Nothing can ever be said of the Champions’ Trophy final of 2017 – of Pakistan cricket – that has not already been said; nothing written that has not already been written. Thus, when the stars align just right, and the Pakistani cricket team manages to pull off a magic show in the middle of a cricket stadium, you have articles upon articles and reports after reports of rational men, with rational minds almost salivating at the irrationality of it all.
And Pakistan, the perpetual outsider for almost a decade, starving for the international attention that could reinstate cricket on its grounds, revels – and perhaps rightly so – in the praise and wonderment that comes streaming in on days like these. It feels like a jashn, and as far as jashn in Pakistan is concerned, the more the merrier.
Hundreds of fans flocked outside Sarfraz Ahmed’s Karachi home
But there is a catch, there is a line to be drawn. The average Pakistani cricket supporter is around on days when Pakistan cricket is just rationally boring; and even when the world isn’t watching, isn’t speaking, isn’t writing, the average Pakistani cricket supporter rejoices and mourns and imagines. Thus, when the cricketing community steps in to talk about Pakistan cricket, it needs to remind itself that it is a guest to this jashn, that it has the choice of leaving once this jashn is over and Pakistan cricket team has gone back to being predictably and rationally bad.
There is a certain arrogance in assuming that you, as a guest, can bring questions to the table that the host has never thought of or never engaged with.
Dennis Freedman had questions about Mohammad Amir and the glory that was earned in the thirty-six deliveries he bowled on 18th of July 2017. In his blogpost I have a question about Amir, the main thrust of Freedman’s argument is regarding the maintenance of the integrity of the sport.
Along the way he casually compares Amir’s spot-fixing crimes to those of a convicted rapist and a tennis superstar involved in a doping charge. I don’t even know how to come around to properly countering Amir’s comparison to Mike Tyson’s rape case? This is not about integrity of the sport, this is not even about integrity of the athlete; this is a blind comparison between two sportsmen who have nothing in common other than the fact that they are sportsmen.
Mike Tyson who was was convicted of rape is a blind comparison with Amir’s spot fixing case
As far as the Maria Sharapova case is concerned, how do you go about comparing two no-balls bowled by a sportsman new to his sport under the advice of his captain, to a seasoned superstar who admitted to taking a drug illegal in her current country of residence for a decade, putting her entire career under question?
Salman Butt played a captain role in spot fixing case
Having turned and twisted around the slightly ridiculous comparisons and the subtle attempts at playing on Pakistani sensitivities, Freedman brings in what appears to be his central line of reasoning; how do you prevent a future match fixing scandal if there exists a precedent of assimilation of a convicted fixer? And this is a debate worth engaging in.
Is there a possibility of maintaining the integrity of a sport when its heroes have had a history of maligning it? My contention with Freedman’s argument exists because of the burden he places on Amir and on Pakistan cricket in general. It is remarkable, that the integrity of the sport needs to be shouldered by a seventeen-year old from a cricketing side largely sidelined by the cricketing community unless it manages to pull off a miracle; and not by the sport’s ruling elite.
The biggest cricketing gala, the Indian Premier League, is marred by a scandal of illicit betting and match fixing the resolution of which was questionable at best. In that case, teams are suspended for not even half the time that Amir spent outside of cricket; players are reshuffled amongst other franchises; millionaires who own franchises… continue to do whatever it is that millionaires do (I would not know), and the world carries on.
“It is remarkable, that the integrity of the sport needs to be shouldered by a seventeen-year old from a cricketing side largely sidelined by the cricketing community unless it manages to pull off a miracle; and not by the sport’s ruling elite.”
And while this may come across as an exercise in finger-pointing, it is important to understand the logic here. If the motivation truly lies in ensuring the integrity of the sport, the burden needs to be shouldered by its most powerful; the richest board, the largest talent pool, the tournament arguably redefining the mood of the sport. It is easier to make a punching bag out of a solitary player, because of a solitary event, but that does nothing to ensure the integrity of the sport if the powerful continue to get away with similar crimes committed on a much larger scale.
Freedman then attempts to further this argument by attempting to suggest that Amir’s comeback in the team is backed not by his own commitment to the sport, but rather by public affection and his flair. In a moment of amnesia, Freedman asks if Amir holds such favour because he is a bigger entertainer than his other colleagues who were convicted of the same crimes. Perhaps, it is the luxury of entering and exiting the mayhem of Pakistan cricket at will that lets Freedman forget the magic that Asif worked with the ball.
Here is the bottom line: Amir should not be the focal point of this debate in world cricket; as far as the who’s who of cricket is concerned, he had only just arrived on the block. Yet, he served his time, sustained his commitment and made a comeback in the team because of his skillset. This isn’t what Freedman calls a “backdoor”, this is as main entrance as it can possibly get, especially when compared to temporary franchise suspensions and player reshuffling.
“Yet, he served his time, sustained his commitment and made a comeback in the team because of his skillset.”
If a debate on Amir still exists, it really is not about the integrity of the sport; but rather a debate on the room for second chances in it. And a debate on the latter remains futile unless the cricket elite is held to the same standards as those Freedman sets for Amir.
Amir has served his time, sustained his commitment and made a comeback in the team because of his skillset
As much as this debate is about one article, this is also about the general democratization of opinion about Pakistan cricket. The world is welcome to praise Pakistan cricket in its highs, criticize it on its lows and remain silent during the in-betweens, but it needs to check the privilege with which it speaks. Shed the arrogance that makes it believe that it is painting a picture a cricket-mad nation has not seen, or presenting an argument it has not engaged with. Speak about it, do not attempt to speak over it.