Imran 'tempted' to suspend all internationals

Exclusive: A legend of the game says a desperate situation requires drastic action

The cricket world this past week has resembled a community dazed by the aftershocks of some natural disaster. No one remains untouched when such seismic events occur and, within cricket, even its most charismatic heroes are left saddened by it all.

Imran Khan, however, feels angry, too, about what cricket's great betting scandal has already exposed, and fearful about what has yet to be revealed.

Pakistan's World Cup-winning former captain may be immersed in his political career these days, but he still holds firm views on the game he graced for more than 20 years. In an exclusive interview with the Independent on Sunday, he has warned world cricket that the fall-out from the "Cronjegate" explosion is likely to cause far greater devastation.

Imran has decided to speak out about what he regards as the "pomposity" of South African cricket supremo Ali Bacher and the hypocrisy of those who said match-fixing was purely a disease of the subcontinent, besides issuing a challenge to the International Cricket Council and the governing body's chief executive, David Richards.

The only safe prediction that can be made with conviction, in the wake of a week of shame, is that the dust is far from settled in the Hansie Cronje affair. Imran, in fact, is explicit as he calls it "the most serious issue" ever to have afflicted the sport.

Speaking from his home in Islamabad, Imran echoed the call by Lord MacLaurin, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, for the game's rulers to convene an emergency meeting. But he also wants to see action, and not a repeat of the obfuscation which has surrounded ball-tampering despite his own victory in the celebrated courtroom case on the subject several years ago.

"I still see people on television tampering with the ball, but we don't seem to hear much about that these days," said Imran. "My views on match-fixing have been consistent and clear. Players should receive life bans, even if they are found to be giving out only match information. Any contact with bookmakers should be punished as severely as possible.

"I think it is so serious an issue that it is tempting to say that allinternational one-day cricket should be suspended while this is sorted out. But the ICC will be powerless unless the boards from every single cricket country co-operate on this issue. The game must be protected.

"So far, Pakistan is the only country to have investigated this issue at any length, but there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the Qayyum Report. It has still not been published. My own belief is that the Pakistan team of the 1990s, which was one of the strongest in the world, largely under-performed because of the allegations of betting. All the rumours have had a devastating effect on the Pakistan side since I retired in 1992."

The ICC, indeed, look ready to agree to an immediate international conference on the Cronje affair, with Richards saying that "so momentous an issue" warrants a gathering at the earliest opportunity.

"David Richards gets very well paid, but what is the point of the ICC having a highly-paid chief executive if he does not sort things out in times of crisis?" added Imran. "He is not there just to convene meetings, and I expect him to make a priority of this issue now.

"Clearly, the time has come for very firm action, and that depends on the whole of world cricket being mobilised. Yet, when this affair first blew up, the initial reaction was quite pathetic.

"We had the usual comments about it being a subcontinentproblem, For instance, Ali Bacher, at first, was very pompous in the way he came out and questioned what was being said by the Indian police. There was no benefit of the doubt given to the Indian police - it was, rather, how dare they speak to the South Africans in such a way. Now, what should we think about the South Africa versus Zimbabwe match during the World Cup last year?

"No one knows to what extent this whole thing has been going on. Cronje's involvement only came to light by accident, too, which makes you realise just how much more could be unearthed. It also shows how difficult it is to deal with.

"But the viewing public, cricket's spectators, will have doubts about every match now - until the issue is dealt with properly. There is so much one-day international cricket played around the world that it has become all too easy for teams to throw a particular match but not affect the outcome of the series to which it belongs."

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