By Feisal Hussain Naqvi
Some weeks ago, an English newspaper published an expose of a sting operation in which one of their reporters pretended to be a bookie and paid GBP 150,000 to one Mazhar Majeed, the agent for several Pakistani players. To demonstrate his credibility as a match-fixer, Majeed offered to have Pakistani players bowl no-balls at specific moments during the fourth test match. The offer by Majeed and his acceptance of the money are on video.
It is not in dispute that the specific no-balls promised by Majeed on the video were indeed bowled by Pakistan. It is also not in dispute that portions of the amounts paid to Majeed have subsequently been recovered from the rooms of Pakistani cricketers, including the captain of the test team, Salman Butt. We can be sure that the money is the same because it was chemically marked.
Given these facts, the question is what should the Pakistan Cricket Board have done? So far, the PCB’s response is to say that “these are just allegations,” to refuse to take any preliminary action against the accused cricketers, and to accuse the ICC of acting hastily and wrongly (when the ICC suspended the three accused from international cricket).
But all this was only the overture to our current symphony of institutional lunacy. Recently, Ejaz Butt, the PCB chairman read out a prepared statement in which he accused the English cricket team of having taken money to deliberate lose the third one-day international match to Pakistan. When asked to provide proof, Butt responded, in effect, by saying that the English had no proof either against Pakistani cricketers and so thpppttttt!!!!!!. Had he extended his middle finger at the same time, his meaning might have been clearer. But not by much.
Let us begin with the basics: were the English Cricket Board and the ICC right in asking for the exclusion of the three accused Pakistani players? The short answer is yes.
The Pakistani position to date has been that everybody is innocent till proven guilty and that hence the cricketers should have been allowed to play till a final judgment is reached. This argument is rubbish. The innocent till proven guilty standard applies only to final judgments, not to interim orders.
Let me put it another way. If the police find somebody at the scene of a murder with a smoking gun in his hand, that person is normally denied bail and put into judicial custody. It does not mean that he is “guilty” of the crime with which he is charged because that determination requires a trial. What it means is that there are reasonable grounds for believing that he may be guilty. Repeat, may be.
If the PCB’s argument were accepted it would mean that no interim measures could ever be taken against any person accused of any illegal act, no person could ever be kept in jail pending trial, and no government servant could be suspended from service pending investigation. Pakistani law does not require any such stupidity.
What then about the merits of the case? According to the PCB, the accusations cannot be taken seriously because it has yet to be shown through forensic evidence that the incriminating video was made before the no-balls in question.
Let us take this argument seriously because it appears to be not just the last, but the only, line of defence for Butt & Co.
Logically speaking, there are two options. Option One is that the tape is what it purports to be. Option Two is that the tape is an elaborate hoax concocted after the fact by Majeed and the News of the World acting together.
Majeed is a successful businessman whose business includes, but is not limited to, acting as the agent for Pakistani cricketers. If the video is a hoax, then Majeed knew about it. And if he knew about it, he was either indulging some sick whim or was deliberately trying to destroy his own business. There is no evidence to show, nor has it been alleged to date, that Majeed and the reporter in question were friends who decided to film a hoax for laughs.
Assuming it was not a joke, the question arises as to why a sane man would cooperate with a news reporter in the making of a video which would destroy his own livelihood and leaving him facing the possibility of serious jail time? If it was a joke, why did the reporter go to the trouble of getting GBP 150,000 in marked notes and why did Majeed then pass those marked notes on to Pakistani cricketers? If it was a joke, why did Aamer overstep the line by a good 14 inches? Are we to believe that a young man hailed far and wide as the best new cricketer in decades somehow made a mistake of larger proportions than ever before in his entire international career?
The rule of logic known as Occam’s Razor states that all else being equal, the simplest answer is most likely correct. It is possible in theory that the tape is part of a gigantic conspiracy but it is about as likely as Ejaz Butt being an alien from Mars.
At present though, the issue is not the guilt of Pakistan’s cricketers but our ham-handed response to the accusations. By refusing to accept the obvious, Ejaz Butt & Co. have compounded our problems. Before, we were a nation with a few crooks. Today, the world sees us as a nation of crooks, period. The fact that Mr. Butt has in the process grossly insulted not just the ICC and the rest of the international cricketing world but the one country which has done the most to help Pakistan cricket in recent years only compounds our misery.
Let us not forget that the current series with England was preceded by a “home” series in which Pakistan played Australia in English grounds. The ECB lost money on those matches but they took the position that it was a worthy cause. They have already announced that they have no intention of being equally charitable in the future.
It does not seem that we, as a nation, are ever going to have the courtesy to apologise to the English. That is a shame. The game of cricket is a gift which the English gave us. Some day we will remember how to respect it. And them.