NEW DELHI // Much more that the careers of three Pakistan players will be at stake tomorrow when lawyer Michael Beloff reads the verdict of an independent anti-corruption tribunal in Doha on cheating allegations.
The three-member tribunal heard the case against Salman Butt, Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif last month when they spent 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. Tomorrow will be the judgement day at the Qatar capital and many cricket observers see the verdict as an indication of the International Cricket Council's (ICC) sincerity in tackling corruption in the game.
"The verdict will tell us how serious the ICC actually is about corruption," Boria Majumdar, a cricket historian, said.
"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."
The governing body declined to comment in advance of the hearing.
"Pakistan Cricket Board [PCB] has failed to deal firmly with the issue. It's time for the 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," Tauqir Zia, a former PCB chief, said.
"But if it is proven beyond doubt they were guilty of corruption in the sport, they [the tribunal] must make an example of them for a better future of the sport."
Zia headed the PCB which in 2000 banned Salim Malik, a former captain, and the pace bowler Ata-ur-Rehman for life and fined five other players for their involvement in match-fixing.
Aamir Sohail, another former Pakistan captain, 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."
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 the 18-year-old Aamer, if found guilty, might get away with a lighter punishment because of his age but Zaheer Abbas, the Pakistan batting great, 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 than 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 corruption.
"It has to be a constant vigilance by all cricket boards," Imran told reporters in Mumbai yesterday.
"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."