On Thursday of last week three Pakistani cricketers were jailed for their involvement in a plot to bowl no-balls at specific points during a cricket match against England in 2010. All three men -Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt – have already been handed bans by the International Cricket Council (ICC) but this week the legal proceedings against them conclude. Another man, cricket agent Mazhar Majeed, was also jailed for paying the three cricketers. All four men were caught as part of a News of the World sting operation during which Majeed convinced Amir and Asif to bowl no-balls at particular points in a game to prove to a supposed investor (in reality an undercover reporter) that games could be fixed.
Gambling on cricket is a multi-billion pound business across the world with particularly strong ties to the sub-continent. Match fixing has been on cricket’s agenda since ex-South Africa captain Hansie Cronje was banned for his involvement in match-fixing in 2000. Since then it has been a continuous issue and measures have been taken by the ICC and domestic bodies to help educate players in the dangers and temptations of throwing games or agreeing to take part in spot-fixing (where bets are made on a particular activity to happen at a particular time).
However, problems persist and players both current and past have accused the ICC of failing to do enough to protect and educate players. Certainly the anti-corruption operation is woefully underfunded and it seems that little is being done in practice to protect players, especially those from poorer cricket playing nations who can earn far more by engaging in match fixing than their match fee.
This brings us on to the three cricketers in question and whether the punishments that have been handed out are appropriate. All of them have been banned from cricket of any sort for five years. On top of that Asif has two years suspended and Butt (as captain and main contact with Majeed) five further years suspended. Butt has also received 30 months in jail, Asif 12 and Amir nine. Many ex-cricketers have called for all three to be banned for life while even the majority of the Pakistani media seems to support the jail sentences.
It is worth looking at the punishments with a bit of background on the players. Salman Butt is an experienced cricketer who, as captain of his team, should have made it his duty to protect his players and not let them be corrupted in such a manner. Also, he will be 31 by the time his ban expires and towards the end of his cricketing career anyway. As captain, his crime seems particularly heinous and it would only have been right for him to receive a lifetime ban, especially because his actions led directly to two other players being punished. This does not absolve them in the slightest, but they should never have been put in that position in the first place.
Secondly there is Mohammad Asif, a phenomenally talented bowler who never quite seemed to fulfil his potential. He will be 33 by the time his ban is over and has been in trouble with his own board before over claims of fighting with a team-mate. He has also tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs repeatedly and been banned in the past as a result of this. It would seem he has run out of chances and that a lifetime ban would also have been appropriate. He was a senior player and should have known better. Also, by the time he reaches 33, he may be beyond making a return to cricket anyway and a lifetime ban would have shown much more strength by the ICC without actually damaging Asif’s career any more.
Finally we come to poor Mohammad Amir, a fast bowling sensation at just 17 and just 18 when he was asked to bowl a deliberate no-ball by his captain. Possibly he was even shown Asif as an example to follow. Whatever the circumstances, it seems absurd that he should be banned for the same length of time as his vastly more experienced teammate and jailed for just three months less than Asif, a man who accepted over £60,000 more in payment and who did not plead guilty. His crime smacks of innocence and naïveté rather than criminal intent.
At such a young age he should have been protected by his captain and certainly not hung out to dry by his own board, who seem to have washed their hands of him. Yes the ICC should have made examples of the other two players, but not Amir, a kid who got mixed up in the wrong crowd. I know that at 18 I would have had to think very hard about turning down £2,500 to do something as little as bowl a no-ball. In such a situation, I feel sure I would have gone straight to my captain. It’s a shame that it was Amir’s captain who put him in the situation in the first place.
In his case the ICC should show leniency, reduce his ban to three years and not let such a talent go to waste. He still has time and can be reformed. I hope that in five years time (or maybe even three) we will once again get to see Mohammad Amir play for his country. It will be a damn shame if we don’t, and will reflect even more poorly on Butt and Asif.