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Pakistani fans stay loyal to scandal-plagued team

cricket Updated: Nov 09, 2010 20:37 IST

AP
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Waving the country's green-and-white flags and dancing in the aisles, the Pakistani fans wildly celebrated yet another well-timed boundary from batsman Mohammed Hafeez against South Africa.

The news of the team's latest troubles the disappearance of Pakistani wicketkeeper Zulqarnain Haider, who has sought political asylum in England was already making the rounds at Monday's match at Dubai International Cricket stadium. But for the mostly Pakistani crowd of more than 15,000, it really didn't matter. After having to endure months of lurid allegations of match-fixing, they were not going to let the latest whiff of scandal undermine what for many is their greatest pleasure watching the Pakistan team in action.

Most talked about the team as they might a troubled sibling, shaking their heads but insisting they would stand by the players no matter what.

"It's our country. We need to show our spirit," said Rohail Ahmad, a 19-year-old student who comes from Karachi. "This is the time our country needs us."

Scandal is nothing new in Pakistan cricket and many fans concede they believe it has become part of the team's identity. They embrace Pakistan as the bad boys of cricket and are quick to defend the players against what many see as an international conspiracy to keep them down.

The troubles began in 1999 when Pakistan captain Salim Malik and a teammate became the first players to be banned for match-fixing. In 2007, Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer died at the World Cup under mysterious circumstances, leading the International Cricket Council to investigate any possible links to match-fixing. In August, the team became enmeshed in the biggest scandal to hit the sport in a decade.

The News of the World newspaper accused captain Salman Butt and fast bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif of being paid by businessman Mazhar Majeed to deliberately bowl no-balls during a test against England at Lord's. Majeed was arrested by police after appearing to accept 150,000 pounds ($241,000) from reporters posing as front men for a Far East gambling cartel.

The ICC charged the three players on Sept. 2 with various offenses under the sport's anti-corruption code relating to "alleged irregular behavior" charges that could lead to life bans.

The team was hoping to move beyond the latest scandal during its limited-overs series with South Africa in the United Arab Emirates. But Haider's disappearance is threatening to overshadow yet another Pakistan series.

Haider is seeking political asylum in England and told Pakistan television on Tuesday that he was retiring from international cricket after saying he was told "there would be a problem" if he didn't fix the fourth and fifth matches against South Africa. Fans say it's too early to judge Haider but most raised doubts about the charges against the suspended trio, claiming they were being singled out and set up by the "international media" because they are Pakistani.

Others fretted that their ban was all part of a plan to undermine the team's performance. The team lost both Twenty20 matches to South Africa and the ODI series 3-2.

"I don't believe this. These charges are false," said Nabil Nawaz, a Pakistan student. "These are just rumors aimed at weakening the team."

Even those who were inclined to believe the charges like Aamir Khan, a 28-year-old taxi driver from Lahore, felt that suspending the trio was too harsh.

"We really miss Amir but unfortunately he's involved in this scandal," said Aamir Khan, a 28-year-old taxi driver. "All three should be allowed to play. Then, the results would be very different."