There is “strong evidence” to suggest that an unsanctioned T20 event in the UAE was corrupt though the onus will now likely fall on member boards to take action against any players who may have participated in it. That places the focus on the PCB, after it emerged that Salman Butt – among a handful of other former Pakistan internationals – played or were scheduled to take part in the Ajman All Stars event.
The tournament was a private one, unapproved by the ICC and Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), and because it falls outside their jurisdiction the two bodies, according to the ICC, cannot take action under anti-corruption codes “against anybody who may have engaged in any corrupt practice”. But the game’s governing body will continue to investigate and try to shed light on the organisers of the event.
“After speaking to a number of those involved, we consider there to be strong evidence to indicate this was a corrupt event and damaging to the wider reputation of cricket and as such will continue the investigation,” the ICC said in a statement. “Our ongoing enquiries will now focus on identifying the organisers of the tournament to prevent similar incidents occurring elsewhere and to disrupt corrupt practices wherever we can.” This is the second statement the ICC have released in a matter of days on the subject – unusual not only because the event does not lie within the confines of formal, approved cricket, but also because the governing body’s policy on its corruption investigations has hitherto been to say as little as possible publicly.
The ICC took notice after a video of one particular match – broadcast by Neo Sports – went viral in which batsmen appeared to be trying their best to get dismissed. The tournament involved expatriates from a number of South Asian countries and a few former international players. One of the former internationals involved was 35-year-old Hasan Raza, a one-time Pakistan international who now lives in the UAE. He told the National that he played the first game of the tournament before walking away when he saw the suspicious nature of the cricket on display.
“I played in the first opening match and I was told it was a friendly game, but after the second match I was shocked at the tournament,” Raza said. “This is the first time I’ve seen something like this in Ajman. The first match was fine. The second match was a night match. I knew there was something wrong. It felt different. It didn’t feel like an organised tournament and there were many dropped catches. I understood it was not a proper match. On the third day I just walked out.
“Nobody approached me. The youngsters said people came to them. I don’t know if they offered money. Maybe they tried to put them under pressure. These are young, Twenty- to 22-year-old players. They came to me. They said they were told, ‘Lose your wicket, drop your catch’. Those are the things they were told and what they told me. I told them to play their own game, their natural game, and I told them not to listen to anybody.”
Raza was one of a few former internationals from Pakistan – perhaps as many as four – but there is no suggestion that any of them might be implicated. The ICC has, however, asked member boards to consider whether by dint of their participation they may be in breach.
“All Member Boards whose players have participated in this event will be asked to consider whether, by doing so, those players are in breach of any other applicable rules, including those that prohibit participation in unsanctioned cricket, and if so for disciplinary action to be taken against them.”
Where that leaves the former Pakistan captain Butt is unclear. Butt, 33, confirmed that he was involved in the event, even though he was not one of the players in the footage that led to the controversy, and there is no evidence for his involvement in any wrongdoing.
“I went there as I was not picked for [my domestic team] Lahore and I was doing nothing,” Butt told PTI. “But when I reached there I realised it was just an amateur-level event which had no match referee, ICC anti-corruption representative or even scorers. Since the spot-fixing scandal, I try to stay away as far as possible from any related controversies. I am happy the ICC is investigating the event because there were lot of flaws in it. But I played just two games and then went away to Dubai.”
Butt was banned for ten years by the ICC, five of them suspended, after he was convicted of convincing his fast bowlers to bowl no-balls at specific stages on the first day of the fourth Test match between England and Pakistan at Lord’s in 2010. After maintaining his innocence for several years, Butt accepted his guilt in 2013. He has since returned to the domestic circuit, but been unable to make an international comeback so far.