Will the PCB waive Sharjeel Khan’s suspended sentence?

Uncertainty surrounds the immediate future of Sharjeel Khan, the Pakistani opener who is serving a ban for five years for his role in the 2017 PSL spot-fixing scandal. Half of Sharjeel’s five-year sentence was suspended, meaning that later this week, on August 10, a decision needs to be made on whether the suspended part of the sentence kicks in right away or later.

The main problem appears to be that Sharjeel has continued to show a reluctance to express public remorse for his part in the incident – as the PCB wants – before his suspended sentence is waived. According to the PCB’s code of conduct, the waiver applies only if the player fulfils the board’s criteria to facilitate their reintroduction into cricket. Article 6.7 of the code says that a participant becomes automatically re-eligible to play cricket on completion of the period of ineligibility, provided they have completed anti-corruption education sessions to the satisfaction of PCB’s vigilance and security department. In addition, an admission of guilt and remorse, is essential for that to happen, and Sharjeel has done none of these things so far.

Sharjeel, 29, was banned in 2017 from all forms of cricket for his role in the spot-fixing scandal that marred the PSL’s second edition. On the opening night, Sharjeel and Khalid Latif, playing for Islamabad United, were charged with five major breaches of the PCB’s anti-corruption code, and found guilty on all five counts by a three-man tribunal. Sharjeel could potentially have received a life ban, but was handed the minimum mandatory punishment on each of his charges. Latif received a five-year ban, with no chance of a waiver before the period ended.

During his ban, Sharjeel maintained his innocence and denied all charges, appealing against the ban before the independent arbitrator, only to have it rejected. Since then he has been weighing up his options, contemplating whether to challenge the ban further, but choosing instead to write to the PCB chairman Ehsan Mani and requesting him to use his discretion to waive the remainder of the ban.

With the August 10 deadline approaching, Sharjeel wrote to the PCB last week and asked them to devise a rehabilitation and education programme which he could take part in – a step that he believes would allow him back into the game. Whether or not the PCB sees it that way – and doesn’t insist on the apology and show of remorse – is not yet known. The board is assessing their legal options and has not publicly commented on it so far. It does, however, present a test case for the governing board, for if Sharjeel is given the green light, questions will inevitably be asked about the seriousness with which they take rehabilitation of banned cricketers, and the meaningfulness of suspended sentences.

Sharjeel finds himself in a similar scenario to Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, who were banned by the ICC for ten and seven years respectively, with the possibility of a suspended sentence after five years. They had continued to deny guilt or responsibility until well into their bans, only to eventually own up, a move overwhelmingly viewed as a cynical attempt to ensure the suspended sentence was not activated. Both returned after five years, but neither of them ever played international cricket again.

That was in contrast to Mohammad Amir, who after an initial period of denial, admitted to his guilt ahead of his trial in court and then in an interview with Michael Atherton in 2012. Amir also took up the rehab programme and was welcomed back with open arms after the completion of his ban by both the PCB and most of the Pakistan public. That he had made several public appearances expressing remorse and was actively part of anti-corruption lectures worldwide played a major part in his return and eventual acceptance by the wider cricket fraternity.

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