Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Fans the butt of a sick joke

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Former Pakistan captain Salman Butt will be at the cricket World Cup. He will be a commentator for Pakistan's Channel Five TV.

It's a travesty; a sick joke.

Recently banned for five years for corruption at the Lord's test match last year, Butt's actual sentence was 10 years - with five suspended.

Why? Surely a life ban was merited after the News Of The World sting did what cricket should have been able to do for itself: detect that corruption was occurring and act.

The International Cricket Council cannot be expected to police commentator appointments by television channels which have an eye on the sensational and the effect that has on ratings.

The utterings of a man who has pitched his sport into disrepute and ridicule must be compelling indeed.

I can hear it now. After every no-ball, the Pakistani commentator could turn to Butt and say: "Salman, was that a real no-ball in your opinion or, you know...?" or "Salman, how much would you expect to have been paid for that no-ball?"

But it won't happen. Butt will solemnly intone on the game; the batsmen; the bowlers; their form; their strategy - all as if this man might have something to tell us; something which might add to, or illuminate, the rich history and traditions of the game.

I can't speak Urdu but all I'd be able to hear is one word anyway: cheat.

Here in New Zealand, we are still wrestling with the fact that a Pakistan team shorn of Butt and his corruption cohorts - paceman Mohammad Asif and young, highly promising fast bowler Mohammad Amir - were still good enough to send the Black Caps packing. But whatever curry we can sling at our team for their lack of form, we can at least be assured that they are honest.

Money for sport is fine; one of the tenets of professionalism. Money for corrupting it is a cynical, self-serving, vicious undermining of the basic quality of sport - a fair contest.

There is trust between player, fan, sponsors and broadcasters that what is being witnessed is real and not something teed up by the players for their own enrichment.

Butt's involvement in the spot-fixing controversy was pivotal. For most cricket followers, the jig was up when they saw young Amir, just 18, no-ball gigantically in the Lord's test. It wasn't just a no-ball with his foot creeping over the line. This was a giant stride down the pitch.

Even an umpire with a guide dog, a cane and Christina Aguilera damaging his hearing by mangling the Star Spangled Banner from silly mid-on could not have prevented the no-ball being called - which was the objective.

In the hearing that resulted in the ban, the 'judges' said they were satisfied "beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Butt, their captain, helped to ensure that the two bowlers fulfilled their dishonourable undertaking".

That alone is enough to demand a life ban for Butt.

He was the conduit for the fixers; the man they could ring at any time to set up the circus. Not content with being corrupt himself, he took steps to corrupt others. With the wagers being on incidental matters like when or how many no-balls were bowled, he had to recruit bowlers to complete the scam.

There's similarly no doubt that Asif and Amir should also have been banned for life.

In the aftermath of the ban, many in the media and public were heard to say that Amir - barely 18 when all this happened and one of the brightest fast bowling talents for many years - should have been favoured with a lighter sentence. The justification was that, as a young man used to carrying out the orders of those in authority, he should not be held as responsible as Butt.

Bollocks. Did he know it was wrong? You bet your sweet Pakistani patootie. He might have been only 18 but, in cricket terms, it's a cardinal sin.

At no stage, according to various reports, did Amir look or sound repentant.

He could have said no. Some of the evidence that came out suggested Butt had to plan his no-balls carefully as players like Sajeed Ajmal were bowling and he was not on the payroll. Amir could have blown the whistle - standing up to a corrupt captain would have sealed his place in cricket's hall of fame, although that is admittedly a lot of responsibility to load on an 18-year-old's shoulders.

Asif is no stranger to controversy and there is a temptation to think the sport might be better off without him anyway. In 2006, Asif tested positive for the steroid nandrolone. He was banned from cricket; overturned on appeal. Later, he was detained in Dubai when suspected of having drugs on his person and was then found to have tested positive for a banned substance during the IPL.

Now this. He got seven years, two of them suspended for the spot-fixing business.

As far as I am concerned, they should ditch the lot of them. More dubious rationalisation about Amir contends that he'll be able to come back at 23 and be a deterrent signal to others.

What a bunch of possum poo. It ain't half as much a deterrent as a life ban. What Amir's treatment said to other dodgy players was: if you're going to do it, do it young.

As for Butt, what message does it send to his team and all other cricket players? It goes something like this: If you are a match fixer, you don't get banned for life and you can get a cosy job straight away.

While teams are wheeling away in the heat of the subcontinent, Butt will be on his butt in the commentary box, with air-conditioning and plenty of tea and cakes, passing judgement on those playing the game fairly.

It's sick.

- Herald on Sunday

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