Pakistan match-fixing claims: players easily led astray, says former coach Geoff Lawson

I was in England for the Australia-Pakistan series, and I shared a few orange juices with the boys. It all seemed to be going so well: they had won a Test under their new captain, Salman Butt, and I was happy for them.

Then I was watching the Lord’s Test when Mohammad Amir bowled one of those big no-balls. I did wonder how on earth he had missed his run-up by such a distance. But the idea of corruption never entered my head.

So when the story broke at the weekend, my first feeling was of sadness. To me, it had the potential to end a player’s career. And not just any player either. Amir is the shining light of cricket in Pakistan — or even the world. His is a true Cinderella story of a poor kid who made it big. To think that this could all be taken away if these allegations stand up – good grief, that is heartbreaking.

I first saw Amir as a skinny 16 year-old who ran in and bounced out the older boys at an under-19 training camp, and then laughed about it. Don’t you like to see that from a young fast bowler!

He was three hours late because he hadn’t been able to get across the road from his home village. The Taliban controlled the road, and they wouldn’t let anyone across.

These things are part of everyday life in Pakistan; you have to live there to understand the sort of culture the players grow up in. People turn up to the national cricket centre with rubber hanging off their boots because that’s the only pair they have ever had.

So when a player is accused of taking money, it could be a case of sheer greed. Or they might want the money to pay for a new generator in their home village, which normally has electricity for only two hours a day. Or they might even have been threatened with violence against themselves or a member of their family.

While I was Pakistan’s coach, there was one occasion when a selector begged me to pick a certain player. If I didn’t, the selector said his own daughter would be kidnapped and he would never see her again. You only had to look at his face to know he believed it. In the end we got in touch with the president of the country, Pervez Musharraf, who managed to resolve the situation.

Amir, to me, was a young, innocent kid with bags of talent. As for Mohammad Asif, he was also quite naive, as you might gather from the number of drug offences he has racked up during his career.

I lost count of the number of times he told me he wanted to leave training early so he could get back to his village, because his mother was sick.

I always felt Asif was easily led astray, and spent a lot of time with Shoaib Akhtar, who had a poor track record. But even so, as a senior player, he should know better than to get involved in spot-fixing. He ought to be the one setting an example, not the one crossing the line.

If he is shown to be guilty, I don’t believe there should be any sympathy for him.

I was racking my brains to see if I had met this Mazheer Majeed character when I was Pakistan’s coach. With a lot of these people, they are always keen to introduce themselves. But his name just doesn’t ring a bell with me; likewise his face and his English accent. I am sure I would remember him.

When I was reading about all the things he was claiming to have done, such as fixing the Sydney Test last year, I was sceptical. Of course, it could be true. No one believed the Hansie Cronjé allegations at first. But that, to me, just sounded like someone puffing themselves up and trying to make an impression.

When I was coach, I always felt that the Western media were quick to jump on Pakistan and accuse them of underperformance or inconsistency. Indeed, I thought they produced incredible results given the challenges they faced behind the scenes.

Right now, for instance, there are 20 million people in Pakistan with no fresh water or sanitation or housing because of the floods. That’s roughly the population of Australia, living without a roof over their heads. In that context, someone bowling a no ball for money is pretty small beer.

But while this sort of behaviour may be understandable, that doesn’t make it acceptable. The players have been regularly briefed by the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit. They know they are supposed to report any approach. No matter how much sympathy I may feel towards someone like Amir, he cannot use ignorance as an excuse – Telegraph