LONDON (Reuters) - On a day when Salman Butt should have been celebrating the birth of his new son with friends and family in Lahore, the former Pakistan captain was left to contemplate a possible jail sentence and the death of his cricket career after being found guilty of spot fixing in a British criminal court.
Butt and team mate Mohammad Asif could be enjoying their last night as free citizens for some time on Tuesday after a jury decided they were guilty of conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments for fixing part of a test match in England last year.
A third cricketer, teenaged fast bowler Mohammad Amir, pleaded guilty to the charges before the start of the trial. All three will be sentenced on Wednesday.
“It is a day of sadness and happiness for us. We are shocked by this verdict and will fight to the end. But at the same time God has given us a new life,” Butt’s father, Zulfiqar Butt, told Reuters after his daughter-in-law gave birth an hour before the verdict was announced.
While Butt’s father summed up a bittersweet day for his family, the three players discovered that they had effectively been cast aside by the cricketing community after many former players said they “deserved no mercy” for “shaming Pakistan cricket”.
Three cricketers who should have been setting the world alight with their sporting feats now find their names written alongside late South African captain Hansie Cronje in cricket’s ‘Hall of Shame’ for trying to cheat in their sport.
Tuesday’s findings followed allegations in a British newspaper that the trio had arranged for deliberate no-balls to be delivered in the fourth test at Lord’s last year.
Former Pakistan captain Zaheer Abbas said: “These players have brought a bad name to Pakistan cricket and it is a tragedy that we saw a day where cricketers had to face a criminal trial.”
Just over a year ago things had been very different for the disgraced trio.
Butt, an elegant left-handed batsman, was given the task of guiding a troubled Pakistan side out of turmoil when he was appointed captain in July last year for the second test against Australia after Shahid Afridi quit the post abruptly.
Butt made an immediate impact by winning the test, played at the neutral venue of Leeds in England, by three wickets but the subsequent series against England brought his 33-test match career to a premature halt. He had scored 1,889 runs with an average of 30.46.
Asif, who had made his debut in 2005, had taken 106 test wickets in 23 matches at an average of 24.36, while Amir had been tipped to become one of the world’s best bowlers before he and his two team mates were suspended for at least five years by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in February after being caught up in the spot-fixing scandal.
During a prolific 2010 season, the teenaged Amir was named man of the match for becoming the youngest player to take a five-wicket haul in England and he also grabbed 19 scalps during the four-match series.
In a career spanning 14 tests since his 2009 debut against Sri Lanka, Amir claimed 51 wickets.
The ICC bans would suggest that Butt, 27, and 28-year-old Asif, who has been in trouble with the authorities before after testing positive twice for a steroid and getting caught with a recreational drug in his wallet at Dubai airport, have effectively played their last match.
Some pundits believe the younger Amir could make a comeback following the ban. Before the trial started, all three vowed to return.
They kept up their fitness as a show of defiance but should they find themselves behind bars, state-of-the-art fitness centres and personal trainers will be hard to come by.
It was the second time in just over a decade that corruption was found to be rampant in cricket after the match-fixing furore in 2000 when three international captains -- Cronje, Saleem Malik of Pakistan and India’s Mohammed Azharuddin -- were banned for life from all forms of cricket.
Spot-fixing involves a player, or players, agreeing to perform to order. For example, a bowler might deliberately bowl consecutive wides in his second over or a batsman could make sure he does not reach double figures.
Because individual spot-fixing incidents may have no influence on a game’s outcome, they are particularly difficult to detect and the Lord’s offences came to the authorities’ attention only after a sting operation in the British newspaper the News of the World.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)