Mohammad Amir can come to symbolise reform if proved that the mark was overstepped

The England captain, a number of his predecessors, the Pakistan manager, Yawar Saeed, and the greatest Pakistani cricketer of them all, Imran Khan, were of one voice on Sunday: if the allegations are proved to be accurate then the punishment should fit the crime.

‘If someone is proven to be categorically guilty then the only way is for them never to play international cricket again,’ said Strauss in a flawless post-match performance. In a different way, Saeed agreed: ‘If I have stolen one shilling from you, you punish me for a shilling not for a million pounds,’ he said. And fixing is the greatest crime a sportsman can commit, the punishment, in Saeed’s view, should be suitably harsh.

The crime, if proven, is obvious. What is not so straightforward is who perpetrated it and who the victims are. Clearly, the paying public would be victims, deceived into thinking that Pakistan’s cricketers were giving their all; England’s players would be victims, too, because the Spirit of the Game, when you think about it, is about one thing and one thing only: respect for your opponents.

But I would argue that Mohammad Amir, rather than one of those allegedly perpetrating the crime, would be the biggest victim and the focus of any investigation should be on those who felt it necessary, and were able, to take advantage of him and on the culture within the team. On the likes of the middleman who, the News of the World reported, had the wherewithal to waken him from his slumbers on the eve of a Test match, address him as ‘fucker’ and announce that instructions could wait until the morning.

Now think of Salman Butt, the captain, and the nature of authority in Pakistan itself. When a slip catch disappeared through the cordon at The Oval, Butt walked towards them and gave them a very public dressing-down. An England captain might have got a flea in his ear had he done the same; in Pakistan you don’t flout authority. Could an 18-year-old resist the wishes of his elders, his superiors?

Yesterday, Amir’s coach and mentor from his academy days in Rawalpindi, defended his protégé. ‘My school is run very strictly and with discipline, and my boys here would not do such things,’ Asif Bajwa said. Maybe true, but Amir has been a part of a very different environment now – the Pakistan cricket team – and it would be the biggest indictment of the culture of them if someone who has only been around for such a short period has been corrupted in that time.

Think, for a moment, about the no-balls at the heart of the controversy, the two bowled to order, allegedly, by Amir and the one by Mohammad Asif. Amir’s were enormous, a good foot or so over the front line. Asif’s overstepping of the front line was more measured – an inch or so. If this was deliberate it might be possible to see the difference between a hopelessly naïve young man, drawn into a situation beyond his understanding, and a hardened professional with plenty of previous under his belt. And they say both should face equal punishment.

Clearly, any cleansing of Pakistan cricket will be a long road since the corruption is so ingrained. It is an uncomfortable truth, but one that must be said of a country run by a prime minister, Asif Zadari, whose nickname is ‘Mr Ten Per Cent’. Time and again, from Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) officials to people such as Justice Malik Mohammad Qayyum, who admitted to leniency against Wasim Akram because the cricketer was his idol, people in authority have encouraged appalling behaviour.

There is a Pakistan Task Team in place, headed by Giles Clarke and including luminaries such as Mike Brearley and Greg Chappell. Their influence must be brought to bear, with the full backing of the ICC, in trying to help purge the PCB of incompetence and corruption.

There are good people in Pakistan cricket. As it happens, during the evening before the allegations became public, I was dining with Ramiz Raja, the former Pakistan batsman and former chief executive of the PCB. We got talking about Imran and Ramiz’s view was that fixing did not happen, would not have happened, and could not have happened while Imran was in charge. Leadership is everything here. People such as Ramiz and Imran have to be persuaded to get involved again.

Admittedly, if these allegations are proven accurate, to reprieve Amir at the expense of anyone else involved would be completely arbitrary and, in a sense, unfair. It would give succour to those who argue – rightly – that the events of the past few days are a direct consequence of a failure to act on the excesses of the past. Yet that would be to ignore the obvious: that Amir is a potent symbol right now, of what was, what is and what might be.

He should not be punished as an example to the rest, as everyone seems to suggest, rather he should be made aware of the issues, educated, rehabilitated and held up as an example of what can be achieved. Amir’s rehabilitation should be at the heart of the cleansing of Pakistan cricket. The brilliant young bowler is not the cause of the problem but the most tragic consequence of it. The Times, 31 August 2010