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Pakistan cricket left with repair job after trio are jailed

For the Pakistan squad that remain, there is an onus to play cricket in the right way, writes Matthew Wiggins

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mohammad asif
Mohammad Asif was sentenced to one year in prison last weekPhoto: Paddynapper, via Flickr

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While three former Pakistan players were jailed for their part in the match-fixing scandal that has engulfed cricket in recent weeks, their compatriots were representing their country against Sri Lanka in the UAE.

Mohammad Amir, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif were found guilty of conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments at Southwark Crown Court on November 1. But while they serve their prison sentences, ranging from six months to 30 months, the game will rumble on.

International series’ were taking place in four different countries during the trial and involved numerous nations, one of which was Pakistan.

Since the News of the World’s investigation that exposed the trio and the ICC suspension followed, the Pakistani fans have been searching for new heroes. For Butt, Amir and Asif were leading lights.

Amir was the poster boy of Pakistan cricket. At 18 he became the youngest bowler to take 50 wickets and was set for a glittering career. Butt had just embarked on his journey as Pakistan captain and had beaten Australia and England already in his five matches as skipper.

Asif had taken over one hundred test wickets and was revered for his artistry in swinging the ball. All three had little reason to become embroiled in controversy, yet their heads were turned and their careers are over.

They were all young enough and talented enough to help their team achieve notable success in world cricket and to put their names in lights for the right reasons. But, for a little extra money to line their pockets they shamed a nation that once celebrated their on-field achievements, adored them in fact.

What they leave behind is a nation who idolises their cricketers questioning their support and a sport that has lost its trust in its stars. For the Pakistan squad that remain, there is an onus to play cricket in the right way, to win and give their fans (and the cricketing world at large) something to celebrate.

They have started life without three of their key players well. They have lost just one Test since the ICC handed Butt and Co their suspensions in September 2010 and reached a World Cup semi-final under the leadership of Shahid Afridi.

While Afridi is the one superstar remaining in Pakistan cricket, there are a number of young players that should step into the breach and use their cricketing talents to restore pride to the sport.

Azhar Ali has the potential to be Pakistan’s next star. He has made a resilient, if unspectacular, start to life as a Test cricketer and sealed his maiden Test century in his side’s recent series win against Sri Lanka.

It is players like Ali that will propel cricket into the headlines for the quality of the game, rather than the controversy of it.

Junaid Khan is another who will help Pakistan put this incident in the distant past. Like Amir he is a young, promising seam bowler and took 12 wickets in three matches in the UAE against Sri Lanka.

Among these young players are unsung heroes like Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal. The pair have been a big part of Pakistan’s recent good form and the end of the trial means that they are likely to win the heart of a nation that may have taken them for granted in months gone by.

The downfall of Butt, Amir and Asif should send a warning shot throughout cricket, it just remains to be seen whether the players choose to hear it.

Through no fault of their own, Pakistan’s players will be judged on their former team-mates actions. Because of the offending three, a repair job is needed. And it seems to be at the beginning of a successful one.

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