James Lawton: Guilty verdicts do not bring closure, just more questions to haunt game's authorities

When Nasser Huassain first heard of the storm, he said: 'Please don't let it be the kid'

There is only so much room in the dock of Southwark Crown Court, which is maybe the chief merit in the fact that it has been shared these last few weeks only by Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif.

The judge also summoned the name, if not the physical presence, of the still teenaged Mohammad Amir, the third "man" in the spot-fixing scandal that disfigured the fourth Test between England and Pakistan at Lord's the summer before last.

It meant that the trial which yesterday resulted in convictions – and possible imprisonment – for the former captain Butt and Asif, a wonderfully gifted seam bowler, never began to remind you that sometimes three can be a crowd.

No, Butt, Asif and the spectre of a brilliant boy whose career was over almost before it began, did not represent a crowd. They were, in terms of the full range of guilt, the skeleton staff.

That it was non-negotiable guilt, conscious and calculated and nothing so much as a betrayal of the game that gave so much meaning, and advantage, to their lives, was the jury verdict which all the available facts said was inevitable.

Still, it made no less sickening the awareness of how much official neglect, how much absence of care, had gone into the shaping of the corruption exposed by the News of the World.

In all those first reports of how it was that Amir and Asif, bowlers operating at around the peak of their powers, delivered no-balls at the order of their captain, there is one incident that lingers corrosively in the mind. It is of Mazhar Majeed, the orchestrator, the man who counted out the money that set up the newspaper sting, phoning Amir's hotel room late at night with the greeting: "Hey, fucker."

This was a man of the margins, a fixer, who had the run of the Pakistani team, right down to their youngest, jewel-like player who, before the first copies of the Sunday newspaper announced the collapse of his world, had put in a quite brilliant bowling performance at Lord's.

Amir, of course, was no ordinary Test prospect. He had gifts of control and flight and devil that announced him as a player of the ages, someone destined for the pantheon of great performers. When former England captain Nasser Hussain heard the first whisper of the impending storm, he said: "Please, don't let it be the kid."

There was a wide and varied chorus line. It included other heroes of English cricket, Bob Willis, Geoff Boycott and Mike Atherton. All of them despised the alleged crime. All of them paled at the idea that cricket, at least partly out of negligence, was about to lose one of its most promising assets.

For some of us that will always be the sharpest edge of the tragedy that reached a climax at the court at midday yesterday – at around about the same time that Butt, the 27-year-old who for a while had seemed so well qualified to lead such a volatile but always incipiently brilliant team, was told of the birth of his second child.

Butt and Asif were mature Test players. They knew more than a little of the high-profile Pakistani cricketer's life.

Amir was from a poor village in the Punjab, thinly educated, inevitably naïve to a degree, and if this was ultimately no defence, either in a court of law or in the kind of moral crisis that can come at any time or place in life, it still made you angry when you saw that no one, no old sweat who might have selflessly judged the boy's possibilities, had attempted to put an arm around his shoulder and steer him into safer ground.

Maybe Amir, dazzled by the quick money which his father and brothers could not expect to earn in their lifetimes, would have fallen in almost any circumstances. He could have said no, but with what encouragement, what support, what suggestion that he had another choice? It was not so easy to see.

These are the questions that must haunt the cricket authorities, particularly as represented by the Pakistani cricket board and the International Cricket Council's anti-corruption unit.

We are told at various times of their vigilance in the face of the huge disparity between the earning power of Indian cricketers and their Pakistani neighbours – and the worrying force of the illegal betting market.

We are asked to believe that Butt and Asif and Amir wilfully made their own fate entirely in one-off acts of roguery. And then we trawl the doubt and corruption down the years, not just in Pakistan but right across the cricket world.

It is then that we have to detach ourselves from any easy belief that some kind of closure was achieved in Southwark Crown Court.

The dock wasn't big enough for that. But then how big did it need to be? Maybe a corral would have been a start.

Just not cricket: Gambling problems that hurt the sport

1994 Shane Warne, Tim May and Mark Waugh allege that Pakistan's Saleem Malik approached them and asked them to throw a Test in Karachi.

 

1998 Warne and Waugh admit passing on weather and pitch information to an Indian bookmaker during the Singer Cup in Sri Lanka in 1994. Both are fined.

 

May 2000 Pakistan's Malik becomes first cricketer to be barred for match-fixing relating to the incident from 1994. Ata-ur-Rehman receives same punishment.

 

October 2000 Hansie Cronje, the former South Africa captain, is banned for life for offering team-mates money to score fewer runs as well as giving out team information in return for a leather jacket.

 

November 2000 India's Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Sharma are banned for life for fixing three ODIs. Ajay Jadeja and Manoj Prabhakar get five-year suspensions.

August 2004 Kenya's former captain, Maurice Odumbe, is banned for five years for receiving money from bookmakers.

 

May 2008 Marlon Samuels is banned for two years for passing on match-related information to an Indian bookie during West Indies' ODI series in India in 2007.

 

March 2010 Essex's Mervyn Westfield is charged over claims that he deliberately bowled wides as part of alleged spot-fixing during a Pro40 match against Durham. His trial is set for January 2012.

Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing