Cricket stars caught out over mugging claims

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The Independent Online
FIRST there was the national shame. Last week two members of the Pakistani cricket squad were reported to have been mugged in the early hours in Sandton, one of Johannesburg's plushest suburbs and destination of an army of international tourists.

As photographs of the key bowlers Mohammed Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq displaying their cuts and bruises were published in newspapers, the national hand-wringing began. The start of the international Test series between South Africa and Pakistan had to be delayed because the Pakistanis did not have enough men to field a team. South African blushes could be seen in Karachi.

But there are now rumours that it is Pakistan, not South Africa, which should be embarrassed. For there are allegations that Akram and Mushtaq received their injuries in a fight at what is coyly referred to as a hostess club. International cricket officials are denying allegations that the two men in fact made up the mugging story to save their blushes.

South Africans, carrying the heavy burden of their country being the international capital of a host of violent crimes can hardly stop sniggering. But even if it can be proved that the players concocted the tale - and we may never know - the damage is done. The one-day delay in the Test cost millions of rands. The cost to tourism in South Africa may be much higher. Even if the story is disproved, reports have already circled the globe, further blackening South Africa's law and order reputation.

Yesterday, police said they were still trying to obtain statements from the men about their alleged assault by "black" men driving a "blue" car. The players were said to be under medication and unable to make a statement. The police have already said they can find no witnesses to the assault.

Meanwhile, there are press reports of an affidavit from a club hostess who says the cricketers were sitting happily in the club at the time of the alleged attack, and that they got into a brawl later.

South African police have launched themselves into solving the case with uncharacteristic vigour. This weekend the Pakistani team, which has complained of poor security, is being offered bodyguards for its matches in Durban. Whether that is to protect them from muggers or irate South African cricket fans is unclear.