Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo
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Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir have been banned for 10, 7 and 5 years respectively after an ICC tribunal found them guilty of spot-fixing stemming from the Lord's Test against England last year. The sanctions against Butt and Asif have five and two years suspended, which means that the trio cannot play any official, sanctioned cricket, international or domestic, for a minimum of five years, until September 2015.
The suspended sentences on Butt and Asif have been made conditional on their making no further breaches of the code and participating in an anti-corruption education programme, under the auspices of the PCB.
Butt, who was captain during the series in England, received the maximum sentence but one charge against him - of batting out a maiden over during the Oval Test - was dismissed. However, he was found to have not disclosed an approach by Majeed that he should bat the maiden over. The other charges that were upheld relate to the subsequent Lord's Test, where Amir and Asif were found to have bowled deliberate no-balls and Butt was penalized for being party to that. Amir will appeal against the decision to the Court of Arbitration Sports, but the other two players have not yet said whether they will.
The announcement on Saturday evening followed a day of deliberations in Doha between the three-man tribunal - comprising the head Michael Beloff QC, Sharad Rao and Justice Albie Sachs - the players and their legal teams and the ICC's lawyers. The three players began the day requesting the tribunal for a deferral of any verdict, in light of the statement on Friday by the UK's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that the players might also face criminal charges relating to the Lord's Test as the result of a separate investigation carried out by British police. The players, who continued to maintain their innocence, argued that a judgment today by the tribunal could be prejudicial to any criminal trial in the UK, but the request was rejected.
The length of the sentences may be considered surprising to the extent that at least one life ban had been predicted beforehand. Now, in theory, the 26-year-old Butt could return after five years if he complies with the conditions of the verdict. Amir, who will only turn 19 in April, could also conceivably harbour hopes of a return, though in practical terms a five-year gap from any competitive cricket makes the prospect of a return that much more difficult. The situation is most bleak for Asif, who will be 33 by the time the minimum five years are up.
It must also be noted that not until the full judgment is released will the picture become fully clear, especially with regards to the nature of the rehabilitation programme they must undertake and the role the PCB will have in that. The tribunal asked the ICC to publish the full judgment as soon as possible and it is expected to happen tomorrow. The question, however, of whether or not the full judgment may be deemed prejudicial to any criminal proceedings in the UK still looms.
A member of the ICC legal team told ESPNcricinfo that it is "very happy with the fact that the players were convicted." But given that the governing body was pushing for maximum sanctions, there will be at least a tinge of disappointment within the governing body.
The tribunal also recommended that the ICC make "certain changes to the code with a view to providing flexibility in relation to minimum sentences in exceptional circumstances." The lawyers of Butt and Amir later said that the tribunal would've given lower punishments had their hands not "been tied" to the code's range of sanctions.
News of the World, the tabloid that broke the spot-fixing story this summer, released a statement of its own, saying that "it is now clear to everyone in the game that corruption will not be tolerated," and added that it will continue to assist the police in any way it can.
A number of Pakistani fans waited outside the Qatar Financial Centre, some for the entire nine-hour duration of the proceedings, and gave vociferous support to the players when they eventually came out. Amir, in fact, was mobbed and had to return inside the building briefly.