Three Pakistan cricketers and a sports agent were sentenced to as much as two years and eight months in jail by a U.K. judge after being convicted of taking bribes to cheat in a Test against England at Lord’s last year.
Former captain Salman Butt, 27, received two years and six months in prison and fast bowler Mohammad Asif, 28, got one year after both were found guilty following a three-week trial at Southwark Crown Court. Mohammad Amir, 19, pleaded guilty before the trial and received a six-month sentence. Butt’s agent, Mazher Majeed, was sentenced to two years and eight months. They may be released halfway through the sentences for good behavior.
They were caught following an undercover sting by defunct U.K. tabloid the News of the World for plotting to bowl no-balls during the match. Butt’s lawyer Paul Harris said outside the court in London that his client will be appealing. Amir, who will also appeal, is likely to serve his sentence in a juvenile institution.
“The image and integrity of what was once a game, but is now a business, is damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded three of you as heroes,” sentencing judge Jeremy Cooke said. He said supporters will now look at a surprising result and “wonder whether there has been a fix and whether what they have been watching is a genuine contest between bat and ball.”
The trio is the first sportsmen to be convicted of cheating in the U.K. since three soccer players were jailed for throwing matches in 1964.
Cricket has battled corruption since scandals in the 1990s that tainted the careers of several players including the former captains of South Africa and India, Hansie Cronje and Mohammad Azharuddin. The Pakistani cricketers were accused of receiving some of the 150,000 pounds ($240,000) the newspaper gave to Butt’s agent Majeed to fix portions of the match.
“Your motive was greed, despite the high legitimate rewards available in earnings and prize money,” Cooke told the players. He said he’d given them a lighter sentence than he could have done because they’d already been banned from the sport by the International Cricket Council.
Journalist Mazher Mahmood posed as a wealthy Indian businessman interested in fixing cricket matches. He gave money to Majeed, who then asked Butt to arrange for Asif and Amir to bowl no-balls at pre-determined moments in the fourth Test with England. Amir bowled two no-balls and Asif bowled one at exactly the moments specified. The payment was to cover future bets as well, the prosecution said.
Cooke said he gave Butt a longer sentence than his former teammates because he and Majeed “were architects of the fixing of which the court has heard, procuring the other two defendants to do what they did.”
The News of the World reported the story midway through the match. Amir, the youngest cricketer to take 50 Test wickets, bowled his first no-ball in the middle of the best spell of his career. He was later named man of the series, even though England took the contest 3-1.
Yesterday, his lawyer Henry Blaxland read out a letter from Amir in which he described the year between making his debut up to the Lord’s Test in 2010 as the “most amazing” and worst year of his life.
“The best day of my life was when I was selected to play for Pakistan,” Amir wrote. “I got my shirt, number 90, the night before, I put it on and I stood in front of the mirror for a very long time. I could not believe that I was playing for Pakistan. If I could have, I would have slept in it but I didn’t want to ruin the shirt.”
Cooke blamed Butt for corrupting Amir, who former Pakistan captain Imran Khan described as “a talent that appears once in a generation.”
“For an impressionable youngster, not long in the team, to stand out against the blandishments of his captain would have been hard,” the judge said.
Amir declined the opportunity to give the court evidence about how he came to be involved in the plot, saying he feared his family would be harmed if he did. The judge said he understood Amir’s position because he’d seen documents and evidence from the ICC about “the strength of the underworld influences who control unlawful betting abroad.”
Ronnie Flanagan, who heads the ICC’s anti corruption unit, said the convictions don’t mean match-fixing is rampant in the sport.
“Sadly I wouldn’t say the instances we have seen brought to justice are totally isolated either,” he said.