Cricket Scandal Denies Pakistanis Relief From Daily Hardships
ISLAMABAD — This cricket-obsessed nation has burst into a collective outcry of anger and frustration after allegations that some players on the national team had been involved in illegal match tampering during the current tour of England.
The news is even more shattering for ordinary Pakistanis, who had hoped that victory on the playing field might give some reprieve and a cause of celebration to a country devastated by unrelenting militancy, continued political unrest and its worst floods in living memory. The flooding, driven by monsoon rain, has submerged 23 percent of the land under cultivation and affected an estimated 17.6 million people.
On Wednesday, three suicide bombers struck Lahore, the eastern city that is also home to the Pakistan Cricket Board, as they attacked processions of Shiites, killing at least 29 people and wounding 240.
In such grim times, the allegations against the players have dashed expectations and snuffed any glimmer of hope.
“In a country plagued with calamity, the news has battered morale even further,” said Mariam Chaudhry, a talk show host and broadcast journalist based in Islamabad.
The anger of the cricket followers remains palpable. In Lahore on Tuesday, fans set their cricket bats on fire as a sign of protest.
An effigy of Salman Butt, the team captain whose cellphone was seized by the police as part of the investigation, was placed atop a donkey and paraded around — apparently to shame the fallen hero — in town of Uch Sharif, a southern Punjab town.
Some even hanged effigies of the players after accusing players of being “traitors” and “cheats.”
“Everyone is upset because cricket was the only source of entertainment to escape from their other worries they were having,” said Farhan Razzaq, 26, a disgruntled fan who lives in the United States but is helping organize a protest in Islamabad on Sunday through Facebook.
“Unfortunately, corruption, which has spread like cancer in Pakistan, has not even spared cricket,” said Razzaq, an engineer. “It is very unfortunate that whenever Pakistan team goes to another country some issue comes up.”
The sense of frustration is not just limited to the fans. In angry editorials, the country’s newspapers have chided players and management.
Dawn, the country’s most respected English daily, has recommended a lifetime ban if players are found guilty.
Talk shows on the country’s rambunctious news networks have dissected the allegations and ensuing controversy from every possible angle: an outcome of rampant corruption; a conspiracy to taint and defame Pakistan; and the susceptibility of cricketers from poor backgrounds to being lured by the big money that the game offers.
The tumult both off and on the field has often led some to see the game as a reflection of Pakistan society itself. The performance of the national team remains unpredictable, capable of shining with bursts of world-class brilliance or sinking to abysmal lows.
Reports about internal groupings and infighting within the cricket team mirror the fractured Pakistan society in general. Players belonging to Lahore often do not get along with those from Karachi, the southern port city. The team has almost no representation from Baluchistan, the southwestern province where feelings of alienation and depravation run high.
The chairman of the cricket board is appointed arbitrarily by the Pakistani president and has unfettered powers, much like the military dictators who have ruled the country for more than half of its history. The current chairman of the board, Ijaz Butt, is regularly criticized for his chaotic management style but has managed to retain his position because of his friendship with President Asif Ali Zardari, the embattled leader who is often accused of corruption by political opponents.
“The management remains dysfunctional and without any direction. It has failed to enforce discipline,” Masood Hasan, a columnist for The News, the leading English daily in Pakistan, said of the cricket board.
“Many feel the decay in cricket is symptomatic of political corruptibility, which has seeped over in other institutions in Pakistan,” said Chaudhry, the talk show host.
In the 1990s, Pakistani governments were repeatedly overthrown over charges of corruption. During the same time, betting and match fixing took root in the country, often accompanied by allegations against star players.
Between 1998 and 2000, a high court judge led an inquiry into match fixing. Justice Malik Qayyum has said that his recommendations were never fully implemented.
The past haunts the present as fans suspect any allegation of carrying some grain of truth.
“Though we are talking allegations at this stage, it is interesting that most commentary has been tainted with ready belief,” Chaudhry said. “The credence given is reflective of the institutional crisis Pakistan faces, engendered by decades of ill-governance and political uncertainty.”
But for commentators, like Hasan, this is hardly a surprise.
“This is no biggie, the way money changes hands in Pakistan and the way corruption is endorsed. It is business as usual,” Hasan said. He added that many players in Pakistan are a “rags to riches story in a suspiciously short time.”
Pakistani players have long been suspected of fixing matches. In one of the most notorious cases, Saleem Malik, a former captain for the national team, was banned for his involvement in match fixing in 2000, though a judge lifted the suspension in 2008. Malik is currently serving as the chief coach of the National Cricket Academy.
Analysts say that players who rise from poverty and limited education to become stars are unprepared for the demands and temptations of stardom.
Cricket enthusiasts are particularly dismayed that Mohammad Amir, an 18-year old fast bowler who generally is regarded as the team’s rising star, was one of the two players accused of deliberately throwing no-balls, which result in a foul, during a test last week against England.
“Look at what has happened to Mohammad Amir,” Hasan said. “He is the tragic hero in all of this. His career is probably over.”
Mohammad Asif, the other fast bowler who was accused of throwing no-balls in a story by the News of the World, has a history of controversy. In 2006, Asif was punished with a one-year ban after he and Shoaib Akhtar, the world’s fastest bowler, were found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs. In 2008, Asif was detained at Dubai International Airport for possession of illegal drugs. The charges were dropped a few months later, but he was banned from entering Dubai.
On Thursday, Asif, Amir and Butt were dropped for the rest of the Pakistani team’s England tour, shortly before they appeared for questioning by investigators of the Pakistan Cricket Board, The Associated Press reported from London.
For the fans, the never-ending controversies seem to have taken a toll.
“I feel very bad for the common man on the road for whom the game is a passion” Hasan said. “We have taken that away from him.”
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Last Updated (Thursday, 02 September 2010 18:00)