A decade after Lord’s scandal, match-fixing still haunts Pakistan cricket

This file photo taken on August 27, 2010 shows Pakistan's Mohammad Amir celebrating the wicket of England's Matthew Prior (not pictured) on the second day of their fourth NPower Test cricket against England, at Lord's Cricket Ground in London. (AFP)
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Updated 05 June 2020

A decade after Lord’s scandal, match-fixing still haunts Pakistan cricket

  • Three Pakistani players were tried in a London court under Gambling Act and jailed in November 2011
  • Another two cases in 2017 have led to calls for the country to criminalize fixing

KARACHI: When Mohammad Amir bowled a no-ball against England on the opening day of the 2010 Test at Lord’s, no one could have imagined his long stride past the crease marked the first step in a historic fixing scandal.
Two days later it was revealed that three no-balls — two by Amir, and one by his pace partner Mohammad Asif — had been part of a shady betting deal.
Pakistan’s captain Salman Butt had orchestrated the deliberate no-balls in return for money offered by undercover journalist Mazhar Majeed posing as a bookmaker.
The scandal, exposed in the sting by Britain’s now-defunct News of the World tabloid, rocked the cricketing world, and aftershocks can still be felt a decade on in Pakistan.
Not only did that dark morning at the revered ‘home of cricket’ derail the careers of three players who were banned and jailed, the saga also led to calls for Pakistan to be booted from international cricket.
Butt, Amir and Asif were tried in a London court for offenses under the Gambling Act and were jailed in November 2011.
Announcing the sentences, the judge underscored the severity of the crime.
“The image and integrity of what was once a game, but is now a business, is damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded three of you as heroes,” Justice Jeremy Cooke said.
It marked a new low for Pakistan cricket, already reeling from the aftermath of terror attacks in Lahore on the Sri Lankan team a year before, which triggered the suspension of home internationals.
Because he pleaded guilty earlier than his two teammates, and on account of his youth, the 18-year-old Amir received worldwide sympathy.
He was allowed to play international cricket again in 2016 and, now 28, has been successfully reintegrated into the Pakistan team.
Asif, who received a seven-year ban and a one-year prison sentence, is now 37 and in the twilight of his career.
Butt, 35, still harbors hopes of an international comeback after consistent domestic performances.
As the orchestrator of one of the darkest episodes in the cricket-mad country’s history, that seems unlikely, especially with match-fixing still haunting the game.
Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif were banned after a Pakistan Super League spot-fixing case in 2017.
And in April this year, the talented-yet-maverick Umar Akmal was banned in April for three years for failing to report fixing offers.


The cases have led to calls for the country to criminalize fixing, a campaign taken up by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).
“We need to make match-fixing a criminal offense... I have talked to the government to bring in this change and make a law related to match-fixing,” PCB chairman Ehsan Mani said.
Former Pakistan captain-turned-commentator Ramiz Raja went a step further, recommending tainted players should not play again for the national team, as Pakistan contemplate the return of Sharjeel after serving his ban.
“We have suffered numerous times from bringing back tainted players yet we continue to welcome them just because of their talent,” Raja told AFP.
“We should avoid being desperate and rather give new talent a chance to prosper.
“Cricket cannot condone such behavior and fans need to realize that rooting for tainted players is actually harming Pakistan cricket and its image.”
On the field at least, Pakistan have managed to lift the clouds.
They found an astute skipper to replace Butt in Misbah-ul-Haq, who had been contemplating retirement after being left out for infamous England tour.
He led Pakistan to number one in the Test rankings in 2016.
A tentative return of international touring sides has followed, culminating in Azhar Ali having the honor of leading Pakistan in their first Test on home soil in 10 years when Sri Lanka played in Rawalpindi in December.


F1 season kicks off with astonishing, chaotic race in Austria

Updated 50 min 38 sec ago

F1 season kicks off with astonishing, chaotic race in Austria

  • Mercedes dominance, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton leading the charge, and Red Bull providing the challenge

DUBAI: Formula 1 is back. And, for the majority of the season’s much delayed first race, it looked business as usual.

Mercedes dominance, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton leading the charge, and Red Bull providing the challenge.

But this, despite Bottas’  eventual victory, would prove anything but an ordinary race, for so many reasons.

The Austrian Grand Prix, the first race of the shortened season, was, like all top class sporting events around the world, taking place with no fans inside the Red Bull Ring, a legacy of the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

The empty stands may have given this the initial look of a practice session, but the race would prove anything but routine.

This was a dramatic, often chaotic, return to action for Formula 1’s finest.

No doubt, the absence of motorsports’ most passionate and colorful fans, who in normal circumstances would have descended on Spielberg, Austria, was felt.

But for those watching on television, the truth is that the intensity of Formula1 action, unlike in football, and perhaps other team sports when they resume, is not overly affected by taking place behind closed doors.

 And it is something that the public will no doubt quickly adapt to. For now, only seven other rounds of the 2020 season have been confirmed; in Austria again (Red Bull Ring, July 10-12), will be followed by the Hungarian Grand Prix (July 17-19), two British Grand Prix races (Silverstone, July 31-Aug. 2 and Aug. 7-9); the Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona, Aug. 14-16); Belgian Grand Prix (Spa-Francorchamps, 28-30); and the Italian Grand Prix (Monza, Sept. 4-6).

Other races are pending, and fans in the Middle East will be hoping that the restart continues to go according to plan, hopefully leading to the confirmation of the Bahrain Grand Prix later this year, and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as the season’s finale.

Before the race the drivers had worn anti-racism T-shirts, though there was an element of controversy when several drivers, including Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc chose not to take the knee like their  rivals. Both explained  their stance on their social media accounts.

The early stages as expected were dominated by Mercedes and Red Bull, with Bottas and  Hamilton separated in first and fourth by Verstappen and Alexander Albon in 2nd and third.

After the reigning champion Hamilton overtook Albon in the early stages, one of the race’s turning points saw Verstappen retire after gear failure. With fewer points on offer this season, this could turn out to be a decisive incident, even at this early stage.

Bottas and Hamilton, now in first and second, seemed to have the race under control for Mercedes.

Lap 28 saw the safety car come out, but when the green light came back on Bottas streaked away followed by Hamilton with Albon in third and British driver Lando Norris, excelling in a McLaren, in fourth.

Within seconds from the restart, Vettel’s Ferrari spun as he attempted to overtake Carlos Sainz, and though he avoided an accident, it meant he dropped to 15th.

Less than half way through the race, the Austrian Grand Prix was providing more drama and incidents than millions glued to their televisions could have dared hope for.

The race now settled into a battle between Bottas and Hamilton, and even another intervention of the safety car after 52 laps could not put them out of their stride.

Kimi Raikkonen’s exit with 15 laps meant seven drivers had retired.

 But with with five laps left, Hamilton was penalized five seconds for an accident with Albon. Suddenly second place, for long seemingly a lock for Mercedes, was now up for grabs. Indeed, so was third.

Hamilton, to ensure a podium finish needed to beat Norris (in fourth) by more than five seconds. But Norris saved his best till last, his fastest lap ensuring the gap between him and the champion was sub-five seconds.

Bottas was the first winner of the season, second place went to Leclerc and Ferrari, and a disbelieving Norris and McLaren team in third.

Hamilton, in the blink of an eye, dropped to fourth.

The podium presentation no doubt lacked its usual celebratory vibe, but try telling that to Leclerc and Norris who could not have dreamed of this conclusion.

 If the remainder of the 2020 races live up to this astionishing Austrian Grand Prix, Formula 1’s shortest season could turn out to be one of its best.