For the Pakistan cricket team and their manager, Yawar Saeed, Saturday had been a trying enough day in the fourth Test match at the home of cricket, Lord’s. By the time they got off the bus back at their hotel – the Marriott, Swiss Cottage, 10 minutes’ drive from the ground – shortly after 7pm, their disastrous day’s performance on the field had already led to an obvious collapse in morale, the prospect of another heavy defeat, and a series loss by three games to one.
But their day was about to get a lot worse. Scotland Yard detectives were waiting for them, armed with allegations from the News of the World that members of the team had been involved in a spot-betting scam during the Test, bowling three no-balls allegedly to order, even as they spent Friday morning sensationally dismissing much of the cream of England’s batting without scoring.
The effect of the no-balls on the match was trivial, but the implications for the Test, for international cricket and for Pakistan are immense. They appear to show that spot-betting – gambling on the outcome of brief phases of play and individual performances – may have corrupted members of the team, which remains the worst paid in international cricket. Betting is a huge activity on the subcontinent and allegations of the suborning of players have been rife for two decades, affecting players from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa.
The paper’s expose, by their regular undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood, the so-called Fake Sheikh who usually specialises in exposés of greedy, weak-willed celebrities and minor royals, appears to indicate that the team’s players, including its 18-year-old star bowler, Mohammad Amir, were prepared to underperform to order for the benefit of crooked betting syndicates. The three no-balls were sufficiently outlandish to draw comment from match analysts; what they did not know is that they had been accurately predicted to the newspaper’s reporter on Wednesday, the day before the match began, by the players’ agent, Mazhar Majeed.
Majeed, a wealthy 35-year-old Surrey-based businessman, had told the paper that he could arrange such stunts in return for payment. He was shown, in undercover footage, counting eight piles of £50 notes, totalling £140,000, on a West End hotel table. The paper said it had given him a further £10,000 as an up-front deposit, and the rest of the money was an “entry ticket” to an existing scam based in India.
Majeed told the paper: “I am going to give you three no-balls to prove to you firstly that this is what’s happening. They’ve all been organised, OK? This is exactly what is going to happen, you’re going to see these things happen. I’m telling you – if you play this right, you’re going to make a lot of money, believe me.”
According to the News of the World, he also boasted that matches had been fixed and that Pakistan were prepared to lose two of their forthcoming one-day international matches against England, starting next month. He claimed to have opened Swiss and English bank accounts for some of the players, that he laundered betting money through the non-league football club Croydon FC, which he owns, and that gamblers had made $1.3m (£836,000) betting on the outcome of a Test match that Pakistan unexpectedly lost to Australia in Sydney in January. He was taped saying: “I’ve been doing it with them, the Pakistani team, for two and a half years and we’ve made masses and masses of money.”
Majeed was even said by the paper to have rung Amir at his hotel in front of its reporter and to have roused him with the cheery call: “Are you sleeping, you fucker? … OK, sleep. We’ve spoken about everything before anyway. OK, don’t mind. You sleep.”
Detectives spent more than three hours at the hotel on Saturday evening, interviewing Amir, his fellow fast bowler Mohammad Asif, Salman Butt, the young team captain, and Kamran Akmal, the team’s wicketkeeper. They confiscated the captain’s and the bowlers’ mobile phones and took away documents and other possessions in plastic bags. At one stage the Pakistan high commissioner to London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, could be seen pacing the hotel.
Saeed, the Pakistan manager, told journalists yesterday: “[The] officers came, interviewed, came to my room, went to his [Butt’s] room and two more. They were there for about two or three hours. After that, I asked them if there was anything we could do. They said, ‘No’.”
The players were not arrested but Majeed was interviewed in custody. He was last night released on bail. His brother Azhar, also an agent, told the Associated Press the claims were laughable and rubbish. But he added: “I am extremely worried. Nothing like this has happened to us ever. I have no idea as to … what’s led [to] him counting the money.”
Saeed said: “When we started this tour, I told the players they should not be entertaining those two in their hotel rooms … Anywhere we tour in the world we tell our players they are not allowed to have agents in their hotel rooms. It is the policy.”
Yesterday morning at Lord’s, the Pakistan team arrived late and did not practise before play started. Outside the ground, fans queueing to get in, aware that their £45 tickets might secure only a few hours of play, expressed outrage and resignation at the latest in a line of betting-related scandals to afflict the game.
When his turn came to bat, Amir, the hero of Friday morning’s bowling effort – when at one stage he had taken four wickets for no runs in eight balls – was instead booed to the crease by some in the crowd.
In less than two hours the match was over, leaving a subdued Butt and Saeed to face the media. All summer, commentators have praised the captain for his fluency, frankness and confidence in explaining his side’s poor form. Yesterday he appeared sheepish, leaving most of the answers to Saeed, although, because the latter is hard of hearing, he had to shout the questions into the manager’s ear.
Questioned about whether the allegations were true, Butt replied: “These are just allegations. Anybody can stand out and say things about you, doesn’t make them true. They include quite a few people, they are still ongoing and we will see what happens. I haven’t [seen] any allegation except just taking my name. There is nothing I have seen, or shown, that involves me.”
Cricket’s governing bodies, the International Cricket Council, the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Pakistan Cricket Board, together with the MCC, owners of Lord’s, announced there would be no comment. As the team retreats to the West Country, the game’s administrators have to consider whether the one-day internationals can still take place.
The Indian connection
Mazhar Majeed, the man at the centre of the controversy, said the alleged betting scam has its roots in India. “I deal with an Indian party. They pay me for information,” he told the News of the World. Majeed appears to be referring to Indian betting syndicates where information is invaluable for spread betting – where wagers are staked on a range of possible outcomes. Betting is illegal in Indian sports, except on horses. Nevertheless, small-time cricket betting has always existed, and it enveloped the subcontinent after India won the World Cup in 1983.
Betting on cricket in India is now said to be worth billions of rupees.
Delhi police were investigating underworld extortion of big business in 2000 when they stumbled on a betting scandal that eventually ended the careers of two celebrated captains, South Africa’s Hansie Cronje and India’s Mohammad Azharuddin. Cronje was caught out when he phoned a fixer in London connected to a criminal organisation in Pakistan. A later path-breaking inquiry by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)the CBI for the first time
Indian investigators now acknowledge the extent of illegal cricket betting – Guardian