Cheating cricketers facing prison

THREE of the world’s top cricketers were facing possible jail terms last night after being convicted of match-fixing.

Pakistan’s former Test captain Salman Butt, 27, and fast bowlers Mohammad Asif, 28, and Mohammad Amir, 19, plotted to bowl deliberate no-balls in the Lord’s Test against England last summer as part of a lucrative betting scam.

The trio were caught after an undercover reporter recorded UK-based sports agent Mazhar Majeed, 36, boasting of how he could arrange for Pakistan cricketers to rig games for money. Butt missed the birth of his second child as he and former world number two Test bowler Asif were found guilty by a jury at London’s Southwark Crown Court of conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments.

Amir, a teenage cricketing sensation who was tipped to become one of the all-time great fast bowlers, admitted the same charges at a pre-trial hearing last month.

The fixing scandal emerged after the News of the World’s former investigations editor Mazher Mahmood approached Majeed in August last year pretending to be a wealthy Indian businessman seeking major international cricketers for a tournament.

The agent was secretly filmed accepting £150,000 in cash from the journalist as part of an arrangement to rig games. Majeed promised the reporter that Asif and Amir would deliver three no-balls at specific points during the Test between Pakistan and England at Lord’s in north London from August 26 to 29 last year.

The no-balls were bowled exactly as promised. The probability of someone predicting this by chance was estimated by a cricket statistician as 1.5million to one.

Amir issued a heartfelt apology for his actions through his barrister, Ben Emmerson QC, who told the court at an earlier hearing: “Amir wants to make it clear he wants to take full responsibility for what he did by deliberately bowling two no-balls.

“This vulnerable 18-year-old boy, as he was then, was subjected to extreme pressure from those upon whom he should have been able to rely. He recognises the damage he has caused Pakistan cricket and he wishes to do his best to put that right.”

Butt and Asif both strenuously denied any involvement in match-fixing throughout the four-week trial.

Explaining why he bowled a no-ball at Lord’s precisely when Majeed said he would, Asif claimed Butt told him, “run faster, f***er”, moments before his delivery.

Butt, whose wife Gul Hassan gave birth to their second son in Pakistan, said the agent asked him to rig parts of crunch games at the 2010 Twenty20 World Cup and last summer’s Test series against England.

The former Pakistan captain insisted he ignored the requests, but admitted he did not fulfil his duty to inform the cricketing authorities about the corrupt approach.

Butt and Asif made no reaction in the dock as the jury foreman read out the guilty verdicts, which were unanimous on the conspiracy to cheat charge and by a majority of 10 to two on the conspiracy to accept corrupt payments charge.

The jury was not told that the International Cricket Council imposed five-year suspensions on all three Pakistani cricketers in February. They are all appealing against the bans.

The judge, Mr Justice Cooke, will sentence Butt, Asif and Amir over a two-day hearing today and tomorrow.

The maximum sentence for cheating is two years in jail and an unlimited fine, while accepting corrupt payments carries a sentence of up to seven years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

Detective Chief Superintendent Matthew Horne, of the Metropolitan Police, said: “The defendants have let down the cricketing world, their fans and the hard-working people that buy tickets to watch.

“I am not sure these men really appreciated how much they were admired by cricket fans.”

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