Salim return stokes the ire

Mike Coward in Sydney describes the shame and blame blighting a Test series
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The Independent Online
AUSTRALIAN cricket is in crisis. It is a crisis that began in Pakistan, was compounded by inaction at home and could have been quelled had London shown more leadership.

The Salim Malik affair began 13 months ago during the First Test at Karachi where Shane Warne and Tim May claimed that they were offered pounds 130,000 to lose the match. Subsequently, it is alleged, Mark Waugh was offered a similar sum before a limited-overs match in Rawalpindi.

Salim was stripped of the Pakistan captaincy earlier this year and the affair could have faded into a festering memory had the veteran not been officially cleared of improper conduct after an inquiry last week conducted in Karachi by Judge Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, a former attorney general. The decision came just as Pakistan were setting out on a tour of Australia.

Salim is expected to arrive in Adelaide in a few days and take his place in a strengthened Pakistan team for the first of three Tests with Australia, which starts in Brisbane on 9 November. But his arrival has already been heralded by controversy.

Warne was so upset by events that he was withdrawn from an ACB chairman's XI against Pakistan near Perth last Thursday and it is known May is uneasy about taking his place for South Australia against the Pakistanis in a four-day match at Adelaide.

Warne, May and Waugh, the three Australian players who have made claims of malpractice within the Pakistan team, feel deeply they have been let down by the management of the Australian team beaten 1-0 in Pakistan last year, the Australian Cricket Board and the International Cricket Conference.

They are incensed that the inaction, even indifference, of these authorities has allowed 32-year-old Salim, an accomplished senior batsman to return to international cricket.

Indeed, Warne and May will have to be counselled sensitively if they are to play a significant role in the Test series against Pakistan and feel comfortable about touring the Indian subcontinent early next year. They will need to display unprecedented mental toughness if they are to battle through the World Cup, the final of which will be played in Lahore on 17 March.

The management of the Australian team in Pakistan, the ACB administration and the ICC chiefs have all endeavoured to wipe their hands of the affair and by doing so have exposed the three players, as well as Salim Malik, to public derision.

There is also speculation that the ACB will ask the ICC to convene a special hearing in London and ask Salim and the three Australians to appear. However, the ICC chief executive, David Richards, has said repeatedly that it does not have the powers to hold such an inquiry.

By sitting on their hands, the ACB and ICC have missed a priceless opportunity to show leadership and ease some of the many suspicions associated with cricket in Pakistan. Argument, acrimony, mistrust and misunderstanding have been associated with most series between Australia and Pakistan since 1956.

Australian cricketers do not trust Pakistan umpires and, with few exceptions, Pakistan cricketers. Those relations are likely to become even more strained in the next few weeks.