By Simon Haydon
The Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — The fixing scandal that saw three Pakistani cricket stars led away to prison Nov. 3 more than a year ago when one of the players literally overstepped the mark on a damp summer’s day in London.
Just as it had to 11 years ago when South Africa captain Hansie Cronje admitted trying to fix matches, the game of cricket now has to show the world it has not been deeply infiltrated by unscrupulous betting syndicates which seek to corrupt players.
Virtually no one raised an eyebrow in August 2010 when Pakistan’s fast bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif were penalized for bowling “no balls,” a common fault in which the bowler’s foot lands in front of the white line which marks where he must deliver the ball.
Five or six such deliveries happen every day. They’re usually the result of a bowler stretching to get maximum pace from his 90 mph delivery. The sanction is one run added to the opposing team’s total, an irrelevant price to pay for extracting a little more speed and bounce to try to dismiss the opposing batsman.
Only a few cynical journalists and experts might have raised an eyebrow at Lord’s, the home of cricket, except that two of the deliveries saw bowlers’ feet landing about 18 inches over the white line, a glaring error expected from a schoolboy player, not an international star.
Asked to explain the glaring mistakes, the bowlers said their feet were slipping on damp turf after showers spread over London before play started.
But those few apparently harmless mistakes were deliberate, with the two bowlers under orders from their captain Salman Butt to bowl the no-balls.
Waqar Younis, Pakistan’s coach on the ill-fated tour of England last year, was also one of the fastest and best bowlers the country
has ever produced. On Nov. 3, he spoke of his sadness at the corruption.
“The only thing positive to come out of this, I hope, is that cricket will be in better hands and all this rubbish, with match and spot fixing, will go out of the window and cricket will be a lot cleaner and clearer,” he said.
Butt and agent Mazhar Majeed, trying to show Asian gamblers the ease with which they could fix the match, set up the no-balls in advance, telling the bowlers exactly when to bowl them.
Such information would be invaluable to an illegal gambler indulging in spot-betting, in which gamblers can bet on minute aspects of a sporting encounter such as, “How many no-balls will be paid in a given time frame?”
But it was all a trap, set up not by the police or cricketing authorities, but by a tabloid newspaper, The News of the World, which has now, in a twist of fate, shut down after it was discovered that journalists working for the paper had hacked into mobile phones in their search for stories.
The so-called gambler talking to Majeed was none other than the infamous Mazher Mahmood, known better as the “fake sheik,” an investigative reporter celebrated in Britain for a long series of stings in which he exposes the famous or wealthy for illegal activities.
Mahmood paid the agent Majeed 150,000 pounds ($240,000) to agree to the precise timings of the no balls. Some of the money was passed on to Butt, Amir, and Asif.
Majeed was jailed for 2 years and 8 months at London’s Southwark Crown Court. Butt was jailed for 2 1/2 years, Asif for 1 year, and Amir, who was just 18 when the offenses took place, for six months. All will be eligible for release once half their sentences are served. (end)