by Wasim Abid & Jawad Rehman
The second edition of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) has recently concluded. Peshawar Zalmi takes the crown by beating Quetta Gladiators in the PSL final that was held in Lahore on 5th March 2017. The people of Pakistan witnessed a return of sorts of international cricket back on Pakistani soil since the short Zimbabwean tour of Pakistan in May 2015. The PSL final, which was staged in Lahore, was not without drama, and unfortunate as it was, the whole event was highly politicized. The primary contention was whether the final should be staged in Lahore in the aftermath of a spree of suicide attacks which hit the country in February 2017 – including one in Lahore.
Imran Khan – a former Pakistani cricket team captain turned politician, heavily criticized the Pakistan Cricket Board’s (PCB) decision to stage the PSL final in Lahore. He argued that given the current security situation, it is not a responsible step to hold the PSL final in Lahore, or for that matter, in Pakistan. According to him, holding the PSL final amid large deployment of security personnel will not do any good to Pakistan Cricket or bolster the return of international cricket to Pakistan; the massive security structure deployed for the event would portray Pakistan as an unsafe destination and the process would be counterintuitive. By placing extended emphasis on the security infrastructure for the single day event through the deployment of a large number of security personnel, and blocking all routes leading to the Gaddafi stadium, would just tarnish its international image. However, the PCB administration in consultation with the Punjab Government and other law enforcement agencies went ahead and hosted the PSL final in Lahore on 5th March 2017, and after 2009, for the first time, the country saw a festive and emotionally charged environment.
Thankfully no unfortunate incident took place during or after the final and all criticisms were put to rest therein. As a matter of opinion, the PCB administration and the Punjab Government took an extremely bold step by hosting the PSL final in Lahore. Though a number of foreign players for Quetta Gladiators withdrew from the final citing security concerns, a few renowned names in the international arena did participate in the final. By successfully conducting this event, PCB and the Punjab Government deserves a pat on the back and one can hope that this marks the return of international cricket in Pakistan. Despite critisim from certain quarters, the government was able to ascertain that at the very least, it can hold international sports event. The PSL event follows the Economic Corporation Organization (ECO) Summit held in Islamabad on the 1st March, 2017, and was attended by head of states and high level dignitaries from nine countries. This helped in furthering the notion that amongst past turbulence, Pakistan is on the road to recovery and that it can organize international events and complete and proper security arrangements will be made for its guests to make them feel secure. There is no doubt that the hosting of the final involving a few foreign players was just the first step in restoring international cricket in Pakistan, but the fact is that step had to be taken at some point in time to make a case before the international community. That step has been taken, and it has been taken successfully given the huge risks involved. The issues were hotly debated in the media by politicians, politicizing the issue to score points. However, now that the final has taken place, politics should be kept aside and complete support should be extended to the PCB administration by all political parties to ensure the restoration of international cricket in Pakistan. There are rumors of a World XI touring Pakistan later this year. No pertinent details have been made publically available on that matter to date. We can only hope and wish that should that event happen here, it will create a positive stage for the return of international cricket to Pakistan.
Following the success of the first edition of PSL in 2016, the second edition had also proven to be a success. The nation, which has limited avenues of entertainment, finally found itself a source of entertainment for about a month in a year. The quality of cricket played was decent but the nail biting finishes in few of the matches provided the drama that every cricket loving fan hopes for and looks forward to in a cricket match. The final in Lahore was a disappointment in terms of quality as it was a one-sided affair, but the tournament as a whole was fun to watch and perhaps worth every penny for those who were present in the Dubai and Sharjah Cricket Stadiums.
But what was not worth watching, and largely disappointing and heart breaking to say the least, was the spot fixing scandal that surfaced after the glamorous opening ceremony and the first match of the PSL. Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif of Islamabad United were suspended for alleged involvement in spot fixing by the PCB. Both players have represented Pakistan at international level and were sent home immediately. Rumors kept circulating that few other players were also involved in the spot fixing scandal but no one was suspended during the tournament. It is only last week that Mohammad Irfan of Islamabad United and Shahzaib Hassan of Karachi Kings — both who previously represented Pakistan at international level — were also suspended by the PCB for not disclosing to the authorities about being contacted by the bookies. As per the code of conduct, the players are to notify authorities concerned as soon as any suspicious contact has been made with them. The players are properly briefed prior to every tournament and hence a failure to report such a contact was the reason for Irfan’s and Shahzaib’s suspension. All four suspended players, i.e. Sharjeel, Khalid, Irfan and Shahzaib, have been given a charge sheet by the PCB. All four have denied the charges leveled against them and the matter is now to be proceeded by the PCB Tribunal.
Since the matter is under trial, one cannot at this stage state any opinion about whether the players are guilty or not. But this is not the first time such a scandal has erupted. Back in 2010, Pakistan was rocked and shocked by a similar scandal when the team was touring England. The then Pakistan Test Captain, Salman Butt, and fast bowling duo, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, were found guilty of spot fixing. These three players have served their respective bans and Mohammad Amir is now back playing for Pakistan.
The precedent that has been set by the PCB to allow Amir to come back and represent the country is, in my opinion, a bad one. The trial of the accused in the PSL spot fixing scandal is under way and thr harshest possible sentences should be handed out to all the players who are found guilty. This is an offence which cannot be let go off and no leniency should be extended. A life ban on cricket should just be the starting point of the sentence. At least 7-10 years of prison time should be imposed along with return of all the money that has been made through ill-gotten means. It appears that the PCB is taking this issue seriously, as it should.
The precedent set by allowing Mohammad Amir to return and play international cricket has perhaps sent a message to some quarters that one can get away with such a criminal offence of selling your country for a few bucks. This notion has to be done away with and regardless of how good and talented a player is, and regardless of what his age is, strict punishment must be meted out to all those who are found guilty for breach of trust, playing fraud with the emotions of this nation and for tarnishing the image of Pakistan worldwide. Pakistan Penal Code defines all these acts as serious criminal offences for which serious penalties are prescribed. We hope the PCB, after conducting a fair trial, imposes strict punishment on all those who are found guilty.
In addition to imposing strict punishments on the guilty players, PCB should take steps to educate the young players on the issue of spot fixing and how serious the issue actually is. PCB should maybe develop an intelligence unit to monitor the activities of both its international and domestic players to ensure that the code of conduct is strictly followed and the tendency to make easy money through spot fixing is completely eradicated. We, as a cricket loving nation, have already suffered at the hands of terrorists and are deprived of international cricket at home. Let’s not develop criminals in our team and destroy the game that we all love so much. No individual is bigger than the game. Whoever is guilty should be banned for life and never allowed to play any form of cricket.