I have never seen a more tense Pakistani dressing room than what it is today,” admits Pakistani fast bowler Aaquib Javed in his hometown Sheikpura. Javed is one of the cricketers who accused former Pakistan captain Wasim Akram of colluding with bookies to fix cricket matches.
Javed is not alone. There are the likes of Aamir Sohail and Ataur Rahman too who have pointed fingers at Akram. Of course, former Pakistani captain Rashid Latif and Basit Ali along with Australians Mark Waugh, Mark Taylor, Shane Warne and Tim May also lay the same charge on Akram’s teammates, batsmen Salim Malik and Ijaz Ahmad.
It’s not just cricketers who are crying thief. Last week, Raja Aftab, a Karachi-based bookie, told the one-man inquiry committee of Justice Malik Qayoom that Akram, Malik and Ijaz accepted bribes to throw matches. Another bookie, Raja Zafar Iqbal, named three other bookies who he claimed had links with Akram.
No cricket side in the history of the game has been in the kind of mess that plagues Pakistan today. With the team vertically split between those alleging that match-fixing was rampant and those claiming innocence, it’s a miracle they can manage to play together in the same team. Says a player: “The inquiry has to settle things one way or the other. Nobody can endure the tension anymore. You can’t go on playing like things were normal.”
The controversy first erupted during Pakistan’s 1994-95 series against South Africa when Latif and Basit Ali retired from international cricket over the suspicious conduct of Malik, who was then captaining the team. In his deposition to the inquiry committee, even paceman Waqar Younis said he tried to play the role of a mediator between Malik on one hand and Rashid Latif and Basit Ali on the other but “Rashid and Basit were convinced that Malik had sold out to the bookies”.
In the Mandela trophy where Malik’s conduct was in doubt he had twice asked South Africa to bat first in what appeared to be perfect batting conditions. Even Wisden described the first decision as “puzzling” and the second as “creating divisions in the Pakistan dressing room”. Pakistan lost both the finals, in one of which Malik was senselessly run out.
While 24 witnesses have so far deposed at the inquiry, only the depositions of two—Basit Ali and Ataur Rahman—have been in-camera. In fact, Rahman’s deposition was dogged by drama. In an earlier affidavit he had detailed how a one-day international match in Christchurch was fixed during Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand in 1994 when Malik was captain.
According to Rehman’s deposition, “A day prior to the match Wasim Akram contacted him (Rahman) at about 8-9 pm and enquired whether he would be ready to take a purse containing Rs 4 lakh for doing a favour. On being questioned, Akram disclosed that the match was fixed and all arrangements were made by Ijaz Ahmad and Salim Malik. In case the match was lost by Pakistan all the players would be paid. When Pakistan took the field, Malik came to him and told him that since he had agreed to the proposal, he would have to bowl opposite to the field placements.” Rahman further states that instructions were accordingly carried out to ensure that Pakistan lost the game, and that except for Latif and Sohail, every player was party to the match-fixing at Christchurch.
Though Rahman reportedly retracted his affidavit, saying it had been “forged”, Judge Qayoom had a detailed session with him wherein he “reportedly” admitted to being pressurised by certain quarters to withdraw his affidavit. Says Ali Sibtain Fazli, legal advisor to the Pakistan Cricket Board: “We obtained police protection for him (Rahman) to give a deposition without fear.”
Though the inquiry was initially supposed to have submitted its findings within two months, it has asked for an extension of one month, which would delay any report till end-November. Says Fazli: “Anybody is welcome to come and depose before the inquiry. If any current or former Indian player wishes to do so, he is welcome. The Pakistan board will bear the expenses. If somebody has anything we will go for it. But it has to be something more than basing your accusations on newspaper reports as Aamir Sohail said he did.”
While it is unlikely that any Indian player will pick up the gauntlet, it is interesting that an offer by Pakistani captain Aamir Sohail to come and depose before former chief justice Y.V. Chandrac-hud, when he was conducting a match-fix-ing inquiry on behalf of the BCCI, was rejected by the board. In an interview to Outlook in April ’97, Sohail claimed two Indian players had “approached him” during the 1994 Singer Cup in Sri Lanka to fix a one-day international match. Said Sohail: “I told them they had come to the wrong guy. I told them not to bother with me again.”
SOHAIL apparently repeated as much to Qayoom in his deposition. However, he was a little thin regarding evidence against his own teammates. Apparently, in an effort to consolidate his position as captain, Sohail wants to build bridges with the very people he had accused last year.
But Sohail did tell the committee that he was offered Rs 50 lakh to “get himself out before scoring 10 runs and also to get (his partner) Saeed Anwar run out” in a Sharjah match. Significantly, at that Sharjah match Pakistan manager Intikhab Alam made his players swear on the Quran that they were not involved when reports trickled in that a 1994 Sharjah match between Pakistan and India had been fixed.
Anwar too deposed before the inquiry panel. He was quoted as saying that he suspected the 1994 Singer Cup match between Pakistan and Australia in Sri Lanka was ‘fixed’. He reportedly broached the topic with manager Intikhab Alam who asked him to ‘cool his heels’.
For his part, Aaquib Javed told the committee that when he turned down a bribe to lose a match, Wasim Akram made it clear to him that he would not be included in the team as long as he was captain.
The tussle amongst the two groups of players echoes in the PCB itself. The faction which wants to go soft on the accused players is headed by PCB chairman Khalid Mehmood. CEO and former batsman Majid Khan, on the other hand, is all out to bring the whole matter in the open and punish the guilty players. Says a former Pakistan player: “The PCB council has set up nine committees so far since Mehmood took over. That has effectively stripped Majid of all his powers. The board structure has turned topsy turvy.”
So has Akram’s personal life. When the probe committee’s initial interim report was made public last month during the Commonwealth Games, the ace allrounder announced his retirement from the game in order to fight the alleged conspiracy against him. Slamming Majid Khan for heading a witch-hunt, Akram added: “People begrudge me because I am earning millions and they are not. But they are all getting at me in particular. They don’t seem to realise it takes six, seven or eight people from a team to rig a match.”
All this makes for a stark contrast with the manner in which the BCCI conducted its match-fixing enquiry. Not only did Chandrachud find it unnecessary to talk to bookies or even IPS officers who approached him, but he limited his enquiry to just two questions given to him by the BCCI.
But Qayoom directed Lahore DIG Shaukat Javed to produce the copy of the interrogation report conducted against two bookies—Raja and Jojo—apprehended for the abduction of Waseem Akram’s father, Chaudhry Mohammad Akram. Waseem maintained that his father had been kidnapped for ransom and that his family had been receiving threats about the abduction of his nieces as well. At that time there was speculation that Akram owed the bookies money.
With former captain Latif due to appear before the committee next week, there are widespread rumours that it could be the last nail in the coffin of the accused players. But there is also speculation that Latif is under tremendous pressure from the alleged culprits not to appear or ‘soften’ his deposition. Either way, the wicketkeeper is bound to provide more grist for scandal-watchers and cricket fans alike.