Pakistan players, ICC hold breath over verdict
Much more will be at stake on Saturday than just three careers when lawyer Michael Beloff reads the verdict of an independent anti-corruption tribunal in Doha on cheating allegations facing three Pakistan cricketers.
The three-member tribunal heard the case against Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif last month for more than 45 hours spread over six days, poring over oral and written testimonies, watching video recordings and listening to tapes and forensic submissions.
The cricketers face career-threatening bans if they are found guilty of so-called 'spot-fixing' during Pakistan's test series in England last year. All three have consistently denied wrongdoing.
A British Sunday newspaper report alleged that they had taken bribes to arrange for deliberate no-balls to be delivered at pre-agreed times in the fourth test at Lord's for the benefit of gamblers.
Saturday will be the judgment day at the Qatari capital and many cricket observers see the verdict as an indication of the governing body International Cricket Council's (ICC) sincerity in tackling corruption in the game.
"The verdict will tell us how serious ICC actually is about corruption," cricket historian Boria Majumdar told Reuters.
"At the end of the day, it's the fans who matter most and the scandal has shaken their belief. It's for ICC to restore their belief."
Image: Pakistan cricketer Salman Butt leaves the International Cricket Council (ICC) headquarters in Dubai
'When the PCB didn't do anything the ICC acted'
The governing body declined to comment in advance of the hearing when approached this week by Reuters.
"Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has failed to deal firmly with the issue. It's time for ICC to live up to its zero-tolerance policy on corruption," Majumdar said.
The mood is already sombre in cricket-mad Pakistan ahead of the verdict.
"I think these players are going to be lost to Pakistan cricket for some years, which is sad," former PCB chief Tauqir Zia told Reuters.
"But if it is proven beyond doubt they were guilty of corruption in the sport, they (tribunal) must make an example of them for a better future of the sport."
Zia headed the PCB which in 2000 banned former captain, Salim Malik, and pacer Ata-ur-Rehman for life and fined five other players for their involvement in match-fixing.
Former Pakistan skipper Aamir Sohail added: "When the PCB didn't do anything the ICC acted and now I don't think these players are going to be shown any leniency by the ICC."
Image: Pakistan cricketer Mohammed Amir leaves the International Cricket Council (ICC) headquarters in Dubai
'No leniency should be shown to anyone who tries to defame cricket'
Another former captain, Rashid Latif, praised the way ICC had tackled the issue but was not convinced that the menace can be rooted out altogether.
"This is a good start. I hope the players have got a fair hearing," he said.
"...it is time the ICC took steps to discourage spot-fixing although this menace can never be eliminated completely from any sport."
Latif felt 18-year-old Amir, if found guilty, might get away with a lighter punishment because of his age but Pakistan batting great Zaheer Abbas advocated stringent action against anyone found guilty.
"No leniency should be shown to anyone who tries to defame cricket because nowadays players are being paid well for their efforts, far more then we earned in our days."
Looking ahead, Pakistan's World Cup winning captain Imran Khan prescribed a ceaseless vigil by the respective boards to curb the menace.
"It has to be a constant vigilance by all cricket boards," Imran told reporters in Mumbai on Wednesday.
"All players' bank accounts should be made transparent. It should to be tapped at a scale not done before and the (corrupt) players should be given exemplary punishments."
Image: Pakistani cricketer Mohammad Asif arrives a Kilburn police station in London