Spot-fixing controversy October 4, 2011

Butt and Asif arrive to begin court case

Richard Sydenham

Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif have arrived at Southwark Crown Court in London to begin their trial more than a year after the spot-fixing allegations that engulfed the cricket world during Pakistan's troubled tour of England.

Reporting restrictions are in place for the procedure, which began on Tuesday morning with pre-trial arguments and the process of selecting the jury.

The former Pakistan Test captain Butt, 27 on Friday, and fast bowler Asif, 28, have both pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to cheat, and conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments, following the Lord's Test in August last year when they allegedly conspired to bowl pre-determined no-balls.

Butt and Asif, along with teenage fast bowler Mohammad Amir, were exposed by the now defunct British tabloid the News of the World in an undercover sting operation. Their former agent Mazher Majeed was recorded by a secret camera, saying when no-balls would be delivered by the bowlers.

The fact the case is being heard at a crown court shows the seriousness of the allegations facing the defendants, with crown court being the more senior of the criminal courts.

One of the complexities of this trial surrounds its high-profile nature. Because the issue was so well reported globally at the time, after it was revealed in the News of the World, it is likely to be difficult to find a jury that has not in some way heard of the case or information about it and therefore inherited some amount of bias.

A re-trial could therefore occur, though how any future jury would also have no previous knowledge of the story is also difficult to quantify.

The players have already been punished by the ICC after a disciplinary hearing in Doha, Qatar. There, the three players were each banned from the sport for at least five years. Butt received a further suspended five-year ban and Asif was handed a further two-year suspended sanction.

All three players have filed appeals against their bans at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The Pakistan team has admirably set about recovering from a controversy that shocked the sport, after the key players were suspended. Asif, the right-arm swing bowler, and left-armer Amir quickly became one of the most potent new-ball attacks in world cricket. Butt, meanwhile, was a respected opening batsman and was seen as an articulate, diplomatic captain by the British media on that tour last year, prior to the allegations.

The most important aspect at stake during the trial is for cricket as a whole and its integrity, honesty and transparency, according to sports lawyer Max Eppel of McFadden's LLP, who has worked on cases involving cricket and football among others.

"The most important thing for any fan of sports is to know the teams are going out there on a level playing field," he said. "If there is any hint of corruption, the sport could be destroyed. Ultimately, any kind of hype about a criminal court trial is bad publicity for a sport, but if there are good things to come out of it, it is that the sport will get a chance to see any ramifications there are for ever getting involved in this sort of stuff."

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