By Nishad Pai Vaidya
"It is a shameful and embarrassing day for us today as a nation.” – Imran Khan
Imran Khan, one of the most passionate and respected voices of Pakistan cricket, echoed the pain and anguish of Pakistani every cricket fan in his country. While the world describes the recent events in the spot-fixing saga as a shameful period for the game of cricket, it is Imran’s statement that truly describes the feeling of the cricket fan, whose passionate support for the national team has been rewarded with deceit by the same men whom he looked up to.
A historic judgment sentenced the tainted trio of Salman Butt, Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif to prison terms. The last two days will go down in the annals of cricket history as the darkest days in the sport that was once called the “gentlemen’s game”. The verdict sends out a strong deterrent message for potential fixers willing to sell their nation’s interest for filthy money.
Fans in the subcontinent place their players on a high pedestal and give them the utmost love and adulation. When the same players get involved in such scandals they feel betrayed. But public memory is short. In general people are quick to forget the happenings of the past and move on with their lives. The same condemned cricketers get back to public life and regain some of their lost respect. Mohammad Azharuddin and Manoj Prabhakar were banned for their alleged involvement in match-fixing around 2000-01, but Azharuddin is now a Member of Parliament and Prabhakar has coached a few domestic sides.
It is for this reason why the judgment by the Southwark Crown Court augurs well for the future. In the past whenever players may have considered such offers, their greed would have told them that the probability of them being caught was slim and even if they were apprehended they would, at the most, be banned. At the back of their minds, they knew that the public would accept them after sometime and they would be able to live a luxurious life with their ill-gotten wealth.
The jail sentences of the Pakistani trio have changed the equations now. A jail term becomes a scar for life and the other variables such as public acceptance would hardly matter after a player serves his sentence. He would have to live with the fact that he was imprisoned for the rest of his life and nothing else would help change that. Players would now think twice before cheating.
When India bore the brunt of the match fixing saga in 2000-01, they had a good crop of cricketers to take them through those tough times. Sourav Ganguly’s legacy is not limited to the wins he accumulated but also the way he led the Indian team out of that traumatic period. He had the support of players with unquestionable integrity such as Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble. Indian cricket should thank their stars as they had this fantastic group during such a testing phase.
Under Misbah-ul-haq, Pakistan are slowly but surely rebuilding and pulling themselves out of the hole. The scandal may have taken place last year but the wounds would have reopened after the verdict. Misbah needs to play the Ganguly role and he needs to have the backing of the likes of Younis Khan, Mohammed Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal. The fans in Pakistan need the team they deserve.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")