Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent
Sharjeel Khan has been banned from all forms of cricket for five years for his role in the spot-fixing scandal that marred the Pakistan Super League (PSL) earlier this year. Sharjeel, playing for Islamabad United, was charged with five major breaches of the PCB's anti-corruption code and was found guilty on all five counts by a three-man tribunal. Two-and-a-half years out of the five-year sentence are suspended, meaning Sharjeel, 28, cannot plot a return to cricket before the second half of 2019 at the earliest. Sharjeel was present at his sentencing but did not take questions.
Potentially, his ban could have been for life, but he has been given the minimum punishment on all charges. Sharjeel's lawyer, Shaigan Ijaz, said they would appeal against the ban.
"We were expecting acquittal against the spot-fixing charges and we are going to appeal against them," Ijaz said immediately after the verdict. "We are not complaining against the behaviour of the tribunal members, but we are objecting to the decision. As we understand, those three serious charges have not been proven. For now, we have concerns and will lodge an appeal after having a full, detailed order in the next 14 days."
Taffazul Rizvi, the PCB's prosecutor in the case, called it a "sad day", but said the player had been found guilty on all counts and the board's case against the player had been vindicated. "The suspended sentence isn't defined as yet in the PCB anti-corruption code as there is a limited provision. Just because two-and-a-half years of the sentence are suspended doesn't mean the player can automatically be eligible to play after completing half his sentence. There is a complete process of rehabilitation, and many more conditions to be met before reintegration."
In a statement following the tribunal verdict, PCB chairman Najam Sethi said: "The anti-corruption tribunal's verdict against Sharjeel Khan is a vindication of our policy of zero tolerance against corrupt practices in the game of cricket. The PCB Anti-Corruption and Vigilance Department deserves great credit for identifying the culprits and nipping the spot-fixing scandal in the bud through their prompt action. The PCB hopes that the three remaining players will be dealt with in accordance to the proportionality of their offences. The PCB will continue to fight all corrupt elements that attempt to tarnish the game both at the domestic and international level."
Sharjeel's ban will take effect from when he was first suspended, on February 10, 2017.
The verdict puts on hold, at best till mid-2019 and at worst permanently, what was shaping up to be a promising international career. Since his return to the ODI side last year in August Sharjeel was averaging over 44 as an opener but more importantly, given Pakistan's batting problems, scoring at a strike rate of 130.37. That run came into bloom on the tour to Australia earlier this year, where he broke into the Test side and then finished Pakistan's second-highest scorer in the ODI series with three fifties. Barely two weeks after his last innings for Pakistan, a 69-ball 79 in Adelaide, he had been provisionally suspended by the PCB.
Sharjeel was one of six current or former Pakistani internationals implicated in the case, in itself a blot not only on the promising start to a valuable PCB product, but also to the board's efforts to fight corruption after the Lord's spot-fixing scandal of 2010. Mohammad Irfan and Mohammad Nawaz have already been punished, for the relatively lesser indiscretions of failure to report corrupt approaches.
Tribunal proceedings for Sharjeel's Islamabad team-mate Khalid Latif, and former Pakistan openers Nasir Jamshed and Shahzaib Hasan are still underway, however. A verdict is expected on Latif after the Eid break, as well as the next hearing for Shahzaib. Jamshed, who the PCB believe is a central figure in the case but is currently facing charges only of failure to cooperate with the investigation, will next appear before the tribunal on September 19.
There was no immediate comment from Islamabad United, the PSL franchise that three of the players - Sharjeel, Latif and Irfan - played for. But it is understood that Sharjeel and Latif's contracts with them were terminated when they were suspended by the PCB.