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June 26, 1999


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Guilty until proven innocent?

Prem Panicker

The minute Pakistan lost its World Cup encounter against India, it was inevitable that the ongoing enquiry into corruption, betting and bribery in that country would go against the players.

The stakes had always been crystal clear -- the Justice Qayyum commission of enquiry had completed its enquiries long ago, but the Pakistan board, and the government, had kept the lid on the issue, pending the outcome of the World Cup. That sent a clear signal -- if Pakistan won the Cup, all sins would be forgiven and forgotten (in any case, given the adulation the players would have received back home, it would have been difficult for the PCB to take any action against the winning captain and team members).

In the event, Pakistan lost. First to India -- which is for the average Pak fan worse than losing the Cup final -- and then to Australia, in humiliating fashion, in the final. And lo, out comes the report, finding Wasim Akram, Ijaz Ahmed, Salim Malik, Moin Khan, Waqar Younis, Inzamam ul Haq, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mustaq Ahmed guilty of assorted crimes.

That there was a judicial enquiry in Pakistan -- as opposed to the BCCI-orchestrated whitewash, with former Supreme Court chief justice Y V Chandrachud applying the brush, in India -- is laudable.

That the Pakistan commission didn't end up doing an India-style whitewash is equally commendable.

However, there are certain issues that cause problems to the players, the establishment, and the fans, alike.

First up, the commission, and the Ehteshab Bureau, indicted eight players, right? In other words, the eight players named above have been found guilty of corruption, and of involvement in bribery et al, right? So what is difficult to understand is why action -- in this case, suspension -- has been taken against just Akram, Ijaz and Malik.

The problem the Pakistan establishment have created for themselves with this act is obvious. Tomorrow, if Pakistan picks the other five players -- Younis, Saqlain, Inzamam, Moin and Mushtaq Ahmed -- for a Test or one day team, the opposing side will be well within its rights in refusing to play. After all, the five have been found guilty of assorted crimes relating to cricket, and that is excuse enough for the opposing teams to demand that they be kept away from the playing field.

Besides, it raises a pertinent question -- if eight players are guilty, why are only three of them being published?

The other problem is that having done everything right up to now -- the holding of an official inquiry, the indictment of certain players -- the establishment then created problems for itself by talking of 'limited suspension' against even those three players.

'Limited' by what, is the question everyone is going to be asking. Limited by the exigencies, perhaps? In other words, will those three players be suspended till their services are required for a major tour? And will any opposition accept, in the Pakistani ranks, the presence of three players who have been found guilty of, and punished for, cricketing crimes ranging from betting to match-fixing?

The final point this issue raises relates to the wording of the media release: Akram and the others, we are told, have been asked to prove their innocence.

That's a strange one -- the basic norm of jurisprudence is that a person is deemed innocent until proven guilty. Here we have a commission of inquiry that has found some players guilty -- and now wants them to prove their innocence.

How? When you find a person guilty, it is -- presumably -- on the basis of solid evidence. If that evidence exists, how then does the person prove his innocence? Frankly, this one is a bit difficult to understand.

And in passing, we are still waiting for a "final report". From whom? Justice Qayyum appears to have finished his gig. As has the Ehteshab Bureau. So just who is preparing this 'final' report, and whyfor?

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see what stand the ICC takes on the issue -- readers will recall that earlier, the global governing body had set up its own watchdog body to go into allegations of corruption and match-fixing, and had talked tough on the lines of "anyone found guilty will be punished", suggesting that a lifetime ban would be one of the punishments.

Now we have seven players ostensibly found guilty of corruption -- so what does the ICC plan to do about it?

And one final thought -- when, if ever, will India have a similar enquiry? In this context, I can't help but think of a conversation I had with a senior Indian bowler, during the Chennai training camp earlier this year. We were discussing the ongoing investigation in Pakistan, and this bowler, out of the blue, upped and said, "We need a similar investigation by a sitting judge, here in India. Maybe then, some players will quit or be sacked, and the rest of us can focus on really playing cricket!"

No, he didn't elaborate. Or name names. But even that statement makes one thing clear -- within the team itself, there is division on the subject; there are players who suspect their mates. And that alone is sufficient reason for a comprehensive inquiry -- not on the likes of the Chandrachud commission, though.

Prem Panicker

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