New Delhi: The ghost of match-fixing has returned to haunt cricket amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with a slew of former Pakistani cricketers and an administrator making accusations against former captain and legendary fast bowler Wasim Akram.
Over the last month or so, cricketers, including Aaqib Javed and Aamer Sohail, and former Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Khalid Mehmood have alleged that Akram was involved in several instances of match-fixing through the 1990s.
Javed alleged that whoever tried to raise his voice against Akram was shunted out of the Pakistan team, while Sohail claimed that at any point, five or six players were necessary to fix a game, and it was impossible that Akram wasn’t involved.
While Akram has not directly addressed the fixing allegations, he told a web show after the allegations had been made: “Whenever I hear these negative things about myself I feel very sad that it has been 17 years since I retired but even today they are some people using my name to promote themselves. I can also make negative comments about these people but what purpose will it serve? That is why I keep quiet. I just think about the respect and love I have earned from the people over the years and even 17 years after retirement.”
This is not the first time Akram has been accused of match-fixing. When the Justice Qayyum Inquiry Commission investigated several Pakistani players for match-fixing between 1998 and 2000, it also probed Akram. The commission eventually acquitted Akram, but fined him Rs 3 lakh and recommended “he be censured and be kept under strict vigilance”.
The commission had also recommended that Akram be removed from captaincy, which he soon was.
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But the match-fixing allegations against Akram have resurfaced from time to time, most recently in 2018, when the former left-arm pacer was appointed to a committee constituted by the PCB. When objections were raised about Akram’s past and the observations made by the Qayyum Commission, then-PCB chairman Ehsan Mani not only supported him, but publicly disowned the commission report, calling it “inconclusive”.
The key allegation against Akram before the Qayyum Commission was levelled by former cricketer Ata-ur-Rehman, who alleged he had offered him Rs 2 lakh to fix the game.
But Rehman kept changing his statement, and Akram was let off based on his flip-flopping testimony.
Regarding Akram, the commission report had noted: “Once this commission looks at the allegations in their totality, this commission feels that all is not well here and that Wasim Akram is not above board. He has not co-operated with this commission. It is only by giving Wasim Akram the benefit of the doubt after Ata-ur-Rehman changed his testimony in suspicious circumstances that he has not been found guilty of match-fixing. He cannot be said to be above suspicion.”
Khalid Mehmood & Sohail’s allegations
Former PCB chief Khalid Mehmood now claims that Ata-ur-Rehman was telling the truth when he said Akram had offered money to underperform in a match.
“His statement on fixing against Wasim was true but he denied it,” Mehmood told Geo TV.
Mehmood claimed Rehman “was afraid that he would get into trouble if he made a statement in court”, and adding “I believe one of the players pressurised him to change his statement,” but not mentioning who that player might have been.
Mehmood also claimed that three of Pakistan’s games during the 1999 World Cup were fixed — the shock defeat to then-minnows Bangladesh, India, and Australia in the final. Akram was Pakistan captain for the tournament, and for most of the preceding decade.
The captaincy aspect is why Sohail claims Akram cannot be given the benefit of the doubt. “Back then, there was so much talk that if something happens to Akram, the ICC would ban us,” the former opening batsman said to P.J. Mir, who hosts a talk show on YouTube.
“If Salim Malik was booked, then it is not possible that he might have fixed the game alone. You need at least 5-6 others to be able to actually fix a game,” Sohail said. “Fixing in a big way started when the team wanted to get Miandad removed as captain. How do you get a captain removed? You need to start losing matches.
“Because they were already going to lose matches, they also decided to start making money. From here began the saga of match-fixing in Pakistani cricket,” claimed Sohail.
He went on to say that if one can investigate who had connived to get Miandad removed, “you catch that guy, and you basically have the ring leader”.
“The question is, who got Wasim Akram made the captain?” Sohail asked.
Aaqib Javed’s claims
The most direct allegations against Akram come from fellow former fast bowler Aaqib Javed.
Javed claimed that when he raised the issue of match-fixing during late 1990s, he was practically marginalised. “I used to play only when Akram wasn’t the captain. It was hard; I used to be given very few opportunities,” he said.
Recounting an incident that eventually led him to formally quit international cricket, Javed said: “In 1998, during a team meeting in (Rawalpindi), only I was asked to leave the room by Akram. Everyone else was still there. I came back to my hotel room and waited, but the meeting went on until 11 pm.”
Javed claimed he later found out that during the meeting, Akram had said “he is not one of us, and no one should talk to him”.
“Whoever has tried to fight this has been shunted out,” Javed said.
Shoaib Akhtar bats for Akram
However, another former Pakistan fast bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, has leapt to Akram’s defence.
“I will say it very clearly that if Wasim Akram had asked me to do match-fixing, I would have destroyed him or even killed him. But he never said such a thing to me,” Akhtar was quoted saying by Cricket Pakistan.
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