Three Pakistani players will have to wait until February 5 to discover the eventual outcome of the spot-fixing charges laid on them by the ICC. A six-day hearing in Doha, Qatar failed to come up with a verdict on the various corruption charges that Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir face over incidents in two Tests last summer against England.
The very fact that the Oval Test was also under investigation, in addition to the Lord's Test, provided a late twist to the final day of an ultimately anti-climactic six-day hearing. The players will remain provisionally suspended until they reconvene in Doha to hear the judgement of the ICC tribunal formed to deal with the spot-fixing case.
At the end of a day of fevered speculation that concluded the hearing, Michael Beloff QC, the head of the tribunal and ICC code of conduct commissioner, finally made a statement alongside fellow tribunal members Albie Sachs and Sharad Rao.
"The tribunal has been constituted to hear charges against Butt, Amir and Asif brought under the ICC's anti-corruption code in relation to two Tests played during August 2010 between Pakistan and England, the Oval Test and the Lord's Test," Beloff said.
The tribunal had not arrived at a verdict because, Beloff said, there had been representations made to the tribunal, "to reserve any decision on the charges... until it (the tribunal) has had sufficient time to give the issues careful consideration and until it is able, at the same time as handing down its decision, to provide written reasons." The task of studying the issues at hand, arriving at a decision and issuing an in-depth hand-written reason for its decision, said Beloff, "would not be feasible in the timeframe agreed for this hearing in Doha.
"The tribunal has therefore determined to continue its deliberations and hold a further hearing in Doha on the fifth of February of this year, at which its decisions will be handed down to the parties and any consequential matters will be dealt with. Until that date, all three players will remain suspended from all cricketing activities."
Until today a definitive decision had been expected from the lengthy tribunal hearings. In fact, it is believed that the ICC's legal team was keen on having a verdict out today. But the gravity of the possible sanctions - which range from five years to a lifetime ban - the desire of the players' lawyers to defer a verdict and the sheer weight of a six-day, 45-hour proceeding which featured oral and written testimonies and tapes, video recordings as well as forensic submissions, made a quick verdict impossible.
The ICC's lawyers, though, expressed "happiness with the way hearings have gone," It is understood that in a bid to press for a verdict on Tuesday they withdrew all charges relating to the Oval Test, bar one against Butt.
The hearings began last Thursday and were held behind the firmest of closed doors. There were no official statements were made at all during the hearings, though as proceedings continued, it became clear that differences between the defences of Butt and Asif had emerged, possibly hampering the cases of both players.
An apparent contradiction, however, materialised soon after the tribunal's statement. Though Beloff said that "all charges relating to the Lord's Test remain under consideration," Asif's London-based legal firm said that on one charge relating to that match, Asif had, in fact, been acquitted.
A statement from their office said that Asif was, "delighted to have been acquitted of the charges brought against him under article 2.4.1 in relation to the Lords Test Match, also played in August 2010."
"Mohammad Asif has co-operated fully with the ICC investigations, and is now looking forward to a timely and satisfactory outcome in relation to the outstanding matters brought against him under the ICC's Anti-Corruption Code for Players and Players Support Personnel."
The particular charge against Asif states that the code "prohibits providing or receiving any gift, payment or other benefit (whether of a monetary value or otherwise) in circumstances that the Player or Player Support Personnel might reasonably have expected could bring him/her or the sport of cricket into disrepute."
The charge, carrying a punishment of a six-month ban, appears a minor one compared to the other charges that Asif is facing. But the acquittal is thought to stem from the fact that no money was found in Asif's hotel room in London during police investigations.
Amir's lawyer, Shahid Karim, who had earlier pushed for the deferment, indicated that the extra time would help his client prepare better to deal with the verdict. "The request we made to the tribunal has been accepted," Karim said. "On February 5th if the punishment is harsh then we will discuss it with them so we will prepare for that. It is a hearing.
"I am happy with the procedure of the hearing. The ICC code of conduct has a clause which points to looking at the player's age and past disciplinary record and Amir is young, so we hope the tribunal will keep this in mind."