The sport, once referred to as the gentleman’s game, received a fresh coat of tar with the conviction of Salman Butt, a former captain of the Pakistan cricket team, and Mohammad Asif, a pace bowler, in a London criminal court on Tuesday.
Along with another accused, pacer Mohammad Aamir who had pleaded guilty during the trail, the trio accused of spot-fixing — more specifically, bowling no balls at certain pre-designated points during the fourth Test between England and Pakistan at Lords in August, 2010 — face a prison term of up to seven years when the sentence is announced over Thursday and Friday. It will effectively end what were promising sporting careers, already on hold after a suspension order from the International Cricket Council (ICC) earlier in the year.
The establishment of guilt on accounts of cheating and receiving money to do so, and a possible jail term that is expected to act as a deterrent, is unfortunately, not the final curtain call on the sordid saga. The evidence collated by Scotland Yard that surfaced during the London trial has already thrown up the names of other Pakistani cricketers like Kamran Akmal, Umar Akmal and Wahab Riaz, also suspected to be involved in the nefarious dealings. Given the somewhat obvious inference that the three convicted players weren’t isolated wrong-doers but part of a pattern of cheating and gambling whose tentacles run deep and wide in the cricketing world, the ICC’s Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) has now decided to launch its own investigations into Pakistan’s entire tour of England that year.
Too little, too late has been the reaction to the ICC’s latest hobbled move to crack down on the lucrative, and often dangerous, world of cricket gambling. The efficacy of the ICC’s corruption watchdog was under question anyway, given that it took a covert operation by undercover reporters from the now-defunct News of the World to bring to light the spot-fixing that Messrs Butt and Co were indulging in. The fact that the ACSU is manned by professional detectives, skilled but not the right people to investigate the nuances of an intricate sport, doesn’t spell confidence either. Unle-ss the ICC is able to establish a way of weeding out corrupt practices with a firm hand, cricket is likely to turn from a sporting pastime to organised crime.