Spot-fixing controversy November 2, 2011

Guilty cricketers plea for leniency

Richard Sydenham at Southwark Crown Court

Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir all offered closing submissions via their lawyers on the 21st day of the spot-fixing trial in London on Wednesday, as all three hope and pray that the judge will spare them a jail sentence.

It was perhaps the most explosive day yet in the trial that has spanned almost five weeks, as the agent at the centre of the fixing scandal Mazhar Majeed and Amir appeared in the dock for the first time, having pleaded guilty at an earlier pre-trial.

After Majeed said Butt had initially introduced him to the subject of arranging spot-fixing and having also heard that Majeed apparently paid £77,000 to the three players for the fix, the lawyers of the three players looked to gain sympathy from the judge Justice Cooke.

Amir's statement, read out to the court by his lawyer Henry Blaxland QC, was the most heartfelt and remorseful. Amir spoke of how proud he was the first time he was handed his Pakistan shirt and that he wanted to sleep in it.

"First I want to apologise to Pakistan and to everyone that cricket is important to," Amir said, via his lawyer who read from a prepared statement. "I do know how much damage this has done to the game, a game which I love more than anything else in the world.

"I did decide many months ago that I wanted to admit that I deliberately threw two no-balls at the Lord's Test last summer. But I know this was very late and I want to apologise for not saying it before. I didn't find the courage to do it at the beginning, and I know very well that made everything much more difficult.

"Last year was the most amazing year of my life but also it was the worst year. I got myself into a situation that I didn't understand. I panicked and did the wrong thing. I don't want to blame anyone else. I didn't want money at all, I didn't bowl the no-balls because of money. I got trapped and in the end it was because of my own stupidity.

"My dream was to be the best cricketer in the world. I'm a competitive sportsman and those two no-balls were the only moments in my cricketing life where I have not performed to the very best of my ability. And they were not moments I felt happy to be part of."

Butt's lawyer Ali Bajwa QC spoke of how his client had been very different in his behaviour over the last 24 hours since his guilty verdict was handed down and had not eaten or slept in that time. Butt has been immaculately dressed and groomed over the trial but did actually look slightly dishevelled by his own standards, unshaven and drawn. Butt's wife gave birth to their second son an hour before his verdict was read.

"He's lost the captaincy of the Pakistan cricket team and this was a job he had for five weeks, they won two Tests, and this was the greatest honour of his life," Bajwa said, adding that he has since been banned by the ICC for five years and is now "close to unemployable".

"He has gone from a national hero to a figure of contempt and his ignominy is complete," Bajwa said. "He does not want to be the cause of his family's suffering. He now has only his liberty and his family left to lose." Bajwa asked, apart from the obvious deterrent aspect, what would a prison sentence achieve? "Please do not make my family suffer any more."

Asif's plea was similar. His lawyer Alexander Milne spoke of how Asif had gone into debt by travelling to England four times at his own expense, since his arrest, to consult with lawyers. Milne spoke of how he was without his wife and baby daughter and that since his ICC ban, he was basically finished as a cricketer and he should be allowed to return to Pakistan to attempt to somehow rebuild his reputation in his country.

"Mr Asif has been punished, punished and punished again," Milne told the judge. He also alluded to the fact that Asif "had thrown away everything", was almost washed up as a player having been handed a five-year ICC ban and didn't need to be punished further with a custodial sentence.

"He will be 29 in a month and after five years out of the game, a comeback then would seem out of the question," adding, "he leaves here a broken man."

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