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Bringing The Match Fixers Back: The Lesser Of Two Evils?

The debate about the future of the tainted players. Should they be allowed to play again at the highest level or not?

Should they be inducted back into International cricket?

“It is the most awful and sickening feeling. When a bunch of rogues you share the dressing room with are fighting tooth and nail to lose a match, it kills your desire to play the game and whips up a desire to kill them.”  Strong words indeed, coming from ex-Pakistani cricketer and commentator Ramiz Raja in a Cricinfo article. This was when the news came out earlier this year that Pakistan was trying to get tainted youngster Mohammad Amir back into the international fold before his ban ended.

The bans on all three cricketers caught in the famous sting operation by the now-defunct News of the World have now officially expired, and Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt can join Amir in returning to competitive cricket. Will Pakistan attempt to get them back to international cricket? Do they really deserve to get back?

There is no doubt at all that Salman Butt was, before his ban, a talented opener. He averaged around 37 in ODIs, and 30.46 in Tests (how much had fixed to do with a very underwhelming Test average for an opener?).

Asif was a genuinely top-class fast-medium bowler, who at his best, compares favourably with even the great Glenn McGrath. After all, it takes a lot of talent to bowl a no-ball so close to a legitimate delivery that no one would have known it was intentional if it hadn’t been for the sting operation.

Amir, who was 18 when the sting operation took place and has amazing natural talent, is the one most people feel sorry for, presumably because of his age and supposed naivety.

Second chances are wonderful things. We’ve all heard the saying “Everybody makes mistakes”. Nobody should have to pay for a single mistake their whole lives, should they?

But is it really fair on other players that they are brought back? Ramiz Raja’s earlier quote just shows how difficult it is to play in the same side as a known criminal. ‘Criminal’ may be a strong word, but fixers not only defraud bookies and punters by their actions, they also cheat the entire cricketing fraternity — the fans who pay to watch matches in the stadiums, as well as the armchair fan who has to pay quite a bit to watch live cricket on TV — and worst of all, their fellow players.

Let’s look at it first from the fan’s perspective. Now, while watching an unlikely batting collapse or an over going for 20 runs, you just wonder — was that for real? Or were the batsmen or bowler just giving wickets/runs away?

This is the most depressing part for a fan, where even really good, honest performances — a great spell of bowling, or some sensational batting — are unfairly treated with suspicion.

Now, let’s step into the teammates’ shoes. How in the world are they supposed to trust a guy who has attempted to lose matches for his team earlier? Granted, the guilty players have gone through ‘education programmes’ with the ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) and have cooperated with investigations and (apparently) shown remorse.

But is this really going to help teammates with the issue of trust? Imagine Pakistan ODI captain Azhar Ali giving the ball to Asif when the team needs to prevent the opposition from scoring 12 to win in the last over of an ODI, or Test captain Misbah sending in Salman Butt to open the innings when Pakistan have to bat for a day and a half to save a Test match. Can you really see that happening? I thought not.

There was also a recent situation in which Pravin Tambe and a few other players almost got into trouble for just being in the same team (in an unofficial match in the US) as another confessed match fixer, the banned Bangladeshi batsman Mohammad Ashraful, the premise being that Ashraful is a virus who will infect others playing alongside him.

So as soon as the ban is completed or revoked, will teammates who are taught to treat banned players as viruses, suddenly start seeing them as just normal teammates? That is extremely difficult to imagine.

Another thing to consider is — does it set the right precedent? You’re saying to the players, you can fix matches, be banned for a couple of years, and get back to playing international cricket, as long as you cooperate with the investigations.  

Finally, let’s take the perspective of the banned players themselves. These guys are cricketers, and they really don’t know how to do anything else as well as they know how to play cricket. If they don’t play cricket again due to their earlier mistakes, how are they going to make a living?

These men, who have actually been in jail due to their misdeeds, will surely, surely, not have the ‘guts’ to even think of fixing a match again. Or, that’s what we all hope.

Most of us are not heartless enough to want a bowler like Amir to struggle to make ends meet when he has the opportunity to work and succeed in a job for which he has a natural ability. He and the other two have made a mistake, paid for it through their bans and jail time, and though many may feel they don’t deserve a second chance, it is still the right thing to do. Even if it is only the lesser of two evils.

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