Cricket betting scandal: Pakistan reacts

President orders chairman of cricket board to submit immediate report on Lord’s controversy as harsh punishments are called for

News of the Pakistani cricket scandal was received with a mix of shock, anger and disbelief today, with the president wading in to express his “disappointment” while locals from fast-bowling sensation Mohammad Amir’s hometown grappled to come to terms with their young hero’s alleged role.

“The chairman of the (Pakistan Cricket Board) has been directed to immediately submit a preliminary report about the incident,” President Asif Ali Zardari’s office said in a press statement.

News channels across the country were keenly following the developments, and replaying the News of the World footage of a man identified as Mazhar Majeed taking £150,000 in cash in return for predicting when three “no balls” would come in the ongoing fourth and final Test against England at Lord’s. Two Pakistani bowlers, Amir and Mohammad Asif, delivered the no-balls as predicted, on Thursday and Friday respectively. Majeed was arrested by British police last night and remains in custody.

“There were a lot of rumors about this kind of thing happening over the last couple of years, but there was so little evidence to support it that we just thought, you know it’s just another one of those conspiracy theories that float around in Pakistan,” said Osman Samiuddin, Pakistan editor of the influential sporting site, “But suddenly to have this kind of evidence come up in video form, it seems watertight. It’s a big jolt to the system.”

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is withholding comment while the matter is under investigation, but an angry former PCB chairman Tauqeer Zia told the English-language Express 24/7 news channel that those found guilty must receive harsh punishments.

“Their property should be confiscated and they should be banned from cricket, both domestic and international, for life,” he said. “And I’m sorry, but management cannot be unaware of what was going on. I think management is deeply responsible.”

The question of how far up the scandal extends dominated the Pakistani blogosphere. “Are you trying to tell me that none, none, of the (PCB) board officials or management knew about any of this? Remember, this has been going on for years, by the admission of the man at the center of it all, Mazhar Majeed,” wrote Ahsan Butt, on Five Rupees blog. “Make no mistake, so many heads will roll as a result of this that you might think you’ve been transported to the Place de la Concorde in 1792.”

In Amir’s hometown of Gujjar Khan in Punjab province, 35 miles south-east of the capital Islamabad, some locals were quick to defend the young fast bowler, but many expressed a sense of shame. “I don’t believe it,” said Aziz. “We are very proud of him, such a young man reaching such a high state. This is all intended to disgrace Pakistan.”Others were not as charitable. “I feel ashamed that Amir is from here,” said Ali Asghar, 28. “I am very sad to hear this news.”

The 18-year-old floppy-haired fast bowler relocated his family from Gujjar Khan to the bustling provincial capital of Lahore, 220km to the south-east, after he made the national team. Amir came from a family of modest means, locals said, recounting that his father worked as a security guard at a local school before his son became famous.

Many of Amir’s friends remain in Gujjar Khan. “I tried his cellphone all night but he wasn’t answering,” Ahsan, 21, said. “I just want to ask him what he did and why he did it.” The young business student refused to give his surname, citing his close friendship with Amir. The two attended the nearby Rawalpindi Bajwa Academy four years ago, Ahsan said, and remained in contact.

“I think he was pressured by the more senior players. I don’t think he was directly involved in anything like this, but,” he said, pausing, “people can do anything for money.” – Guardian