Pakistan: 2011 shaping up as one long corridor of uncertainty
dismal year draws to a close, Pakistani cricket fans may be hoping that 2011 will bring a little respite from the torrent of bad news that has engulfed their national team.
The lesson of Pakistans recent cricket history, though, is that however bad things may seem to be, there is often worse to come.
The start of 2011 certainly promises to be pretty grim, with the first half of January bringing a succession of events that will underline Pakistans current misfortunes.
Most attention will be devoted to the appearance of three of its leading players before an International Cricket Council tribunal. Starting Thursday, the tribunal in Doha, Qatar, will spend six days attempting to determine whether there is any truth to the spot-fixing allegations made against the former Pakistani captain Salman Butt and the fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir by The News of the World, a British newspaper.
The last Sunday of August, when the allegations were published as Pakistan was playing England at Lords, was when any hopes that 2010 might turn out well for Pakistani cricket were extinguished.
The national team had been forced to play in exile because of the security situation at home, had gone through a couple more rotations on its carousel of captains and had lost the World Twenty20 title it won in England the previous year. Worst of all, the players had heard the news of the devastating floods back in Pakistan.
Amid this darkness, there were a few points of light the fortunate emergence of Butt as a brightly impressive young leader and the brilliant bowling of Asif and, in particular, the 18-year-old Amir, who was establishing a serious claim to be the best teenage cricketer ever.
That the fixing claims struck down these three encouraging players seemed the cruelest of blows, even by Pakistani standards.
The sense of dismay that Amir, a symbol of hope and renewal, was implicated spread well beyond Pakistan. The former England captain Nasser Hussain spoke for many when he said that his immediate reaction to hearing that there were accusations against Pakistani players had been to wish that it was anybody but the kid.
Butt, speaking to Sky News earlier this month, said, I believe, inshallah, that I will be back and playing for my country again.
The panel will be chaired by the senior British barrister Michael Beloff, sitting with the Kenyan lawyer Sharad Rao and Albie Sachs, who recently retired as a judge on the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Its decisions may not, though, conclude the process.
Even if the players are cleared, they could still face criminal charges from a British police investigation. Butt unsuccessfully sought to have the Doha tribunal postponed until after the British investigators had reported.
If the Doha tribunal rules against them, Amirs lawyer has already indicated that he will appeal to the Court of Sporting Arbitration in Lausanne, Switzerland, citing his clients youth and previously unblemished record.
While these three have the highest profile among Pakistani players, some of their teammates are also in cricketing limbo. Wicket keeper Zulqarnain Haider made a dramatic debut against England in Birmingham in August.
He came close to achieving the rare and unenviable feat of being dismissed first ball twice in a debut match, but a television review spared him that fate. He then went on to play a brilliant second innings that revived his teams morale, all while his father lay ill back in Pakistan.
But three months later, Haider returned to Britain, this time seeking political asylum.
He had left the team in Dubai and reported receiving threats following a match-winning innings for Pakistan in a one-day international against Australia. His next interview with the British authorities is scheduled for Wednesday.
Also uncertain of their immediate future are Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik and Danish Kaneria, who were asked to supply financial details to the Pakistan Cricket Board as a precondition of being considered for the 2011 World Cup, which will take place in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh starting Feb. 19.
Pakistan was also to be a co-host, until security fears forced its withdrawal. Other teams filed lists of possible players Dec. 19. The cricket authorities have given Pakistan until Wednesday to clear up its loose ends.
One other event in the first few days of 2011 will underline Pakistans unhappiness: the player auction for the Indian Premier League in Bangalore on Jan. 8 and 9. The league has released a list of 416 players who will enter the auction.
Not one is from Pakistan, making this the third year running in which the countrys players have been excluded from a competition that has made the worlds leading cricketers richer than many could have imagined.
It is perhaps no coincidence that allegations of corruption have resurfaced at a time when Pakistans players have been kept out of this sporting gold mine. Yet another setback for the cricketing nation where things all too often go from bad to worse.