Paul Lewis on sport

Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Greedy trio belong in jail

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It says a lot that former Pakistan captain Salman Butt was in a London court, facing up to seven years in prison instead of being in India, at his wife's side, for the birth of their second child.

I can't find it in my heart to feel sorry for him. Butt, Mohammad Amir and Asif Mohammad have all been found guilty of counts of conspiracy to accept corrupt payments and conspiracy to cheat at gambling - the fall-out from tests at Lords and the Oval where the two bowlers, allegedly at the urging of Butt, delivered no-balls deliberately so bettors could take advantage.

It's a dirty business, spot-fixing. It smears the sport, the fans, those who play the game and those who administer it.

It strikes at the very heart of professional sport; where money twists games played for honour into something ugly and malformed - the pursuit of money for the sake of money.

None of the Pakistani trio were poor. All enjoyed privileged positions. Butt's personal fortune was estimated at about $2 million before the trial.

It's all gone now, according to his lawyer who laid out the personal cost to Butt - his wealth; his status; his place at his wife's side. All gone. The implication was that he had suffered enough and that a prison sentence was redundant.

The hell you say. All were jailed and they were lucky to escape longer sentences. They have also not been banned from the game for life - but should be.

The possibility of being caught - the fate of former South African captain Hansie Cronje (banned for life for corruption before he died in a plane crash), the life bans of Mohammad Azharuddin and Salim Malik - did not put these blokes off at all.

A custodial sentence appears the key to stamping out match-fixing; if such a thing is even possible ...

Some dipstick apologists have been bleating about Amir being led by the nose by senior players. Right - but didn't he know right from wrong? His sentence was only six months, as opposed to Butt's 30 months and Asif's 12 months; reflecting his lesser involvement.

The crooks have got their claws deep into the noble old game now. There was even little satisfaction in watching the three cricketers and the man who paid for their services, agent Mazhar Majeed (jailed for two years), turn on each other.

Majeed alleged Butt was the driving force behind the conspiracy, exposed not by the International Cricket Council's grandly named anti-corruption unit but by the now defunct News Of The World and the "fake sheikh" who, in an undercover sting, caught Majeed stacking up the £150,000 he was making out of a wee spot of corruption.

Insisting that he was the players' "organiser but not their corruptor", Majeed uncorked a whole new set of allegations to help soften his sentence. He claimed via his lawyer that he was asked to give £65,000 to Asif to prevent him joining forces with a rival fixing ring. He said Butt received £10,000 and Amir £2500.

His counsel, Mark Milliken-Smith QC, said: "The larger amount was paid [to Asif] in order to ensure that these players remained loyal to these people, the players within the dressing room, rather than others whom he might be tempted by. That was what he was told."

Asif denied this and, like Butt, reacted with disbelief and anger at the claims of their former agent. Majeed also said Butt first raised the subject of fixing with him over dinner in England during the Twenty20 World Cup in 2009. Butt told him that he knew other players in the squad were fixing, and was frustrated because they were able to buy houses in Lahore that he could not afford.

Butt's counsel, Ali Bajwa said of him: "He ... had to make the phone call of his life to explain to his wife what this will mean. His money is almost entirely gone. It has gone on [defending himself against ICC charges in] Doha, and on travelling to this country for this trial. The pressure he now feels is indescribable. There is no welfare state in Pakistan. He misses his son, with whom he has a very special bond, terribly.

"He has received one hammer blow after the next for his involvement in that conspiracy. From losing the captaincy, suspension from cricket, loss of his money, his income, his honour, his reputation, his cricket career.

"Having lost everything as a result of his involvement in this conspiracy, he now has only his liberty and his family left to lose. He invites me to urge upon [the judge] any alternative than prison. He asks your lordship what a prison sentence would achieve."

Here's what it will help achieve - a decent war against corruption in cricket so that any further spot-fixers know the risks they run and may be deterred from doing so.

A deterrent on its own will not be enough. The ICC has to place independent, trusted, loyal officers at each and every game they oversee - these guardians looking for any sign, however small, of match-fixing and to have powers of suspension. It will cost the game millions to pay these custodians enough to keep them out of the reach of the crooks but it must be done before cricket has more holes drilled in it through which the game's integrity leaks.

It may already be too late. Former England bowler and BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew has said he knows of two games fixed by Pakistanis. Aamir Sohail, the former Pakistan batsman, has said that match-fixing has taken place in Sharjah, while a Sharjah-based bookmaker has said that he had personally given two Pakistani players US$100,000 to throw a final against Australia.

In the IPL, a well-known story concerns a prominent player who regularly bowled the first three overs of an innings and conceded less than 15 runs and then invariably bowled a fourth in mid-innings that went for over 20. He was eventually dropped.

Custodial sentences for the lot of them, even the 19-year-old Amir, are not just necessary - they should be mandatory.

At least they will not be subject to the ordeal of a pimp, sentenced to hard labour in prison by a "hanging" judge in the Old Bailey years ago. The judge was told that the pimp had died from his exertions in prison.

"See?" he said, gesturing at the coat of arms of the Order of the Garter which hangs on English courtroom walls ("Honi soit qui mal y pense" - essentially, evil comes to he who evil thinks). "Honest sweat killed many a ponce."

- Herald on Sunday

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