Cricket: Pakistan players on trial for alleged 'spot-fixing'

4th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

Two Pakistan Test players went on trial in London on Tuesday charged with so-called spot-fixing during a match against England last year in allegations which rocked the world of cricket.

Former captain Salman Butt, 26, and fast bowler Mohammad Asif, 28, appeared at Southwark Crown Court charged with conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments, and with conspiracy to cheat at gambling.

The charges relate to allegations of the deliberate bowling of no-balls during England's fourth Test against Pakistan at Lord's cricket ground in London in August 2010.

Butt and Asif deny the charges. The offences carry maximum sentences of seven years and two years in prison respectively.

The allegations were made in the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World tabloid, which was closed down in July this year when it became engulfed in the phone hacking scandal.

In a packed courtroom, Butt sat in the dock wearing a grey pinstripe suit and white open-necked shirt, one seat away from the taller Asif, who wore a black suit with a white shirt.

Asif listened to the proceedings through an Urdu interpreter.

Potential jurors were asked whether they or their families worked in the gambling industry or earned money from professional cricket or have ever been employed in journalism.

Butt and Asif stood and were asked if they objected to any of the jurors selected, to which they said they did not.

Taking it in turns to read out their oaths, the jurors were then sworn in, in a case which judge Jeremy Cooke said could last up to five weeks.

The two charges, relating to between August 15 and August 29 last year, were then read out.

Cooke then told the jury not to talk to anyone else about the trial.

"You will almost certainly have read things in the newspapers," the judge said.

"Dismiss all that.

"Focus on the evidence you hear in this court and nothing else."

Jurors were also told "do not go on the Internet" to look up information relating to the case, and "no tweeting, no blogging to anyone else about it".

Seemingly accidentally, the judge referred to the "batting order" when asking the prosecution about the witnesses due to take the stand, before adjourning the case until Wednesday.

Two other people -- talented 19-year-old bowler Mohammad Aamer and the three players' agent Mazhar Majeed -- have also been also charged with the same offences.

At the time of the alleged offences, Butt was captain of Pakistan's Test side and had won plaudits for his leadership of the team.

Asif was the team's senior pace bowler, while teenage left-arm swing bowler Aamer was regarded as one of the hottest properties in world cricket.

The allegations stem from a probe by Mazher Mahmood, former undercover reporter for the News of the World, widely known in Britain as the "fake sheikh" for wearing Arab dress during investigations.

'Spot-betting', hugely popular in South Asia, sees gamblers bet on various possible incidents in a match rather than the final outcome.

© 2011 AFP

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