‘It's not cricket' was an adage. It is the insidious effect of your actions on professional cricket and the followers of it which makes the offences so serious.

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 the three of you as heroes … Your motive was greed despite the high legitimate rewards available in earnings and prize moneyMr. Justice Cooke of Southwark Crown Court (November 3, 2011).

Strong words indeed from a soft spoken judge whose anguish was unmistakable from the clarity of the language that he employed to convict cricket agent Mazhar Majeed and three former Pakistani cricketers —captain Salman Butt, and pace bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir.

Seeing Justice Cooke in action for two days at the elegant Southwark Crown Court Number 4 I was deeply impressed with the businesslike and genial manner in which he conducted the proceedings.

Not a trace of impatience or insolence that would have put off any witness or demoralise a defendant in a criminal trial which had the potential to become a landmark in the history of cricket.

When a few of the defence counsel complained about the media's overreach in reporting on the trial, the judge lapsed into mild humour in advising moderation and precise reporting. Incidentally, the press corps was in full attendance, and it included Mike Atherton, former England captain, who now reports for the Times, London.

A few Pakistani journalists were also there. My brief interaction with them revealed they had no sympathy for the delinquent cricketers, although one of them did tell me that there were some bigger fish that needed to be netted.

The statements in mitigation of the jury finding made by the counsel for all four accused pleaded for mercy. The judge listened to them with great interest, and interrupted the counsel only once in a while for a clarification or two.

Wholly fair

His demeanour suggested that you could expect him to be wholly fair. I wasn't however very sure how clement he was going to be, considering the gravity of the charges and the high profile nature of the case.

Thursday's judgment delivered in the London court belied all expectations. It was firm and balanced, but categorical in its condemnation of the corruption that had come to envelop the game.

It minced no words in coming down on the sharp practices indulged in by the three Pakistanis at Lord's on the 26{+t}{+h} and 27th of August 2010.

The judicial pronouncement, however, displayed an in-depth understanding of the circumstances under which all the four young men — Majeed at 34 was the oldest — had erred, and erred grievously in the judge's estimation.

The judge was most perceptive while drawing a lucid distinction between their respective roles. He had the strongest words for Butt as the most culpable of the three cricketers. (“You were the orchestrator of this activity as you had to be, as captain.”)

What was striking in the judgment was the quality of mercy that ran right through it. That explains the relatively light sentences imposed on the four accused, although the judge would have been well within the law if he had gone up to a six to seven years' sentence.

Already in ruin

The ban imposed on the three cricketers by the ICC tribunal earlier this year was also reckoned in determining the quantum of punishment.

The judge was convinced that the career of the three was already in ruin from the ICC action.

There was an underlying sympathy for the misguided cricketers, particularly for Amir, who had come from an essentially rustic background and was an easy prey to the machinations of a scheming captain.  

There are several features to the sordid episode that should be relevant for years to come for cricket administrators, crime investigators and the paying public who throng in thousands at stadiums all over the cricket playing world.

Although past investigations, including the one that I led in 2000, could not ferret out all facts, there is hope that the media will lend more than a helping hand to law enforcement agencies in keeping an eye on what happens off the field and alerting the authorities if anything seedy came to its notice.

Kudos due

Kudos is due to the reporter of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World who unearthed the most recent scandal. It is ironic that that paper itself has had to shut down since doing this great service to cricket, because it got embroiled in a controversy over the unauthorized hacking of telephones by its reporters probing the underworld.

A second issue relates to the effectiveness of the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) set up in 2000 following the match fixing scandal involving Hanse Cronje, the South African captain and a few Indian cricketers.

The question now being raised is why the ACSU was oblivious to what was happening at the Lord's during the 2010 summer.

ACSU chief Sir Ronnie Flanagan has reacted quickly to the criticism by calling it ‘ill informed'.

His defence is that his unit is too tiny to unearth every scandal.

He also draws our attention to the enormous work ACSU had done for the successful indictment of Butt and company by the ICC Tribunal earlier this year.

All this may be beyond dispute. But Sir Flanagan should remember that the public at large expects wonders from the ICC's investigative body.

The recent scandal highlights the need for the ICC to greatly expand the ACSU's resources. It can definitely afford this additional charge on its budget.

Dumb questions

There are a few dumb questions that are asked in the context of the penalty imposed on Butt and others. One of them is: Will this deter others in the undefined universe of match fixers, whose venality is a permanent threat to the credibility of the game?

There can be no categorical response, as the murky world of crime in general has a ceaseless flow of recruits and operators looking constantly for their prey.

The mind boggling sums of money that the game now commands offers little hope that the gangs that are still prowling around can be liquidated.

This is no reason however why we should relax our vigil. What is achievable is containment of the virus rather than its elimination.

The ICC and national bodies like our BCCI have a clear-cut mentoring role in instilling right values in our young cricketers.

 Stopping with imposing a set of ‘do's' and ‘don'ts' on them is just a proforma response to a grave situation.

Positive thoughts

There is a need to go beyond, and be proactive in promoting positive thoughts of right conduct.  It is not my case that the ICC and national cricket administrators in various countries are not already doing this. 

What I am asking for is a more vigorous campaign, one that will highlight the lessons players should learn from happenings like the Butt episode.

We have a new crop of cricketers in India who come from a rural setting.

They do not possess any high educational attainment.

Like Mohammad Amir they are the soft belly of our cricket.

Being exposed to money and fame at a very young age, they are highly vulnerable. It is the BCCI's responsibility to keep them away from predators looking for low hanging fruits. This is the acid test for the BCCI in the years to come.

(The writer is a former Director of Central Bureau of Investigation)

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