverage has put a high premium on the thrill that the game has always offered. Like the readers of a Sherlock Holmes story, for the viewers of a cricketing encounter the incessantly intriguing question is how things will come off the next moment. The only difference is that, whereas in a work of detective fiction the script is already written, in case of a cricket match the outcome is decided by how the contenders perform – and how they will perform is anybody’s guess. In the next over, two wickets may fall or a couple of sixes may be hit, which would turn the match around. What about betting on the fluctuating fortunes in an encounter and earning a few bucks? Yes, why not. Heads I win, tails I lose.

But wait a minute. Why just passively keep on guessing what will happen next? Why not author the script of the match and let others conjecture? Surely heaps and heaps of money can be made by fixing an encounter, or some part of it, and then outguessing others. Obviously, a match can’t be fixed without roping in some of the players. So the only problem is to look for the players who are willing to cooperate by acts of omission and commission – who in crucial moments may drop a catch, deliver a no-ball, bat slowly, bowl erratically, or just give away their wicket.

As in case of power, wealth tends to corrupt and enormous wealth does so enormously. So in the era of commercialisation, it’s not that difficult to find the sportspersons who are willing to acquiesce in the plans of match-fixing mafias in return for easy and plenty of money.

Match-fixing has been associated with cricket for years. The enormity of the problem, however, has increased with the passage of time. In the past, many a player was shown the door for the offence. Some confessed, others denied the charges. In some instances, the cricketers claimed they were approached by the bookmakers or fellow players on their behalf, but they refused to oblige. However, this doesn’t mean that all sportspersons are involved in making money by means unlawful. To be sure, most of the sporting events don’t have a pre-written script.

Now look at the case of the three banned Pakistani cricketers. Each of them is known to be of unimpeachable character and it will be unfair to cast aspersions on them. On top of that, the corruption watchdog of the ICC has found them guilty not of match-fixing but of spot-fixing during a Test match between Pakistan and England at Lord’s last year. To be precise, in the words of the tribunal, Aamir and Asif agreed to bowl a no-ball at the behest of the bookie, and they did so, while Salman, who at that time was skippering Pakistan, was party to the alleged arrangement.

Delivering a no-ball is not much of an aberration in cricket; rather, it’s very much part of the game and no encounter – five-day or limited-overs – is complete without a no-ball. Besides, and that’s important, the no-ball, by either of the bowlers, wasn’t bowled at a crucial moment in the match and in no way altered its outcome. In the event that the Pakistani cricketers were out to make money, they would have fixed the match. But they didn’t, which bears out their integrity.

In point of fact, Pakistani cricketers are professionals through and through, and no such sportsman will even think of performing below the mark in exchange for money, no matter how lucrative the offer is. Every prominent sportsperson knows that as long as he is performing well, money will continue to pour into his wallet. So money is no problem. But the name once tarnished is difficult to repair. Therefore, he will avoid getting into shady deals.

If the three cricketers are clean to the hilt, why have they been banned? Of course, the ICC wouldn’t convict them in the absence of ample evidence. The answer, simply, is that the three players have been framed. But by whom, and for what reason? The answer to this question is even simpler: by the enemies of Pakistan. The world abounds in elements who are set on hatching conspiracies against the country. All the ills of our society and polity can easily be ascribed to the machinations of such elements, who don’t want us to survive and thrive. And cricket, of course, being Pakistan’s most popular sport is no exception. The enemy knew that we were the top contender for the cricket World Cup, so it set some of our leading players up so that, psychologically, we lose the race even before it kicks off. It’s not cricket.

It follows that there is no need to set our own house in order. Instead we should keep pointing fingers at the anti-Pakistan plotters and conspirators. The fault lies not in us but in our stars.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: hussainhzaidi@gmail. com

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