No doubt the majority of people reading this post will think that five years isn’t enough. When the words ‘Pakistani’ and ‘fixing’ are placed in the same sentence, cricket fans’ blood pressure goes through the roof. In fact, public hanging and disembowelling probably isn’t enough for some people – and I’d agree, if we were talking about Ricky Ponting. Not that Ponting has done much wrong since his infamous spat with the umpires at Melbourne. I just want to see Punter disembowelled for the fun of it.
Now before the cricketing right start jumping up and down (and start calling for life bans for ultra liberal cricket blog writers) let me make one thing clear. Nobody at The Full Toss thinks that spot fixing should be condoned. What Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir did is inexcusable. Nobody should be able to bring the game into disrepute and get away with it. But the five year bans handed down by the ICC are surely too harsh.
Let’s look at what the offenders did in isolation. Two poorly paid Pakistan cricketers, one of whom is just a teenager, bowled two noballs during a test match. The noballs in question had no effect on the outcome of the game. In fact, if it wasn’t for The News of the World, the incident would have gone unnoticed. It wasn’t like the Pakistan v Australia test match at Sydney a few months beforehand (which blatantly raised eyebrows).
Please don’t think I’m dismissing the broader implications of spot fixing and match fixing. Corruption in cricket should be wiped off the map. But I cannot escape the feeling that the ICC have made an example of Butt, Asif and Amir. When the authorities make an example of anyone, it is inherently unfair. The punishment should always fit the crime.
When Shahid Afridi was banned for ball tampering (actual cheating) last year, he received a two game ban. Is manipulating two ultimately inconsequential balls of a test match a more heinous crime? And what about other sports? Athletes who take drugs (again obvious cheating) often get two year bans and then continue their careers. Just ask Dwain Chambers. And let’s not forget events at the Oval in the infamous forfeited test. If you tamper with the ball the penalty is five runs. If you spot-fix two balls the punishment is five years! How does that make sense?
In my opinion, Butt, Amir and Asif have been punished for other people’s crimes as well as their own. I cannot believe the committee which handed out their punishments wasn’t thinking of the Sydney debacle and other suspicious events. Should Amir be punished extra hard because Kamran Akmal and other players allegedly threw the SCG test?
When the likes of Hanse Cronje received life bans for match-fixing (clearly a worse offence), they were up to ears in corruption and had ties with the underworld. As far as we know, Mohammad Amir was only in the pocket of his agent. There is nothing to suggest, in Amir’s case, that his spot fixing at Lords was the tip of the iceberg. He should be tried on the basis of events at Lords, not imagined (or assumed) further crimes.
Consequently, I believe that a two or three year ban would have sufficed. Remember, the cricketers involved still face criminal proceedings too. Their punishments could get a lot worse. Furthermore, has one incidence of spot-fixing damaged cricket anymore than the absurd scheduling of the international calendar – including, of course, the mind numbing seven match CB series at the end of the Ashes?
If the primary argument for punishing Butt, Amir and Asif so severely is that they’ve undermined the credibility of cricket, surely nothing does that more effectively than the scheduling of unnecessary matches involving fatigued teams that cannot perform to the best of their abilities.
The CB series has devalued cricket, exhausted the players, short-changed the public (who have paid good money to watch an exhausted England side struggle to stay awake), and totally ruined England’s preparations for the World Cup – six of our players have now gone home injured.
The protracted series also means our cricketers will get just three days at home before they fly to the ICC’s showpiece – an event that’s scheduled to finish in early April. If England get to the final – a big ‘if’ considering that we’ll probably struggle to find XI fit players – the likes of Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen would have spent just three days at home in six months. It’s simply ridiculous.
What is the bigger crime? What devalues cricket more? Manipulating two deliveries out of a possible 2,700 (the maximum number balls in a test match) or a schedule that has created a number of meaningless ODIs – matches which also put players at risk of injury/burn out. A fatigued cricketer is just as likely to underperform as one that’s been tapped up to bowl a couple of noballs – no matter how despicable defrauding bookmakers may be.