A comment piece in The Times's Thunderer slot, September 2 2010
Michael Vaughan, a shrewd England captain turned commentator, said: “If they are proven guilty, my belief is they should be banned for life.” Andrew Strauss, the current England captain, also shrewd and usually cautious, was almost as damning: “If someone is found categorically guilty, then the only way for me is for that person not to be able to play international cricket again.” Sunil Gavaskar, the great Indian batsman, went further: “Life ban is not enough. The guilty should have all their records erased, as if they never played cricket.”
This is the stuff of hysteria. For Mohammad Amir, who is only 18, a life ban would be a 20-year sentence. And what did he allegedly do? He bowled two no-balls for money. His alleged crime was committed in England, where the average rapist gets four years’ imprisonment.
For sportsmen to despise match-fixing is fair enough. Sport becomes pointless if either side isn’t trying to win. But Amir and his team-mates stand accused of spot-fixing, a very different thing. In that same innings at Lord’s, Amir ripped through the England batting order, taking four big wickets for no runs. He was trying all right. As Shane Watson, who plays for Australia, said this week, he is “a brilliant competitor … he always gave everything he's got”.
Of course Amir was wrong to take the money. But the blame is widely shared: with the bookies who offer spot bets, with the captains who run an internecine dressing-room, with the spoilsports who stopped the Pakistan stars playing in the Indian Premier League. With everyone who has helped create the climate of today’s game, in which money doesn’t talk, it calls the tune.
If a life ban fits the crime of selling a result, what’s the going rate for two no-balls? About five matches.
At these moments, administrators fall back on the catch-all concept of “bringing the game into disrepute”. Amir and co have certainly done that; but so has the Pakistan board, by presiding over an institutionalised shambles. And so has the cricket establishment, by allowing poachers to turn gamekeeper. Waqar Younis, implicated in the Qayyum report, is Amir’s coach. Not that England can talk: among their coaches is Mushtaq Ahmed, another tainted figure.
Spot-fixing leaves a bad taste in the mouth, which justifies a longer ban – a year, perhaps two. Cricket’s Anti-Corruption Code stipulates a minimum of five years, but it wisely allows for mitigating factors, including youth. And corruption in Pakistan cricket runs desperately deep. Mohammad Amir looks much more like a symptom than a cause: banning him for life won’t fix anything.