As Salman Butt and Mohammad Amir signalled their intention to appeal against cricketing bans for corruption, Haroon Lorgat, the chief executive of the ICC, defended the world governing body's policing of the game. Lorgat claimed that match fixing in cricket has been "curtailed", while spot fixing, of which the three Pakistan players were found guilty, was far from prevalent.
Speaking in Doha yesterday, the day after an independent panel had delivered its verdict on Butt, Mohammad Asif and Amir, Lorgat said that he "did not believe [spot fixing] is rife". "This is a very isolated case," said Lorgat.
Butt was banned for 10 years, a sentence that effectively ends the 26-year-old's career at Test level, even if five are suspended if he participates in a programme of anti-corruption education run by the Pakistan Cricket Board. Asif, 28, has had two years of his seven-year banishment suspended if he fulfils the same criteria. He too is unlikely to play for his country again.
Amir received the minimum tariff, five years, but the 18-year-old will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Amir said: "Cricket has given me everything and it has been everything and if I don't play it I have nothing. I left education to play cricket and I have nothing other than cricket."
There were claims that the three-man panel, chaired by the QC Michael Beloff alongside Albie Sachs, a South African judge, and Sharad Rao, a Kenyan lawyer, had acted leniently when it came to Amir because of his age. Rao told the News of the World, whose sting last August sparked the scandal: "There is the age of Mohammed Amir to take into consideration. He is a wonderfully talented cricketer and we felt we could end his career. We do not believe this was leniency."
Lorgat believes that the sentences are appropriate. "It will make it extremely difficult for them to return to the Test format," he said. "It is at the prime of their careers that they are faced with punishment.
"My first reaction is one of sadness that we had to go through such an ordeal but I am satisfied we have concluded it. I'm also satisfied that the sanctions delivered are severe enough to send out a clear message that the ICC will not stop short at anything to prosecute any player found wanting in this area of corruption. I don't believe the sentences are lenient by any stretch of the imagination."
Lorgat accepted that the game's image has been "tarnished" but said the manner in which the incident has been dealt with will have repaired the damage. He said: "With the speed with which we have got to this point, the hope is that people realised we are serious about maintaining our integrity and we will do everything to protect that. I hope as a result of what has transpired yesterday the image of the game has improved."
England captain Andrew Strauss supported the bans. "The important thing with any punishment is that it sends out a very strong message to those who might be tempted to do it in the future – that is, you do it, and your career is going to be substantially reduced if not completely destroyed," said Strauss. "It is a good thing the game is starting to clean itself up. I would urge the authorities to be as thorough as they can, because if there is a whiff that something dodgy is going on then that degrades the whole sport."
Corruption has dogged the sport for more than a decade now. Butt is the fifth international captain to be sanctioned this century after Salim Malik, Muhammad Azharuddin, Maurice Odumbe of Kenya and Hansie Cronje. Butt said on his return to Karachi yesterday : "I am innocent. I will not rest until I get the ban overturned. I don't think our arguments were heard properly and the ban is unjustified."
Amir also refused to accept the outcome. "I am innocent and I was confident they would clear me. The ban came as a total shock," he said.
Both players said they would wait to see the full judgement before deciding on the course of appeal to CAS, but the ICC may delay publishing it until after the criminal case against the three players and a UK-based agent, Mazhar Majeed. They have been charged with conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments, and conspiracy to cheat. They deny the charges.