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Three Pakistanis receive 5-year Bans for Match-Fixing
« on: February 10, 2011, 07:39:42 PM »
February 9, 2011

Cricket Scandal Stirs Memories of Baseball's Dark Moments


LONDON — The bans for spot-fixing imposed last weekend on the Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir are far from the end of the matter. It is much likelier that, as Winston Churchill said of the Battle of El Alamein in World War II, they are the end of the beginning.

There now is a judgment, beyond that of the newspaper investigation that first made the accusations, that the players are indeed guilty of modifying their play to guarantee spot bets during a tour of England last summer. Each player has received a ban of at least five years.

Amir, though, has already announced his intention of appealing to international sport’s de facto supreme court, the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

“I am innocent, and I was confident they would clear me,” Amir told Reuters upon returning home to Pakistan after receiving the verdict from the International Cricket Council tribunal. “The ban came as a total shock. We are waiting for the I.C.C. to release the detailed judgment of the tribunal, after which we will decide what to do, but we have made up our minds to appeal the ban in the first instance.”

The players and their lawyers have now received those detailed judgments. They have not, though, been generally released because the players are also facing criminal charges in the United Kingdom. The I.C.C. fears that releasing the judgments would prejudice those proceedings, due to begin March 17.

If found guilty, the players could go to prison. There are also, though, serious implications for the I.C.C. The law under which the players are being charged, the “conspiracy to cheat” provision of the 2005 Gaming Act, is untested. While Mervyn Westfield, an Englishman who played for the Essex county club, faces a court appearance after being charged with spot-fixing, he has not been charged with conspiracy. Guilty verdicts against the Pakistan players would reinforce the tribunal findings, but a failure to convict would inevitably undermine them.

And then there is the likelihood of Amir’s seeking to resume his career when his suspension ends. Even if his appeal fails and he serves the full five years of his suspension, he will be only 23 when he regains eligibility.

He is not the only player who would return to sports after being banned. The N.F.L. this season saw the triumphant resurrection of quarterback Michael Vick in his second year since returning to the league. But however ugly Vick’s dog-fighting activities were, they did not directly relate to his involvement in football. Spot-fixing strikes at the sport itself, undermining its integrity.

The closer parallel is with what happened in baseball in 1919. If Amir is able to return in 2015 — the ban is backdated to when he was suspended last September — it will be as if Shoeless Joe Jackson of the Chicago White Sox had been able to return to baseball in 1924, instead of being cast out for life, as he and seven others were for intentionally losing games in the 1919 World Series, known since as the “Black Sox” scandal.

There is little sympathy in cricket for Butt, who had the responsibilities of captaincy, or Asif, a player with a record of disciplinary infractions. But there is some sympathy, with echoes of Shoeless Joe, for Amir.

Like the Chicago fan who asked Jackson to “Say it ain’t so,” the former England captain Nasser Hussain’s response to the first reports of allegations against the Pakistan players was “Please, anybody but the kid.”

There is more than disappointment at a special talent found wanting.

Just as nobody cast Jackson as a ring-leader, there is a widespread feeling that some allowance should be made for Amir’s youth and the likelihood that he was led astray by his seniors. As the former England player Victor Marks wrote last weekend, “Most 18-year-olds, upon entering an international dressing room, simply do as they are told.”

Like Jackson, who batted .375 in the fixed 1919 World Series, Amir clearly was trying most of the time. The day of the fatal no-balls awarded for his overstepping the bowling crease also saw him demolish England’s top order batting by taking six wickets, one of the best-ever performances by a bowler of his age.

None of this means, and nobody is suggesting, that Amir should not have been punished. If five years seemed harsh to some, England captain Andrew Strauss pointed out, “The important thing with any punishment for those sorts of things is that it sends a very strong message to people that might be tempted to do it in the future.”

But what happens once that punishment has been served? Is the player convicted of fixing deemed eternally damned and shunned by the game, or is the possibility of redemption accepted and Amir allowed to return for what could still be a long and prosperous career? Only one thing, to echo yet another baseball saying, is certain: It isn’t over.