x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pakistani cricket stars stand trial in London for cheating

Pair face jail terms if guilty of taking bribes from betting groups to bowl 'no balls' at specific times during the Test match against England at Lord's in August last year.

Former Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt (centre)) arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London where he and fast bowler Mohammad Asif are on trial charged with spot-fixing during a Test match against England last year. CARL COURT / AFP PHOTO
Former Pakistan cricket captain Salman Butt (centre)) arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London where he and fast bowler Mohammad Asif are on trial charged with spot-fixing during a Test match against England last year. CARL COURT / AFP PHOTO

LONDON // Two former Pakistani Test stars have gone on trial in London over a cheating scandal that shocked the world of international cricket.

The former captain Salman Butt and bowler Mohammad Asif are facing accusations in a trial, expected to last up to five weeks, of conspiring to bowl "no balls" at specific times during the Test match against England at Lord's in August last year.

The prosecution will claim today that the two players - along with the bowler Mohammad Aamer, 20 - were being bribed to deliver the "no balls" at pre-arranged times so that betting syndicates could make a fortune on the "spot betting" market in Asia, where huge amounts are placed on specific incidents within a game.

All three players were suspended from competition for between five and 10 years by the Dubai-based International Cricket Council earlier this year. The players have since lodged appeals against their suspensions at the court of arbitration for sport in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Mr Butt, 26, and Mr Asif, 28, deny charges of conspiracy to cheat and accepting corrupt payments in return for arranging to bowl "no balls". The charges carry a maximum sentence of seven years in jail.

Mr Aamer and Mazhar Majeed, the players' agent who lives in south London, have been charged with the same offences but were not in court at the opening of the case yesterday.

The scam was uncovered when reporters from the News of the World, the Sunday tabloid closed by its owner Rupert Murdoch in July because of a phone-hacking scandal, posed as members of a betting syndicate and handed over £150,000 (Dh847,500) in cash to Mr Majeed for information on when the "no balls" would be bowled.

When the Test match was held, Mr Asif and Mr Aamer, allegedly under instructions from Mr Butt, bowled the "no balls" at the exact moments in the overs when Mr Majeed had told the undercover journalists they would.

At the start of the trial at Southwark Crown Court in south London, 30 potential jurors were questioned about whether they or any members of their families worked in the betting industry, or had links to professional cricket.

The players, both wearing suits but no ties, listened intently to opening legal arguments, Mr Asif sitting next to a Punjabi interpreter.

Mr Butt's barrister, Ali Bajwa, said his client did not need an interpreter.

The trial comes at a time when Pakistani cricket is reeling from claims of cheating after the retired pace bowler Shoaib Akhtar said that the country's bowlers routinely picked at seams of balls to make their deliveries behave unpredictably.

dsapsted@thenational.ae