THREE Pakistan players and a corrupt agent were jailed today for spot-fixing after being condemned by a judge for damaging the integrity of cricket.
Salman Butt, the former captain, bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, and Mazhar Majeed were told they had “betrayed” all supporters of the game.
Butt received a two-and-a-half year sentence; Asif was jailed for a year, and Amir detained at a Young Offenders Institute for six months. Majeed, the agent at the centre of the conspiracy, was given the heaviest sanction – two years and eight months in jail.
All four men stood in stunned silence in the dock at Southwark Crown Court, before they turned to pick up their belongings, packed in small cricket kit bags, and were led down to the holding cells.
As a white prison van took them away from court, a crowd of fans watched on with a mixture of morbid curiosity, disillusionment and, most of all, disbelief at how cricket had come to this.
It brought to a close the sport’s extraordinary 22-day trial by jury, following the scandal first exposed 14 months ago by the News of the World.
Mr Justice Cooke said the revelations made it difficult for fans to ever believe a surprising result again without wondering “whether there has been a fix and whether what they have been watching is a genuine contest between bat and ball.”
Addressing the players directly in court, the judge said their motive for deliberately bowling three no balls at Lord’s last year was “greed”, and the offences were “so serious that only a sentence of imprisonment will suffice” to act as a deterrent to others.
He added: “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 and would have given their eye teeth to play at the levels and with the skill that you had.”
Butt and Majeed were described as the architects of the fixing racket, and received the strongest punishments.
The captain was jailed for two-and-a-half years and told he had “abused his status” as skipper and “orchestrated” the deliberate no balls at Lord’s last year. He will have to serve 15 months before he is eligible to be released on licence.
Mr Justice Cooke told him: “Because of your leadership status, your direct involvement with Majeed and your key role in directing the corrupt activities, you are more culpable than either of your two bowlers.
“What you did was a terrible thing – it is bad for the game of cricket, bad for the country and shows the character of the man involved.”
Butt was also held responsible, as a man from a “privileged background”, for corrupting Amir – “an 18-year-old from a poverty stricken village”.
The judge said that it appeared fixing was “widespread” in the Pakistan team, and as captain Butt “had perpetuated an atmosphere of corruption”.
Asif was jailed for a year and will serve six months before he is eligible for release on licence next May.
As a 19-year-old, Amir will be detained at Feltham Young Offenders Institute for six months.
The judge rejected the bowler’s claim that the Lord’s no balls were a “one-off” occurrence. The court heard there was evidence of Amir being in contact with a bookie to fix a bracket at the Oval.
Mr Justice Cooke said that Amir turned down the opportunity to give evidence in a special hearing, because of threats to him and his family in Pakistan if he spoke out on fixing. He added that “compared with others, you were unsophisticated, uneducated and impressionable”.
Amir will be eligible for release on licence in February. The bowler’s lawyers have indicated they will seek grounds for appeal of the sentence.
The judge also rejected the basis of Majeed’s plea, saying he took the “lion’s share” of the spoils from the racket, and was intent on taking “as much money as you could from the game of cricket by corrupting those involved.”
Mr Justice Cooke said that in all the players’ cases he took into account their ICC bans, imposed in Doha in February. However with Majeed being “a non player” his sanction was heavier. He will be eligible for release on licence in 16 months.
The judge concluded that the sentences were “to mark the nature of the crimes and to deter any other cricketer, agent or anyone else who considers corrupt activity of this kind.”
Follow RDJ Edwards in court on Twitter – @Cricketer_RDJ