“When a bunch of rogues you share the dressing room with are fighting tooth and nail to lose a match, it kills your desire to play the game, and whips up a desire to kill them”, writes cricketer-turned-analyst Ramiz Raja, in one of his recent articles posted on the most well-known cricket website of the world. He has expressed his apprehensions at length on attempts of bringing Muhammad Amir back in the Pakistani team. After all, after years of perseverance, our team has started creating a niche for itself in international cricket. Sending a tarnished player in its folds may turn out to be counterproductive. Even the PCB chairman has himself recently admitted that current players are reluctant to play with Amir.
True that the players currently representing the country may not be the best, as far as natural talent or acquired skills are concerned, yet there is no doubt as to their hard work and commitment. Now if any such player is sacrificed to make way for Amir, what message would this give to the budding players? If you are talented, you can get away with anything, even if it means selling the honour of your country for few bucks. Right?
The return of Amir can be damaging in another manner too as it may lead to a new trend in the world of match-fixing. Thenceforth, the bookies would approach a player to fix a match, or part of it, with kind of insurance that if at all he is caught fixing, the bookie would compensate him monetarily for all the years he would remain under ban, based on his average likely income, plus some additional compensation.
Many argue that Amir was too young when he erred. One may humbly ask, should not then all those who get involved in criminal acts at tender ages, from simple mobile snatching to large scale bank robberies, be pardoned?
Others say, he has undergone his share of punishment and should be brought back in the team. Well, now that he has completed the court sentence, he can resume his day to day life, but bringing him back as a cricketer is neither an obligation nor recommended. What if a cashier of a bank is caught for embezzlement of funds, prosecuted against, sentenced, completes his prison term, and comes out. Would, on same argument, anyone appoint him the cashier of the bank again?
The matter is actually much more complex and deeper than many of the persons — some regrettably in the PCB — believe. Already, the PCB is blamed to be too complacent when it comes to dealing with indiscipline and other similar acts and omissions. Raja listed smoking pot, fixing matches, using banned substances, forfeiting a Test match, biting a cricket ball, scuffing up the pitch on purpose, hitting a team-mate with a bat, and spot-fixing as some of the transgressions that Pakistani players had been guilty of, in recent years. Of all the listed, fixing is the worst in its nature as well as impact since it is tantamount to betraying one’s entire nation. Now instead of taking it head on, those at the helms of affairs are pressing the ICC that they should be allowed to “fast-track” fixers back in team!
If, however, sanity prevails at the PCB headquarters, and they too decide not to show any flexibility, whatsoever, and start fixing the fixing itself, a comprehensive strategy comprising three main elements, i.e. education, supervision and implementation, would have to be followed.
As regards educating the cricketers, detailed guidelines and codes of conduct should be prepared clearly stating what acts are permitted and what are not. New legislation may also need to be introduced providing strict penalties for match-fixing and its other variants. Seminars and workshops should then regularly be arranged to brief players on the legislative as well as regulatory frameworks which oversee the game of cricket, nationally as well as internationally. It should be mandatory for every player, who starts a first-class career, or joins the national team, to attend such seminars and workshops. A well designed assessment should be carried out at the conclusion of these sessions to assess what players are taking out of them. If a player does not show satisfactory knowledge in the assessment, he should be made to go through the whole exercise again.
Effective supervision constitutes second element of the strategy. In this regard, intelligence gathering would also have to be resorted to in suspicious cases. Bank accounts, income statements, tax returns etc should be closely monitored. Players may be required to submit a bond on joining the national team that they would give access to the aforementioned information as well as their phone and other communication records as and when required by the supervising agency. However, in order to avoid misuse and undue harassment such an access should be sought in those cases only where there is credible evidence that something has gone, or is going, wrong. Whistle-blowing should also be encouraged and any player coming forth with important information should be assured of anonymity as well as immunity from legal action.
As regards implementation, all relevant laws, rules and codes of conduct should be strictly adhered to. If and when someone is found deviating, one should be taken to task. No regard should be shown for the age, seniority or talent of the erring player in such circumstances. The institution of team manager would have to be strengthened for the purpose. The report and recommendations made by the managers after the conclusion of every tournament or series should be given due consideration so that each and every player knows that if he does not follow the manager’s instructions, he might have to face fines or bans of various durations. No matter how great or talented a player is, message should go to all and sundry, loud and clear, that no one is bigger than the game itself.