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'

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The Independent Online

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.

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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.