Pakistan cricket still in fix after the Lord's scandal

Updated: Jun 06, 2020, 09:04 IST | AFP | Karachi

Ten years since the Lord's scandal saw Mohd Amir, Mohd Asif and Salman Butt pulled up for fixing, Asian cricketing giant continues to reel under the after-effects of corruption.

Tainted Pakistan cricketers (left to right) Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt and cricket agent Mazhar Majeed. pic/Getty Images
Tainted Pakistan cricketers (left to right) Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt and cricket agent Mazhar Majeed. pic/Getty Images

When Mohammad Amir bowled a no-ball against England on the opening day of the 2010 Test at Lord's, no one could have imagined his long stride past the crease marked the first step in a historic fixing scandal. Two days later it was revealed that three no-balls—two by Amir, and one by his pace partner Mohammad Asif—had been part of a shady betting deal. Pakistan captain Salman Butt had orchestrated the deliberate no-balls in return for money offered by undercover journalist Mazhar Majeed posing as a bookmaker.

The scandal, exposed in the sting by Britain's now-defunct News of the World tabloid, rocked the cricketing world, and aftershocks can still be felt a decade on in Pakistan. Not only did that dark morning at the revered Home of Cricket derail the careers of three players, who were banned and jailed, the saga also led to calls for Pakistan to be booted from international cricket. Butt, Amir and Asif were tried in a London court for offences under the Gambling Act and jailed in November 2011. Announcing the sentences, the judge Jeremy Cooke said: "The image and integrity of what was once a game but is now a business, is damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded three of you as heroes."

It marked a new low for Pakistan cricket, already reeling from the aftermath of terror attacks in Lahore on the Sri Lankan team a year before, which triggered the suspension of home internationals.

Amir earns sympathy

Because he pleaded guilty earlier than his two teammates, and on account of his youth, Amir, then 18, received worldwide sympathy. He was allowed to play international cricket again in 2016 and, now 28, has been successfully reintegrated into the Pakistan team. Asif, who received a seven-year ban and a one-year prison sentence, is now 37 and in the twilight of his career. Butt, 35, still harbours hopes of an international comeback after consistent domestic performances. As the orchestrator of this dark episode, that seems unlikely, especially with match fixing still haunting the game. Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif were banned after a Pakistan Super League spot-fixing case in 2017. And in April this year, Umar Akmal was banned for three years for failing to report fixing offers.

The cases have led to calls for the country to criminalise fixing, a campaign taken up by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). "We need to make match fixing a criminal offence. I have talked to the government to bring in this change and make a law related to match fixing," PCB chairman Ehsan Mani said.

Ramiz recommends ban

Ex-Pakistan captain-turned-commentator believes tainted players should not play again for the national team, as Pakistan contemplate the return of Sharjeel after his ban. "We have suffered numerous times from bringing back tainted players yet we continue to welcome them because of their talent. Cricket cannot condone such behaviour," Raja told AFP.

On the field, Pakistan have lifted the clouds. They found an astute skipper to replace Butt in Misbah-ul-Haq who led Pakistan to No. 1 in Test rankings in 2016. A return of international touring sides has followed, culminating in Azhar Ali leading Pakistan in their first Test on home soil in 10 years when Sri Lanka played in Rawalpindi in December.

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