The seeds were sown Down Under. The Pakistan cricket team toured the country during the Australian summer of 2009-10 for three Tests, five One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and a lone Twenty20 International (T20I). Mohammad Yousuf's team lost all nine matches.
Ijaz Butt, then chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), was not willing to let the team off easily. When the battered squad returned to Pakistan, Butt said that "more than significant action" would be taken against the players. On March 10, 2010, coincidentally his 72nd birthday, Butt let the sword loose on seven Pakistani players who he thought were the main culprits of the catastrophic tour.
Captain Yousuf and his predecessor, Younis Khan, were banned from playing for Pakistan in any format for an indefinite period. "Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan, keeping in view their infighting which resulted in bringing down the whole team, their attitude has a trickledown effect which is a bad influence for the whole team, should not be part of national team in any format," a PCB statement read.
The board also handed out one-year bans to Shoaib Malik and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan. Shahid Afridi, who was caught biting the seam off the ball during the tour, and the Akmal brothers, Kamran and Umar, were fined a couple of million Pakistani rupees for various misdemeanours and put on six-month probations.
The PCB's decision, especially the indefinite bans on the veterans Yousuf and Younis, was met with nationwide outrage and prompted the burning of bats in the city of Hyderabad in Pakistan's Sindh province. Six hours after the initial statement was released, the PCB issued another circular clarifying that "the recommendation of the committee is not a life ban on these cricketers [Yousuf and Younis]. There is no specified term in the recommendation for these two players. As and when the PCB deems appropriate, these players will be considered for selection for the national team."
Butt, meanwhile, was unperturbed with all the criticism spewed upon him. "I am not apologetic," he told the Guardian. "I think the board has taken the right decision and such strong action was urgently required to put Pakistan cricket back on the right track. This problem of indiscipline and groupings in the team has been festering for a while now and we thought this was the best time to take action.
"We are not worried about the consequences of our action. There is no shortage of talent in Pakistan and we want players to remember they have to give 100 percent to the country and follow the code of conduct."
With both Yousuf and Younis being on the wrong side of 30, not many expected them to play for Pakistan again, at least till Butt was still at the helm. Yousuf's case was particularly perplexing, as he hadn't done anything so grave as to warrant an indefinite ban. He wasn't the first captain to experience a total series whitewash and had agreed to undertake leadership of the side after Younis had unceremoniously given up in 2009 following match-fixing allegations.
In Younis's case, a source told the Guardian: "I think the message to Younis is that they have had enough with his antics. Constantly resigning, not having the support of players, things like that."
As for Malik and Rana, their names had cropped up in cases related to creating an unrest within the team, although there was no substantial proof to back the claims. The Akmal brothers were fined for their behaviour following the Sydney Test: Kamran was dropped after the game, but publicly said that he would be picked for the third; Umar had allegedly feigned injury in order to not play the third Test in protest. Eventually, he did play.
Waqar Younis, who was to coach the side during the 2010 Twenty20 World Cup, told ESPNcricinfo: "It's a huge shock for me, definitely. I want to speak to the board about it to get more details on it before saying more...It is a big step the board has taken and I hope they have solid evidence for taking the actions that they have taken. All evidence must be there and they must have spoken to a lot of people for this. Once a player is banned, it is a label you have put on him so it is a big thing."
The PCB said that its six-member inquiry committee, headed by its chief operating officer Wasim Bari, had based its recommendations on information gathered during several hearings with the players and reports from the team management.
At the end of March, Yousuf announced his retirement from international cricket in protest. "I have received a letter from the PCB suggesting that my presence in the team is harmful for the team and so I announce my retirement from international cricket," Yousuf said. "I thank fans around the world, all the senior players and family members for supporting me throughout my 12-year career. I have always played for my country and if my playing is harmful for the team then I don't want to play."
However, Yousuf and Younis were both recalled by Pakistan to the national squad after a dismal start to the England tour that August. Rana never played for Pakistan again, despite completing successful stints in the English county season. The rest of the four players continue to play for the team.
Ironically, the person who's reputation, probably, took the most severe hit was Butt himself. The Pakistani media had a field day(s) lambasting the septuagenerian while the whole saga unfolded. Butt was also PCB chief when the 2009 Lahore terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team unfurled, and the spot-fixing scandal during the 2010 England tour obviously did not help. Butt was finally replaced by the incumbent Zaka Ashraf in October, 2011.
(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn't fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber )
First Published: March 10, 2013, 5:58 pm