Tough times ahead for Pakistan

Pakistan are back in the doldrums after steamer Mohammad Irfan became the fourth player to be suspended as part of on-going investigations into spot fixing.

It is a great shame and takes away some of the gloss of the recently completed Pakistan Super League, which passed without incident in the country and was seen as a step towards restoring international cricket in Pakistan.

If Irfan, a seven foot tall seamer for the team, is found guilty it could prove disastrous for Pakistan as it seeks to shake off the 2010 scandal and rebuild its reputation. This case has already snared three cricketers: Irfan’s Islamabad Utd teammates Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif were provisionally suspended in February, while former Pakistan opener Nasir Jamshed was also provisionally suspended after being arrested in Britain, but he has been bailed until April.

The Pakistan Cricket Board issued a statement, saying: “The PCB in furtherance to its investigation issued a Notice of Charge and provisionally suspended Irfan under the PCB Anti-Corruption Code. Irfan has been charged with two violations of Code Article 2.4.4 and now has 14 days to respond to the Notice of Charge. He has also been provisionally suspended with immediate effect from participating in all forms of cricket.”

More players are under investigation by the PCB, which said: “The PCB’s investigation will continue with regard to any questionable activity by any player and player support personnel as it carries on with its mission of eliminating the menace of corruption from cricket.”

It has to take a hard line, as its reputation has been battered, but this is horribly damaging for Pakistan as it seeks to pave the way for international cricket to once more take place on its shores. No teams have visited the country since Islamic militants opened fire on a Sri Lanka team bus eight years ago, leaving six players injured. But the PSL passing without any problems looked set to herald a return.

The Irfan case, however, is a step in the wrong direction. It comes six and a half years after the most damaging scandal to hit Pakistan in its cricketing history. In September 2010, three Pakistan players were suspended by the ICC after taking bribes from a bookmaker and bowling no balls at pre-determined times during a Test match against England. Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt were jailed in Britain over the matter, and were handed long bans by the ICC.

Just as they were starting to put it behind them and do their talking on the pitch, this happens. It is a real shame for a country that holds cricket so dear to its heart, but it is great to see the nation’s cricket board taking such a hard line. It will send out a message to any other cricketers thinking of risking it all to make a quick buck that they should think twice, because investigators are dogged and they will come down on offenders like a tonne of bricks, so the risk may well be simply too great to bother.

Pakistan could turn things around this year and generate some good publicity, particularly if they can put in a strong showing in the ICC Champions Trophy. An Intertops sportsbook review shows that this is the most important cricketing event of the year and the bookmakers have made Pakistan sixth favourites of the eight teams competing. It only features the top eight teams in the world, and Pakistan have done really well to break back into that elite group, and to be rated higher than Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. They have a difficult group to navigate, as they have been drawn in Group B along with India and South Africa.

You would fancy the Indians to get out of that group, but thanks to the strength of their bowlers Pakistan will be a real threat to South Africa. If they can get to the knockout stage anything could happen. Pakistan’s fans need and deserve some respite, so the team should focus on doing their talking on the field and deflecting attention from these damaging scandals.