Amidst growing cynicism about the integrity of the game, the International Cricket Council (ICC) deserves credit for dealing appropriately with the canker of spot-fixing. The game's governing body couldn't afford to be passive, especially in the lead-up to the World Cup, which will be played in the sub-continent. In provisionally banning Pakistan's Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Amir before instituting an independent tribunal to try them, the ICC acted promptly, decisively, and transparently. The nature of the bans — 10 years (five suspended) for Butt, seven (two suspended) for Asif, and five for Amir — was just. The punishment was proportionate — a distinction being made between match-fixing and spot-fixing — and also exemplary. In the past, the administrators have been guilty of laxity. While the crackdown after the match-fixing scandal that threatened to destroy cricket a little more than a decade ago helped contain the problem, the lack of demonstrable corrective action contributed to the rise of spot-fixing. This judgment, if followed up consistently, should act as a deterrent. The 18-year-old Amir, whose case has certain mitigating circumstances, might return to fulfil the dazzling promise he has shown after he has served his time. But Butt, 26, and Asif, 28, have little to look forward to.
The verdict hasn't ended the matter however. Tribunal chairman Michael Beloff's remarks that his panel has recommended “certain changes to the [ICC] Code with a view to providing flexibility in relation to minimum sentences in exceptional circumstances” appear to have encouraged thoughts of an appeal. Butt, Asif, and Amir have also been separately charged by the Crown Prosecution Service — they will have to return to England to face charges of conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments and also conspiracy to cheat. It hasn't escaped notice that Asif and Amir were exposed bowling no-balls at pre-determined moments not by the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit but by News of the World, a British red top which chanced upon the story. Merely refining its systems of security won't do for the ICC; it will have to liaise better with government agencies in this regard. While the world cricket body has shown encouraging signs in its handling of the affair thus far, its commitment to eradicating corruption will be severely tested in the times to come. Its resolve and acumen will determine the future of the great game.