The curious case of Salim Malik

Derek Pringle attempts to unravel the truth in cricket's bribery allegations
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The Independent Online
RUMOUR turned into accusation last week when Salim Malik, the captain of Pakistan, was reported to have offered three Australian players large sums of money to throw matches. For some time now, there have been whispers in the game that the Pakistanis have been involved in match-fixing, though these unsubstantiated claims were thought to have been regarding one-day matches.

There were murmurings about events on Australia's tour to Pakistan last year, but it wasn't until Zimbabwe's recent thrashing of the Pakistanis - the kind of freak result that raises the climate of suspicion - that a report, compiled by the Australian Cricket Board soon after they returned last October, was leaked to an Australian newspaper and players were named.

What surprises me about the allegations are the amounts of money involved (Shane Warne and Tim May were said to be offered in excess of US$150,000) and the naming of Salim Malik, a respected team-mate of mine at Essex.

It seems that Salim's approaches were openly talked about in the Australian dressing-room and that everybody, including the coach, Bobby Simpson, and the manager, Colonel Egar, knew about them. That would explain how the matter ended up in the report, but not why that report has taken so long to come to light. Like the TCCB before them - when confronted by the ball tampering controversy with Pakistan in 1992 - it seems the ACB never intended to go public, preferring to deal privately with the ICC rather than risk confrontation with the Pakistan Board.

Salim does not easily fit the bill as villain. In his two years at Essex, other than regularly running-out his colleagues, he was remarkable only for his desire to keep himself to himself. He was a shy, polite man. In his first season, he played with a borrowed bat, scoring almost 2,000 runs at an average of 73.

A staunch Muslim, Salim once refused to have his photograph taken receiving a bottle of champagne as one of the players of the month, though he did have a sip or two when Essex won the County Championship in 1991, telling team-mates: "Allah doesn't mind a small bit, if it is for celebration."

One of those who expressed surprise when the rumours started circulating was Graham Gooch who had played against Malik since the mid-1980s, forming an unusual friendship on the turbulent tour of 1987, after which Gooch presented the Pakistani with his pads. It was this kinship that persuaded Essex to seek his services as an overseas player when Mark Waugh was unavailable in 1991 and 1993.

"If it's true," Gooch said when strong rumours started surfacing in Brisbane, "it will be a real disappointment as our experience of Sal at Essex is that he's a good bloke. But you don't know what pressure these people are under, especially as captain of Pakistan. It makes the England captaincy seem a doddle in comparison."

This is a serious point; since winning the World Cup under Imran Khan in 1992, Pakistan have had five changes of captaincy, with few of them bloodless coups. Such upheaval has meant that there are many in the dressing- room who are hardly on speaking terms, a situation recently borne out by their opening batsman Aamir Sohail's admission that several members of his team are "on the take".

The presence of an ad hoc rather than an officially sanctioned Board has not helped to stabilise matters. Nobody seems to be sure who is in control, and if betting syndicates were looking for an opportunity to infiltrate the game then the chaotic conditions in Pakistan over the past few years would have been perfect for nurturing contacts on the inside.

The most compelling proof for such an operation would have to come from the bookies. But as gambling is illegal under Islamic law, and is done only illicitly, such evidence is likely to be in scarce supply. In any case much of the gambling is being carried out in the form of straight wagers between the millionaires of Sharjah, Dubai and Pakistan and presumably done at the end of a phone.

It is not unusual - one ex- Pakistan Test player assured me - for a certain Lahore millionaire to think nothing of gambling £30,000 on the outcome of a single over. Excessive though that may seem, it pales in comparison to the gift bestowed upon Javed Miandad for the decisive act of hitting the last ball of the 1987 Sharjah Cup for six to beat India. The word was that the batsman had received a thank-you rumoured to be 20 lakh (about £70,000) from an anonymous, grateful gambler.

There is little doubt that, illegal or not, a huge betting market exists. But are there, as is claimed by these recent reports, the means for manipulating it by corrupting players in key positions? And, if so, are players likely to jeopardise a high-profile lifestyle with ample rewards of its own?

Perhaps the disintegration of the BCCI bank, in which several Pakistan players, including Salim and Mushtaq Mohammed - the former Pakistan captain who recently admitted to suggesting in jest that Allan Border lose the Fifth Test at Edgbaston in 1993, once odds had soared before the last day's play - are thought to have lost substantial sums of money, would offer a powerful motive. But the logistics of perpetrating such a scam are fraught with problems and dangers.

To rig a Test match, escaping detection, is not an easy matter. To start with, one would need, at the very least, two key bowlers and three key batsmen on the payroll. At present only Warne, May and Mark Waugh have claimed they were approached, though Waugh's offer was apparently made before a one- dayer, and thought to be a sum in the region of US$200,000, to be shared among those he needed to recruit to lose the match.

Surprisingly, considering they were playing in the same one-day tournament, none of the South African players appears to have been approached, though they were aware of the rumours doing the rounds.

It seems foolhardy, not to say nave, for a Test captain to approach two players, both of them spin bowlers - a breed Pakistani batsmen traditionally play well - and openly offer such large sums of money to throw the First Test match. The offer could only have come at a stage of the game when May and Warne were able to control the outcome more or less unabetted, either before the start of Pakistan's second innings, or before play began on the last day.

These were the only times odds would have been re- assessed. Even with such delicate timing, surely a captain would have the good sense to employ a go-between or at least try to cover his tracks. The fact that he apparently didn't means that either there is not a grain of truth in the matter, or that the culprit was confident of avoiding detection. On the other hand, the Aussies have no reason to lie. This week's ICC meeting at Lord's should start to unravel the truth, though on past performances this is not guaranteed.