Tainted trio: From heroes to zeroes
Instead of keeping a record of their fours and sixes, I would instead be keeping a record of their days in jail.
“The next station is London Bridge. Mind the gap between the train and the platform please”.
The announcement on the London Underground disrupted my train of thought. I was on my way to the Southwark Crown Court to learn the fate of Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, who were waiting for the jury’s verdict in the spot-fixing case.
At that time, I wasn’t thinking about the destination as much as I was pondering over their journey.
It was only a year earlier that a Butt-led Pakistan defeated Australia in England and the team’s avid followers felt that finally the leadership of the side was in safe hands. Butt was being hailed as the new hero of Pakistan cricket. But then disaster struck – the hero turned into a zero.
The sting operation carried out by News of the World revealed that the players whom fans back home worshipped like idols, worshipped wealth themselves. Some weeks later I arrived in London during the One-Day International series between Pakistan and England to find that the anger against the tainted trio of Butt, Asif and Mohammad Amir had started fading somewhat. One got the feeling that the whole spot-fixing saga would eventually recede into the past.
However, I didn’t have the slightest inkling back then that Butt and Asif’s postal address in little over a year’s time would be that of the Canterbury Prison.
Fast-forward to the present, I entered the Southwark Crown Court to see Butt chatting with his lawyers. I waved at him and he responded with a smile. A little while later Asif entered and took a seat close to me.
“What kind of a verdict are you expecting?” I asked Asif.
“I’ve done nothing wrong, so I’m hoping for the best,” he responded.
Seemingly unworried, Asif didn’t look like a man who was facing the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence. Maybe he didn’t realise the gravity of the trouble he was in, or perhaps he’d simply lost count of the misdemeanour's he had committed.
As the announcement for resumption of court proceedings came, the courtroom quickly filled up. Justice Cooke entered and called the jury in. Twelve individuals of various ages and races entered. They told the judge that they hadn’t reached a unanimous decision. The jury was then told that at least 10 of them had to agree on a decision for a verdict to be passed. With this the court was adjourned for the day.
What eventually transpired shook the entire cricketing community, with prison sentences being handed down to the trio. As the cricketers got on to the bus that was headed for jail, I felt pained at the thought that instead of keeping a record of their fours and sixes, I would instead be keeping a record of their days in jail.
But more than the pain that this whole saga inflicted on cricket fans, the biggest negative fallout of the spot-fixing case was the bad name that it brought to the country.