THE International Cricket Council’s ban on Bangladesh’s cricket icon and world cricket’s No 1 ODI all-rounder Sakib al Hasan came as a bolt from the blue for millions of cricket fans. The fans watched and supported Sakib as he led the demands of the cricketers to the Bangladesh Cricket Board in the days preceding the ban, unaware about what was round the corner for them.
The fans heaved a big sigh of relief when the prime minister whose love for cricket and affection for the players is well known and admired, intervened and ended the conflict. The board accepted the demands of the players, 13 in all that centred mainly around a fair share for the players from the earnings of the board. The fans knew that money was something that the board had aplenty. They were, therefore, surprised and unhappy at the board’s apathy. They were also unhappy with the board’s president because he did not back the players. They also felt that he did not like Sakib because he had led the demands of the players.
The joy and excitement of the fans with the end of the conflict between the players and the board were short-lived. They were first alerted to the fact that something unusual was around the corner for the country’s cricket when the media reported that Sakib, who had been named the captain of the Bangladesh team’s tour to India for November 3–26 for two Tests and three Twenty20 matches, was not attending the training camp. They were also cautioned by the board president that something extraordinary was about the happen to Bangladesh cricket that would shake it at its foundations, without clarifying further.
The fans, however, were not prepared in the remotest sense for what was to happen in Bangladesh’s cricket next. The ICC issued through a media release on October 29 a bombshell that explained why Sakib had stayed away from training for the India tour. The ICC media release stated that Sakib had been banned because he had failed to report to the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit under the ICC Code of Conduct, approaches made to him on three occasions to ‘engage in corrupt conduct’ by Indian bookie Deepak Aggarwal. The ICC charged Sakib under Article 2:4:4 of the ICC Corruption Code of 2018.
The ICC release stated further that Sakib had admitted his guilt and waived his right to represent his case. The release did not clarify the time sequence related to the ban. Sakib was banned for one year from all forms of international and domestic cricket with another year of a suspended sentence and that he would be free to return to domestic and international cricket from October 29, 2020 if his conduct was satisfactory in the first year of the ban. The ICC ban has, thus, ruled out Sakib from participating in the World Cup of the Twenty20 format to be played in Australia in 2020.
The ICC ban confirmed the fear to which the BCB president had earlier alluded. The Bangladesh cricket fans were hurt, upset, disappointed and angry at the ban on Sakib. They gave vent to these feelings, all rolled into one, with conspiracy theories where they pointed fingers at India. They felt that India had used its influence over the ICC to ban Sakib because it was afraid that with Sakib in the team, it could lose a Test or a match or two in the Twenty20 format that would be an embarrassment for the Indian cricket. Sakib’s talent as a cricketer is well acknowledged. Nevertheless, India had a crop of cricketers as talented and some more than the Bangladesh icon. Therefore, the conspiracy theory of the fans blaming India because it was afraid of Sakib was giving their imagination too much leeway.
Nevertheless, Sakib was the victim of an improper interpretation of the ICC law used to ban him. And the haste in which the ICC moved to impose the ban raised suspicion in the minds of Bangladesh cricket fans that Sakib had been the victim of something worse than a conspiracy. An examination of the ICC laws under which Sakib was banned exposed that there was indeed a miscarriage of justice in banning Shakib. He was punished under Article 2:4:4 of the ICC Code of Conduct of 2018 that had come into effect on February 9 of that year to replace the ICC Code of Conduct of 2014.
The new code stated unambiguously that no cricketer would be tried under it for violations retroactively. That meant that Sakib’s two contacts with the bookie, one on January 19 and another on January 23, 2018, during the Sri Lanka-Bangladesh-Zimbabwe tri-series, did not fall under the ICC Code of Conduct, 2018. He was, thus, improperly, in fact illegally, tried and punished under it for the two violations. Sakib could have been legally punished for just one violation only which had occurred on April 26, 2018, during the Indian Premier League game between his team Sunrisers Hyderabad and Punjab King’s XI for which the maximum sentence was for six months.
ICC’s violation of its laws was not just the only strange thing that happened in Sakib’s ban. Many questions regarding it have still not been answered. It is still not at all clear when and how the ICC cane to know of Sakib’s violations, when it had charged Sakib and whether the Bangladesh board had any knowledge of the violations. These questions are extremely important in understanding why Sakib accepted the ICC allegations and expressed satisfaction about his punishment. Was he misled by, perhaps the ICC or his board, that may have told that if he did not accept the allegations, his career would be forever ruined? A former president of the cricket board who appeared on several television talk-shows spoke at length and authoritatively on some of these questions that should be examined to arrive at all the relevant facts concerning the ban on Sakib.
Every cloud, as the cliché goes, has a silver lining. Sakib’s ban came as a body blow for Super Star and Bangladesh cricket. The silver lining in the dark cloud now hanging over Bangladesh cricket could appear only if powerful quarters in the country were to look into the board and inquire if there was something it could have done to get a better deal for Sakib and saved Bangladesh embarrassment. It would be important to examine whether Sakib could still represent his ban with facts pointing that he was victimised. It was, indeed, sad that the board with the president and 21 directors did not know about what Sakib faced and the options that were open to him that the past board president knew like the back of his hands.
Sakib must accept a major share of responsibility for the misfortune that he brought upon himself and the Bangladesh cricket. His great talent as a cricketer notwithstanding, he had showed serious flaws in his character quite frequently when he would get out playing most irresponsible shots while batting brilliantly without any consideration for the team. He had four chances to report the Indian bookie to the ICC and the Bangladesh board over a good period. Why was he silent? And while all of that was happening in his cricket career, he entered into a contract with Grameen worth Tk 3 cores in full knowledge that it would jeopardise Tk 100 crore for the board from where the players were expected to get their benefits.
Postscript: The Bangladesh board should, without any delay, lodge a complaint with the ICC on grounds of miscarriage of justice stressing that the ICC Code of Conduct 2018 was illegally used to punish Shakib in two of the three charges against him. And higher authorities should order an investigation of the affairs of the Bangladesh board with regards to the ban because it appears to have a lot to answer to save Bangladesh cricket and its cricketers who talented as they undoubtedly are, are unfortunately immature in many other respects.
M Serajul Islam is a former career ambassador.
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