Pakistan betting scandal simply isn’t cricket

Many people criticise the News of the World for the manner in which they obtain their stories.

The ‘Fake Sheikh’ has certainly been accused of entrapment in the past and there may be some basis for questioning the newspaper's tactics. No story should be taken at face value without further scrutiny.

But what the News of the World does better than any other newspaper in the UK and perhaps even the world is set the agenda time after time with stories that shock the public consciousness.

The news has been dominated in recent weeks with images of the struggle facing millions in Pakistan following the floods.

The scale of the human tragedy has captured the hearts of the world – and while aid and support is what the Pakistani people need now more than anything, the crisis surrounding their cricket team cannot have helped national morale.

The terrorist attacks last year meant that the Pakistan people were unable to watch their heroes first hand and as Business Week put it: “Terrorism-stricken, cricket-obsessed Pakistan has lost significant revenue, a central piece of its national identity, and any chance of improving its often-prickly relations with neighboring India through ‘cricket diplomacy.’ In this sense, Pakistan continues to suffer cricket terrorism's horrible effects, economically, sociologically, and politically.”

In the light of the terrorism and natural disasters, the Pakistan cricket team has had even more responsibility on its shoulders to help boost national morale, not dent it even further.

When Mohammad Amir ripped through the England team last week, his status as one of the sporting discovering of 2010 seemed complete.

Here was a fresh faced young cricketer whose talent knew no bounds and who seemed destined to become the latest bowling superstar to make his name.

Cricket fans and general sports fans woke up last Sunday with the news that Amir, along with teammates Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, had been accused of helping betting syndicates to fix incidents during the last week’s Test.

All three have now 'voluntarily' made themselves unavailable for selection while they attempt to clear their names.

Perhaps this was a wise move considering the circus that will surround the Pakistan team for the rest of their tour against England – but the Pakistan authorities made plenty of other PR mistakes that could so easily have been avoided.

Allowing the media to camp outside the High Commission gives the impression that the Pakistan team are under siege. The world’s media love a scandal, particularly one with such compelling evidence and the scenes at the Pakistan High Commission allowed for just the chaotic scenes that make for great reportage.

By taking control of the situation and arranging a press conference, with joined-together statements by the senior spokesmen, the Pakistan authorities could have shown themselves to be in control of what was always going to be a challenging situation.

The fact that Pakistan High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan was left to make the statement, which incidentally did not match the earlier words from Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ijaz Butt, suggests a lack of communicationwhich undermines their credibility.

While the players may not be able to answer questions because of the ongoing police inquiry, short individual statements read by each of them to the media in the afore-mentioned controlled environment would at least have underlined their confidence to contest the accusations that have been made against them. Fronting up to the media is never a bad thing if you are innocent.

As it was, the players slipped out of the high commission through a side door while the media waiting for the car that had dropped them off to pick them up.

Do the accused slip away from the media when they are sure that they have nothing to hide?

That said, suggestions from the High Commission that the players were set up – even if that is the case – was not the best way of declaring their innocence. Any direct suggestions that the News of the World have got the story wrong will only encourage them to rebut the claims through further revelations.

Simply by declaring that the players maintain their innocence and will contest all charges or accusations without going into any detail would have made far more sense from a communications point of view.

The fact that the players stood down from the tour, so it has been stated, may have allowed the Pakistan Cricket Board to save face – but it does little for the reputation of the sport overall.

Cricket used to be a byword for fair play and this latest scandal has done nothing for a game that has been troubled by terrorist attacks, empty stadia and suggestions of cheating dating back to Hansie Cronje.

No sport is above scandal – not even cricket.

But at a time when their national spirit has been so deeply affected by natural disaster, I can’t help thinking that the PCB and Pakistan authorities could have handled this crisis a lot better.