Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif’s Indelible Mark on Imran Khan’s Pakistan
The date was March 25, 1992, and the venue Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia. On the cricketing world’s largest stage, Imran Khan hoisted the 1992 World Cup trophy over his head, the first Pakistani captain to do so, in front of 87,182 live spectators and millions across the globe.
Last weekend, Khan held the first Occupy Wall Street-inspired rally in Lahore and denounced a U.S.-backed Pakistani government before a crowd of approximately 100,000. The former cricketer-turned-politician called for an end to the current administration, highlighting politics ruled by corruption over civilian concern. But as Khan’s rally unfolded and inspired, a critical moment in what has been deemed the Occupy Pakistan movement, the national cricket team he left behind–and so carefully molded into world-renowned competitors–landed in the middle of a corruption scandal of its own.
Mere days after Khan’s speech gained traction in media outlets around the world, attention quickly shifted to London, where former test captain Salman Butt and fast bowler Mohammad Asif were found guilty of bowling deliberate no-balls in a test match against England in August last year. England went on to win the match by an innings and 225 runs. The players, along with their conspiring agent, were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court in London on Thursday–Butt to a 30-month jail term and $49,600 fine, Asif to one year and six months jail time, and agent Mazhar Majeed to 32 months jail time. Nineteen-year-old Mohammad Amir, known as one of Pakistan’s most promising young fast bowlers, received the same sentence as Asif, but in a young offenders’ institution. Amir was implicated following the test in August 2010 and has since been serving a five-year ban enforced by the International Cricket Council.
The news was met by outrage in the cricketing community, with many leading cricketers condemning illegal conduct in what is often referred to as the “gentleman’s sport”. Fans of Pakistan cricket, who view the game as less of a sport and more of a religion, expressed feelings of anger and sadness. But it is the one sentiment missing from the numerous reactions that is perhaps the most telling–shock.
This is not the first time Pakistani players have been accused of match-fixing, and if you ask any of the team’s millions of followers, they would agree that this is probably not the last time, either. In the years since Khan lifted the trophy, barring a World Cup final appearance in 1999, fans have conditioned themselves to be disappointed with the Pakistan national team. With each defeat, they have repeatedly pondered the underlying corruption within the Pakistan Cricket Board, accepting the status quo for what it is but never ceasing to cheer the same players with every piece of their heart and soul. It must be noted that Pakistan is not the only country to face multiple accounts of match-fixing allegations–India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies have shared in similar scandals over the years, the common link here being the power of money in developing nations.
But what is most frustrating about the latest scandal to hit Pakistan is precisely that–that it is the “latest scandal to hit Pakistan”. In the last four years in particular, the country has gone through its most trying times. It has faced everything from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to her widower Asif Ali Zardari’s absurd lack of leadership, domestic terrorism on a near-daily basis, catastrophic flooding in both 2010 and 2011, and ever-increasing drone strikes at the hands of the U.S. government. Just earlier this year, the world watched as Osama bin Laden was found in Abbottabad following a 10-year search.
So, as the country’s best ever cricket captain leads the Occupy Pakistan charge, the actions of Butt, Asif and Amir strike a shameful contrast to the fighting spirit of the Pakistani people as they protest the country’s many issues–namely that of which these young men are guilty of–corruption. The scandal leaves perhaps an indelible mark on the national team as they attempt to rebuild from an improved (though ultimately disappointing) showing in the 2011 World Cup. And it is entirely undeserved for the Pakistani people.
If there has been one common source for pride and joy in Pakistan over the years, it has been the game of cricket. Regardless of how many cups and trophies the team collects, the men in green are expected to wholeheartedly represent a population of over 173 million at home, and millions more around the world. Because through all of Pakistani cricket’s ups and downs, the support of their fans has been unwavering. It is an allegiance and a spirit that is tremendously difficult to match, and a testament to why the Pakistani people deserve better. They deserve players who place passion for the sport and their skill above all else, because those are the traits that enabled Khan to bring decades worth of pride to Pakistan in 1992. And as he imbues that passion into his battle against corruption today, the fan of the game he once played cannot help but feel heartache over this week’s proceedings, knowing all too well that this is not how Khan intended for Pakistan cricket to be as we near the 20-year anniversary of his most coveted triumph.
Sabrina Siddiqui is the editor-in-chief of Divanee.com.