Last night, the Pakistan cricket team went to bed wondering how to take the remaining eight Sri Lankan wickets on a flat pitch in Sharjah.
Miles away, Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir lay awake behind bars in London, wondering where it had all gone wrong.
Judge Jeremy Cooke sentenced Butt to 30 months, Asif one year, and their corrupt agent Mazhar Majeed two years and eight months for spot-fixing during the August 2010 Lord’s Test match. Amir was sentenced to six months in a young offenders’ institute.
Amir and Majeed’s guilty pleas, the court heard, had reduced their sentences; the players’ bans from the ICC were also taken into account.
Justice Cooke punctuated his judgment with cutting condemnation, reacting with indignation to the damage they had inflicted on the sport and rebuking them severely for their “greed”.
“These offences, regardless of pleas, are so serious that only a sentence of imprisonment will suffice,” the judge said. The sentences will almost certainly be reduced to half the terms, following good behaviour.
Amir and Butt intend to appeal.
Butt was told to pay £30,937, Amir £9,389, and Asif £8,120 towards the prosecution costs, money which is already in police hands. Majeed was ordered to pay £56,554 within six months.
Majeed collected his suitcase as he was led from the dock, while Asif nodded to a friend in the public gallery before disappearing down to the cells. Butt looked aghast; Amir sunken, a painful contrast to his customary sprightliness on the cricket pitch.
Judge without sympathy
Justice Cooke said the players were motivated solely by personal gain, despite the fortunes they could earn legitimately, and said he hoped the sentences would deter other cricketers and agents from following their “hugely detrimental” example.
The judge also condemned the “insidious effect” of their actions on the sport of cricket itself, “the very name of which used to be associated with fair dealing.” Any surprising event in a cricket match will now be suspect to suspicion, he added.
Justice Cooke reserved his most caustic attack for Butt, who he called the “orchestrator” of fixing within the Pakistan team. He said that given his “leadership status”, he was “more culpable than either of your two bowlers.” The judge also partially blamed Butt for luring Amir, “an 18-year-old from a poverty-stricken village background”, into the scandal.
In an unsettling comment for world cricket, the judge said Majeed, Butt and Amir had clearly discussed fixing outside the sting, terming the case “the tip of the iceberg.” Referring specifically to Asif, he said: “There’s no evidence on your part of prior fixing but it’s hard to see that this could have been an isolated incident.”
Amir tight-lipped as family weeps
“I have a lot to say about Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, but my legal team has stopped me from doing so,” Mohammad Amir told a private TV channel in an interview recorded prior to the sentencing. Amir added that he will disclose more information “when the time is right.”
At her home in Changa Bangial, near Islamabad, Amir’s mother Nasim Akhtar wept on hearing the sentence. “My son is innocent and he did the no-ball at the asking of the captain,” she said.
“He should not have been sentenced after his confession. We were under the impression that he would be released after the imposition of a fine,” said Amir’s brother, 26-year-old Mohammad Ijaz.
Reactions: from the emotional to the bizarre
In Lahore, Butt’s sisters spoke to reporters to defend their brother and claimed he had been made a scapegoat for a wider conspiracy. “The punishment is unfair, it is shocking. Our brother is innocent,” said Khadija outside the family home.
Such fortitude – or delusion – might perhaps be expected from family members. From high-ranking government officials, it is somewhat surprising. Following the news, Interior Minister Rehman Malik vowed that the government will defend the players if they are found innocent, seemingly blind to the guilty verdicts in both the ICC and criminal court hearings.
Talking to the media outside parliament, Malik said that the government will see if the charges against the players are true or if there is a conspiracy against them.
Later, following a meeting with British High Commissioner to Pakistan Adam Thomson, Malik said that a team of the Federal Investigation Agency accompanied by solicitors will go to London to help and assist the three sentenced cricketers.
“The FIA team will see the cases of the cricketers and examine if they could be helped in any way,” said the interior minister.
In his meeting with the high commissioner, the minister requested him to provide the Pakistan government with details of the cases.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 4th, 2011.