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Decision time

Whether it’s the alleged corruption scandal or the selection of our national teams, Pakistan’s cricket authorities will have to show competence and foresight. That’s the only way our cricket can continue to go forward

Decision time
Kamran Akmal.

The Pakistan Super League is over. But the corruption scandal which almost ruined its second edition is still giving our cricket authorities nightmares. That’s because it’s far from over.

Next week, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) will resume its investigations into the alleged scam that forced the PSL chiefs to provisionally suspend two of the country’s leading top-order batsmen in the T20 format – Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif. The duo which was supposed to play the lead role in Islamabad United’s title defence was sent back home at the start of the league in Dubai last month. They are now facing strict punishment, most likely a life ban if found guilty of corruption charges.

The Board has summoned two more players – fast bowler Mohammad Irfan and opening batsman Shahzaib Hasan — for questioning at the PCB headquarters in Lahore. Both the players were questioned by the anti-corruption officials in Dubai soon after the scandal broke out but unlike Sharjeel and Khalid, they were given a clean chit to play in the PSL.

But despite that early reprieve, both of them could be in deep trouble. Well-placed sources told ‘The News on Sunday’ that there is evidence of possible wrongdoing against both Irfan and Shahzaib even though the players claim that they reported approaches made to them on the sidelines of the PSL. The PCB has also dropped a strong hint that all might not be well by overlooking Irfan from the 31-man preliminary squad that it has recently announced for the forthcoming tour of the West Indies. Shahzaib is also not part of the provisional list but due to the batsman’s indifferent form he was never in contention to make his Pakistan comeback.

The duo of Sharjeel and Khalid, meanwhile, face a three-man tribunal appointed by the PCB to investigate the PSL corruption scandal. Headed by former Lahore High Court judge Asghar Haider, the tribunal includes former PCB chief General Tauqir Zia and ex-Test cricketer Wasim Bari. In a more recent development, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has announced that he has ordered Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to conduct a thorough inquiry into the alleged corruption scandal, stressing that the issue has put the country’s reputation at stake. It’s a grave matter considering the fact that if found guilty, Sharjeel and Khalid and maybe more players could be facing criminal charges in addition to a life ban. Remember, the spot-fixing trio – Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir – had to serve prison sentences in Britain for their roles in the 2010 scandal.

Ahmed Shehzad.

Ahmed Shehzad.

It is very important for Pakistan cricket that this matter is handled in the best possible manner. There is already a lot of hue and cry about it with some skeptics even alleging that the Board is planning to make scapegoat out of Sharjeel and Khalid. If they are guilty they should b.e handed exemplary punishment. If there are more culprits then they should also be punished in equal measure. There can’t be any double standards. There can’t be any cover-ups. Because that would further tarnish the reputation of PSL and as a result Pakistan cricket will suffer.

Meanwhile, the national team’s think-tank has now switched its focus on the upcoming tour of the Caribbean islands. The selectors have recalled the likes of previously discarded players Kamran Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad in the provisional squad for the West Indies’ tour. They have also included promising newcomers like spinners Shadab Khan and Usama Mir, Usman Shinwari, Hussain Talat and a few others. All of these players made their presence felt in the PSL and have been duly rewarded by getting shortlisted for an important tour.

It remains debatable whether PSL is a big enough platform to earn a national call-up. I mean, it has emerged as a fabulous T20 league with a lot of close, juicy encounters. But a T20 league is a T20 league. You can’t compare it with proper, cut-throat international cricket. Our cricket chiefs brought back Mohammad Sami as a reward for his heroics for Islamabad United in the inaugural PSL last year. The fast bowler was even included in the line-up for the ICC World Twenty20 championship in India but was discarded again after Pakistan’s catastrophic showing in the event. This year again Sami was one of the success stories of the PSL but this time he was overlooked. However, Kamran Akmal got lucky after winning the man of the tournament award for his prolific form during the league’s second edition. Kamran, who hasn’t played for Pakistan since the spring of 2014, was the only batsman to hit a PSL century this season. He was of the reasons behind Peshawar Zalmi’s title-winning triumph. He was the top run-getter of the league with 353 runs.

Before the PSL, Kamran piled up 1,035 runs in the country’s premier first-class tournament and another 361 in the National One-day Cup in the 2016-17 season.

Shehzad, who was axed after last year’s World Twenty2o championship, has also been in prolific form as he finished as top scorer in the National One-day Cup with 653 runs which earned him a recall.

The case of Kamran Akmal is a bit different from Shehzad’s. The 35-year-old stumper can only return to Pakistan’s playing XI as a specialist batsman due to the fact that Sarfraz Ahmed has cemented his place as Pakistan’s first-choice wicketkeeper. It doesn’t sound like a good idea just like Sami’s return last year.

Shehzad, meanwhile, can benefit from Sharjeel’s exit. With the big-hitting left-hander out of the picture, Pakistan will need a batsman who can give them quick starts at the top of the order both in One-day Internationals and Twenty20 matches. With a series of quickfire PSL knocks, Shehzad has once again reminded national selectors of his stroke-making abilities.

Whether it’s the alleged PSL corruption scandal or the selection of our national teams, Pakistan’s cricket authorities will have to show competence and foresight. That’s the only way our cricket can continue to go forward.

Khalid Hussain

khalid hussain
The author is Editor Sports of The News. He can be reached at khalid.hussain@thenews.com.pk

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