Cricket Cricket

Jail for Pakistan cricketers a wake-up call


LONDON, England, November 4- Tough jail sentences handed down to disgraced former Pakistan cricketers and their agent by a British judge were welcomed Friday as a “wake-up call” for the game as well as a tragedy for the youngest player involved in the fixing scandal.

Former captain Salman Butt, 27, looked aghast as he received a 30-month sentence at London’s Southwark Crown Court, where he and fast bowler Mohammad Asif were found guilty on Tuesday of fixing parts of the August 2010 Lord’s Test match against England.

Asif, 28, was jailed for a year, while prodigious 19-year-old bowler Mohammad Aamer, who admitted involvement in pre-arranging no-balls for shadowy South Asian betting rings, was sentenced to six months in a young offenders’ institution.

Their corrupt British agent Mazhar Majeed, 36, who had also pleaded guilty, was given the longest sentence — two years and eight months.

The Guardian’s editorial recognised the waste caused by 18-year-old Aamer’s detention, but reasoned that the game’s reputation was too important for sentimentality to prevail.

“It’s no time to surrender. A beefed-up International Cricket Council (ICC), longer bans, greater powers to investigate. The fightback starts now,” it declared.

Former England captain and Times cricket correspondent Michael Atherton called Aamer’s plight “tragic” and claimed all three custodial sentences “bordered on harsh”.

“There are those who want to see blood spilt, of course, those for whom no punishment is too severe,” he wrote in Friday’s edition. “Their careers are already over. What more do people want?”

The former opening batsman questioned what was to be gained in sending Aamer to London’s notorious Feltham Young Offenders Institute, which, according to its latest inspection, was a place where ‘fights between young people were frequent and vestiges of youth gang culture were inevitably imported’.

“There is only sadness and the hope that, for Amir, redemption can be found,” he concluded.

The Telegraph’s Paul Kelso echoed Atherton’s concerns, calling it a “hollow victory” in the battle to clean up cricket.

“So much of this case is singular that the prospect of three UK cells being filled by foreign cricketers can only be greeted with sadness,” he wrote.

“It is one of many singularities of the case that Aamer’s no-balls came in the midst of a devastating spell of four for none that reduced England to their knees and set up one of the greatest days of competitive cricket Lord’s has seen.

“No-one who saw him send the England top-order packing could suggest he was not trying,” he argued.

Tim May, head of the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA), which co-ordinates the activities of national players’ associations, said it should be a wake up call to anyone contemplating cheating.

“The real possibility of spending time in prison is a further compelling argument for players to distance themselves from those who seek to profit illegally from the game,” the Australian said in a statement.

He said he had mixed emotions about the verdict in London’s Southwark Crown Court, saying he was concerned that spot fixing still appeared to be prevalent despite cricket authorities spending millions of dollars to stamp it out.

But he said he felt “satisfaction that the prosecution has been able to identify corruption and deliver a loud and clear message to players of all sports that if you are caught cheating the integrity of sport you will be prosecuted and face severe penalties”.

In passing sentence judge Jeremy Cooke said the offences “regardless of pleas, are so serious that only a sentence of imprisonment will suffice,” adding they would each serve half their sentences and then be released on licence.

He said the players were motivated by greed 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”.

“It’s the insidious effect of your actions on professional cricket and the followers of it which make the offences so serious,” he told the packed courtroom.

Its “image and integrity” stands “damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded three of you as heroes”.

Despite their status, he said the players had “procured the bowling of three no-balls for money to the detriment of your national cricket team, with the object of enabling others to cheat at gambling”.

Any surprising event in a cricket match will now be suspect to suspicion, he said.

The world of cricket has reacted with dismay to the worst fixing scandal since South Africa captain Hansie Cronje in 2000, but the head of the anti-corruption unit of the International Cricket Council, Ronnie Flanagan, denied that corruption was rampant in the sport.

“The vast, vast majority of cricketers are not only wonderfully talented, but wonderfully ethical people,” he said.

The ICC has banned Butt for ten years, with five suspended, Asif for seven years, with two suspended, and Aamer for five years straight, sanctions which they are appealing against.

Butt, whose wife gave birth Tuesday, intends to appeal, his lawyer said outside court. Aamer also intends to appeal, the BBC reported.