Cricket: Pakistan alleges network of bribe-takers

Cricket's Betting Scandal
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The Independent Online
IN THE teeming bazaars of this Pakistani city the mood this past week was, if not jubilant, then at least smug. While almost every Pakistani will admit that their country is deeply corrupt, few like to be told so, especially by white, English-speaking foreigners who tend to beat them at their national sport.

There was thus a certain amount of satisfaction at the Warne-Waugh revelations this week. Since Mark Waugh, Shane Warne and Tim May accused Salim Malik of trying to bribe them during Australia's 1994 tour most of the nation has been transfixed by the affair. Other charges have surfaced, notably about a one-day game in Christchurch, New Zealand, and a Sharjah Cup match between India and Pakistan in 1994.

During the week, from the beaches of the Arabian sea to the 12,000ft plateaux of the high Himalayas where boys play across terraced fields with one boundary 150 feet lower than the other, news reports have been carefully translated from the English-language papers and handed out or read to the illiterate from the Urdu press.

The charges against Malik especially were felt, in this fiercely proud and slightly neurotic cricket-mad country, to be an attack on the whole nation's honour. Next week the president of Pakistan himself was due to receive the report of Justice Malik Mohammed Qayyum, the senior judge appointed by the government to head the latest investigation into the affair.

But now the judge has let it be known that his work is not yet complete. No doubt anxious to leave no stone unturned, nor any opportunity for delay unsavoured, he issued a summons yesterday for the disgraced Australians to appear before him again on 19 December. This was promptly followed by a spokesman for the Pakistan Cricket Board adding that the judge had no great expectation that the two would fulfil this engagement. Thus, no doubt, creating the possibility of a book being opened on the prospects of them actually turning up.

Few believe that Justice Qayyum will be able finally to tell the nation and a waiting world what happened. Two other investigations, by the "Probe Committee" of the Pakistan Cricket Board and by a judge appointed by the sports committee of the Senate - the upper house in parliament - have run into the sand. Though players made detailed statements about alleged incidents of match-fixing to both inquiries their evidence was deemed to be inconclusive. After witness statements named Wasim Akram, Ijaz Ahmed and Malik in connection with match-fixing, the Probe Committee recommended that they should not be considered for selection for the national team "to save youngsters and new entrants in the game from being affected further and spoiled by the soiling atmosphere". The PCB executive committee controversially ignored their advice.

Until this week most journalists in Pakistan had made up their minds, both about the guilt or innocence of the players and about the chances of the inquiries proving anything either way. Writing in the respected Friday Times, Muhammad Shan Gul, a senior sports writer, commented: "If our national players are involved in match-fixing, and it doesn't take a genius to figure that they are, then it all happens telephonically... Most of the transactions are verbal so... the chances of investigators stumbling across evidence is slim."

Perhaps the only thing that has so far come out of Qayyum's inquiry is a glimpse into the shady world of South Asian bookmakers. Though gambling is prohibited in Islam and banned in Pakistan it is big business none the less and the men involved make little effort to hide the source of their often fabulous wealth. Twenty-nine alleged bookies have been called before the inquiry - many of whom live in huge houses in Lahore or Karachi and are close to politicians or senior military figures.

According to one local source their deals are done openly in big hotels, often with half a visiting team sitting a bare 50 metres away. "I sat in the coffee bar of one big hotel while the brown envelopes were handed to players. Half their team-mates were around but no one seemed to bat an eye-lid," he said.

After an initial meeting - when money changes hands - all further contacts are by telephone. From statements given to the PCB it would seem that the going rate for throwing a one-day game is $10,000 for each player although Aamir Sohail was reported to have told the committee that four years ago, he had been offered $120,000 to get himself out before scoring 10 runs and to get his opening partner, Saeed Anwar, run out too.

The question now being asked is who else might be involved and what other big names might be revealed when Qayyum presents his report. Many Pakistanis believe that a global network of bribe-taking players will be exposed. Some seriously believe that the whole affair is all actually a plot by the Indian secret services or the Americans to destabilise Pakistan.

However, Fareshta Gati-Aslam, a cricket correspondent for The News who gave evidence to the inquiry, is more phlegmatic. She said that no new foreign players, or governments for that matter, had been named in any hearings. Despite the hopes of nationalists and conspiracy theorists it appears that this is one scandal born and bred in Pakistan.

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