A London court has handed out jail terms to the three players and their agent found guilty in the spot-fixing case, drawing the curtains on one of cricket’s most sordid and shameful sagas. Salman Butt, the former Pakistan captain, has been sentenced to two years and six months; Mohammad Asif has got a one-year jail sentence and his fellow fast bowler Mohammad Amir six months. Mazhar Majeed, the players’ agent, has been sentenced to two years and eight months.
They will serve half the time in custody and then be released on licence, with conditions which, if broken, would see them back in detention for the remainder of their term.
The four men had been charged with conspiracy to accept corrupt payments, and conspiracy to cheat in regard to the Lord’s Test against England in August 2010, when the three pre-determined no-balls were bowled – two by Amir and one by Asif, orchestrated by Butt and arranged by Majeed. While Amir and Majeed had pleaded guilty before the trial began, Butt and Asif denied the charges and were found guilty by a jury on Tuesday.
The sentences were handed down in Southwark Crown Court on Thursday morning – the 22nd day of the trial – by Justice Cooke, who prefaced the quantum of punishment with some stinging remarks on the four convicted men and a sobering reminder on the legacy of their actions on the sport itself. He also made clear to Majeed and Amir that their sentences had been reduced – from four years and nine months, respectively – because they had pleaded guilty, and told all the players that the bans imposed by the ICC had also had a mitigating effect.
The incarceration began immediately, with the players – who had all come to court with bags – driven away in prison vans after leaving a courtroom packed beyond capacity. Amir will not be sent to jail but to a young offenders’ detention centre.
In the aftermath of the sentencing process, while TV crews hovered outside the courthouse, the one main area of debate was what would happen with regards to appeals. Butt’s solicitor Paul Harris confirmed on the entrance steps of the courthouse that his team would be lodging an appeal “in the next 24 hours”.
Amir’s team met with the judge behind closed doors immediately, and grounds for appeal were rejected then, which is apparently normal practice as the sentencing judge is hardly going to admit his punishment was incorrect minutes after meting it out. They are, though, awaiting further clearance, probably in the next 24 hours, which will allow them to lodge an appeal.
Majeed and Asif’s legal representatives are yet to announce appeal plans though these are expected soon. There is no suggestion that any of the quartet are seeking bail, while awaiting appeals.
The PCB called it a “sad day” for Pakistan cricket. “Instead of having pride in playing for their country, these players chose to disappoint their supporters, damage the image of their country and bring the noble game of cricket into disrepute. There is little sympathy in Pakistan for the sorry pass they have come to.”
In Lahore, the families of the convicted players were stunned by the sentences. Amir’s father said the Pakistan government should have helped his son. His brother Saleem said: “He is a kid, he can’t understand things. These six months are a lot for a boy who is immature.”
Butt’s father Zulfiqar was more aggressive, saying his son was innocent. “Our own friends conspired against us,” he said. “You can check our bank balance, we haven’t even been able to build our own house.”
The judge began the day’s proceedings proceedings with his summation of the case of each of the four found guilty, reading out their sentences one at a time, and his initial words suggested jail terms for all four guilty.
“Now, when people look back at a surprising event in a game or a surprising result or ever in the future there are surprising results, followers of the game who have paid to watch cricket or who have watched cricket on TV will wonder whether there has been a fix or what they have watched was natural.”
Cooke had harsh words for Butt, whom he called “the orchestrator of these matters…you had to be to make sure these two bowlers were bowling at the time of the fix.” Butt’s leadership status, he said, made him more culpable than his bowlers.
He specifically mentioned Butt’s role in involving Amir in the corruption. “An 18 year old from a poverty stricken village background, very different to your own privileged one, who, whilst a very talented bowler, would be inclined to do what his senior players and particularly his captain told him, especially when told there was money in it for him and this was part of the common culture. For an impressionable youngster, not long in the team to stand out against the blandishments of his captain would have been hard.”
To Asif he said: “Whilst no money was found in your possession, it’s clear that you conspired to bowl a no-ball. There’s no evidence on your part of prior fixing but it’s hard to see that this could have been an isolated incident.”
For Amir there was praise for accepting his guilt and a re-assertion of Butt’s influence on Amir but a refusal to accept the basis of his plea, that his only involvement in spot fixing was at Lord’s on August 26 and 27 and that he only became involved as a result of pressure and threats to his career.
In this regard he referred to evidence, in the shape of texts and telephone calls with a Pakistani number, of Amir’s involvement in discussions about fixing brackets at The Oval during the period of the indictment, though there was no evidence that such fixing actually occurred. That discussion, Justice Cooke noted, did not relate to Majeed.