RUMOURS have now turned into reality -- for Pakistan at least. Three of their top cricketers have been named as fixers by an inquiry into match-fixing. Wasim Akram, Salim Malik (who has just returned to the team) and Ijaq Ahmed may well be joined by others.
The report by the three-member committee, headed by Justice Chaudhary Ejaz Yousuf, says: "In order to complete the inquiry and in order to draw final findings and opinion, the examination of players accused of allegations including Akram, Malik, Ijaz, Moin Khan, Inzamam-ul Haq, Mushtaq Ahmed, Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq would also be necessary and imperative."
This means that a fine old can of worms has been reopened. But it isn't unexpected, not in the least. What follows may run true to form as well. About the only surprising thing is that last year's inquiry on the other side of the border did not come up with anything.
Where do we go from here? Will the Pakistan board now follow the recommendations and pull Malik and Ijaz out the team which is getting ready to take on India in the Sahara Cup? Or will the government choose to simply ignore the report and insist on more substantial evidence before anyone is banned?
Will the inquiry turn out to be another whitewash? All three players who have been definitely named as fixers have denied involvement and they do have support among the masses and the power-brokers, both in the cricketing sphere and the political one.
While the panel report did say, "however, the final decision against them (the three cricketers named) and all others concerned may be deferred to the finalisation of inquiry and findings", it is clear that the Pakistan board must act now to show that it is serious about the findings. Just letting the whole cricket world know about it and then submitting it to the bureaucratic process to delay action would only nullify any positive gain which can be reaped.
Pakistan has some cricketing heroes today despite the dirt which has been spilt -- players like Aamir Sohail, Saeed Anwar, Basit Ali, Rashid Latif, Aaqib Javed and Ata-ur Rehman who risked the ire of their seniors to give evidence before the panel and spill the beans. The same applies to the cricket administrators who have taken on themselves the task of protecting these players so that they could speak out.
The most puzzling aspect of this whole thing is the inaction by the ICC. This is the biggest stain on the game in its 121-year-old history. Yet Jagmohan Dalmiya is silent. The same goes for David Richards who is in Malaysia to oversee the introduction of cricket at the Commonwealth Games. Talk of Nero fiddling while Rome burnt is not exactly out of place here.
Pakistan has done the right thing and deserves applause from the rest of the cricketing world. This is not the time for people to behave self-righteously and claim that they have been vindicated as some Australian players are doing. This is a time to extend support to the Pakistan cricket establishment and help it to carry through the recommendations so that the game can be cleaned up. India would do well to lead the charge as it may well find out soon that all is not well with its set-up either.