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Exclusive Interviews

Saj Sadiq recollects the mental anguish associated with watching some of Pakistan's finest cricketers being humiliated in court...

By Saj Sadiq (November 8, 2011)

Having followed Pakistan cricket for a very, very long time, some would say too long, I thought there was nothing remaining in this world that would surprise me regarding the unpredictable and crazy world of Pakistan cricket.

Having seen several of the nation’s cricketers being named in the Qayyum report, players being banned, unbanned, rebellions against the captain, infighting, power struggles, ball tampering allegations, pitch tampering, cricket ball biting, attacking a team mate with a cricket bat, drugs allegations etc, I thought I’d seen it all and Pakistan cricket would not be dragged into the gutter again, but how wrong was I.

If someone had said to me that during my lifetime I would be sat in a courtroom a few yards away watching three Pakistani cricketers and an agent being sent to prison, I would have called that person raving mad. The fact that this has now occurred has left me numb. I don’t know whether I should be angry with the four of them, feel pity for them, knowing that behind the scenes there are individuals who have been pulling the strings and are sat comfortably in their large houses tonight watching television on their 50” plasmas whilst those that have been caught are behind bars.

Having performed jury service in the past I thought I knew what to expect at Southwark Crown Court, I thought I knew what the atmosphere would be like, I thought I knew how things would develop over the course of the trial, but the spot fixing trial was on another level, in fact on another planet.

I wasn’t in court every day but literally every minute I spent in that horrid place will live with me forever. It was an awful experience, it’s a place that I want to get out of my head quickly, but I don’t think that will happen. In fact I don’t think I will ever forget the time I spent there.

I’d seen pictures of Southwark Crown Court before I went there for the first time, but as I came out of London Bridge tube station and turned right every day to walk towards the court building, I had butterflies in my stomach, not the sort of butterflies you get in excitement or anticipation rather butterflies knowing that Pakistan cricket is going to be dragged down again around the world.
I wasn’t particularly close to either Salman Butt or Mohammad Asif. I’d interviewed them several times over the years and had met them in person many times during last years tour of England. Asif was someone who I found last year was a man of few words and generally kept himself to himself. He generally would shy away from the spotlight and liked his own company.

Butt I found to be articulate, well spoken, confident and a likeable guy. Someone who I thought last year could take Pakistan cricket forward under his leadership. Both were always very polite and friendly whenever I met them on that ill fated tour of England last year.

I wasn’t sure what the atmosphere would be like in court or in other parts of the building and what access levels to the players would be like. I guess I wanted to go there to not only report events but for some sort of closure both on a personal level and for Pakistan cricket. I went there literally like a juror with an open mind, no preconceived ideas, rather wanting to listen to and digest the evidence presented in court.

I’m not embarrassed by admitting to be shocked at seeing Butt and Asif for the first time behind the perspex screen in Court 4 on the third floor of Southwark Crown Court. For some reason I wasn’t expecting to see them behind the security screen and as I say it was shocking to see 2 extremely talented cricketers sat in the dock in the courtroom with all eyes on them.

First impressions of the courtroom were the frosty atmosphere, how small Court 4 was, the intense media and public interest and how all eyes were naturally on Messrs Asif and Butt. There was nothing modern about the courtroom or “different” given it was such a high profile case. It smelt of the supermarket furniture varnish that is used in households around the world and it would become over the coming weeks one of the most scrutinised buildings in the world of sport and current affairs.

Meeting Asif and Butt for the first time in the court buildings was surreal. I was quite tense about what to say to them and what not to say them. Like a stage performer I was literally rehearsing my lines every night before I was going to court and on the journey to Southwark Crown Court, to ensure I didn’t say something that I shouldn’t have. In these circumstances, everyone is under the microscope, every word is scrutinised and can be misunderstood. It was like being in a goldfish bowl with the world looking in from the outside.

On my first trip to court, I saw Asif first and he and a friend of his came over and started talking to me. A firm handshake from Asif was followed by a welcoming smile which put me at ease. In this sort of situation you don’t know how a person will react, but Asif was very relaxed and friendly. Asif was a few pounds heavier from the last time I saw him, but still with that look of someone whom you would not mess around with.

Later that morning ahead of court I saw Salman for the first time. He was with his QC and barrister and he made an effort to come over and greet me. “Saj bhai how are you” he stated in his all too familiar accent and tone. I looked at him and my mind went back to England 2010 and that summer when he was captain of the test team for 5 matches. A difficult summer for Pakistan on and off the field, but one where he had handled himself with dignity, with firmness and without complacency ahead of the spot fixing revelations. Butt had impressed all of the media last summer up until Lords and even when the team were not performing well, he would come and sit in front of the media and take the criticism on the chin, instead of shying away and sending junior team mates, as could have been the temptation.

With myself and one or two other media guys, Asif and Salman found some sort of release from the trauma of the courtroom. They both found people who they could share a joke with, talk cricket with, talk about their past milestones, their good and bad days playing for Pakistan as well as telling us some funny stories about themselves and team mates. One could tell that they were naturally more comfortable in the canteen or the corridor rather than the courtroom. This wasn’t either of the cricketers being arrogant or over confident, it was just their way of dealing with this very difficult situation they found themselves in.

Asif’s routine at lunchtime would see him go for a cigarette break and then return to the canteen for a light lunch either brought in by friends or purchased from the not so highly recommended canteen. Perhaps the food in the canteen was there to prepare the accused for some of the food they could be eating in the near future. Asif was normally quite relaxed in the canteen, one day we were sat looking at his Cricinfo profile for what seemed an eternity and he cheekily claimed that his highest test score of 29 was actually incorrect and that it should have been 30. Robbed of one run was how Asif put it. On one occasion as we waited for some coffee I asked Asif if he wanted me to get him anything. At first he said no, then he looked over sheepishly at the yoghurts. I told him to grab some and pass them over. He asked me to read the ingredients which I did and he was happy for me to buy them for him. On another occasion Asif looked at some photos of himself dating back to a previous tour of England when Bob Woolmer was the coach. At times it was hard to believe that the cricketers were taking part in something that could and of course would change their lives forever.

Minutes before Asif was found guilty he was sat with myself and a couple of others playing games on an ipad. The cheeky pace bowler was in good form, cracking one liners knowing little about what was about to happen.

Butt was less visible in the canteen area. From time to time his routine would be to go for some fresh air and then return to the canteen and wait for his lunch to be brought by one of his legal team. He was fairly relaxed, always enjoyed a chat about cricket, cracking some funny stories about humorous moments on and off the cricket field. On occasions I would look at Salman and he would be reciting prayers to himself, very much like he used to when at the batting crease. At times my mind would go back to being on the field at Headingley after Pakistan had defeated Australia in Salman’s first test as captain. I would think surely Salman you wouldn’t throw all that away would you! Butt was always composed, never looked flustered away from the courtroom and very polite.

There was never a day where there were any awkward glances or dirty looks or exchanges between the two cricketers, they would be sat with their own group of legal professionals and friends and never invaded each other’s space.

The fairly relaxed atmosphere of the canteen was always replaced by the seriousness of the courtroom and the deliberations there. What went on in the courtroom is of course well documented and doesn’t need my two cents here.

What did however interest me and got me thinking was the amount of evidence, documents and discussions that the jury had to digest. How on earth could they be expected to make an informed decision given the arguments, counter arguments, stories, accusations and reasoning behind literally every discussion. I was just relieved I wasn’t on the jury and rather just reporting on the trial.

The last couple of days at Southwark Crown Court can best be described as mayhem. The media frenzy intensified, the public interest increased and courtroom seating was at a premium. Some came genuinely to work, others just came to watch from the sidelines, some came to gloat, whilst others just came to treat it like it was some sort of freak show. Sadly with the destruction of reputation of others, some take pride in seeing the fall from grace of others and so we saw this with various individuals from the media and the public who came to the courtroom, very much like those individuals who go to a zoo to taunt and tease the animals behind a cage, knowing that the animals cannot fight back.

With the entry of Mazhar Majeed and Mohammad Amir into the trial, proceedings reached new levels. The intensity was unbearable at times, the tension, the chaos in the courtroom at times, given the number of legal representatives, defendants and staff.

I’d met Mazhar a couple of times last year during the England series, but sat in court he looked a shadow of the man who I had been talking cricket to and Arsenal football club to. Majeed looked thin and pale compared to the last time I had seen him. He looked like a man with the troubles of the world on his shoulders.

Amir was and is someone who I will always have a soft spot for. He came to my attention as a 16 year old boy when in Kenya he toured with the Academy team. My brother in law who was residing in Kenya at the time had mentioned him to me and the very first time I spoke with Amir, there was a bond of friendship. He would always address me as PakPassssshhhion in his own cheeky way with that instantly recognisable smile. Whenever I met him last year in England that smile was never far away, as he would crack a one liner or mock somebody near him with a witty remark. He was a likeable boy, someone who it was easy to see needed a lot of guidance, someone who was brilliant yet vulnerable, someone who I just hoped would not fall into the wrong hands. Sadly the smile was understandably nowhere to be seen in court. Instead of the recognisable smile, a furrowed brow could be seen underneath that mop of long hair.

Both Majeed and Amir saw me in the courtroom. Perhaps I reminded them of happier days gone by, perhaps I reminded them of days that they would remember whilst in detention, who knows. Both tried their best to smile, but this was not the right place or right time to be smiling.

When the initial guilty verdicts against Butt and Asif were announced, that sent shockwaves through them and their friends. They perhaps had now realised the gravity and seriousness of what all this was about. Both were crestfallen and shattered by the verdict and now realised that the future looked bleak for them. Asif still had hope when the jury stated that they could not reach a majority verdict against him for the second charge. However his hopes were shattered when the second guilty verdict was announced and he looked a broken man.

As I left the building the day that Butt and Asif were found guilty I saw Asif waiting in the entrance area on the ground floor. I walked over to say goodbye to him and a friend and what struck me was the eyes of his friend that were filled with tears. He couldn’t speak, Asif just looked emotionless, as if he was just looking straight through people. I left the building, took a deep breath and noticed the many photographers and television crews outside.

The day of the sentencing was just absolutely crazy. Despite court proceedings about to start at 10am, I arrived on the third floor at 8.30 and already there were about 15 to 20 media representatives awaiting the opening of Court 4’s doors. By the time the courtroom doors opened just before 10am there was pandemonium. People were literally stepping over one another to grab a seat. I took my seat to the left of the courtroom and awaited proceedings.

The four defendants sat together, Asif and Amir separated by a female interpreter, all awaiting the judgement that would change their respective lives. I was sat only a few yards to Mohammad Amir’s left and immediately my thoughts turned to the families of all four men. What will they have said to their families this morning before coming to court? What will have been their last words to their loved ones as they awaited sentencing by Justice Cooke. What was going though the minds of all four men?
Once Justice Cooke started delivering his review of the case and sentencing Majeed sat with his head bowed for most of the sentencing, occasionally looking up at Justice Cooke. Butt sat leaning forward with naturally an extremely worried look on his face. Asif like Butt, had the expression of someone who knew that his life was in the hands of another man and Amir, the exciting young fast bowler, one of the world’s greatest upcoming talents, now sat in a courtroom alongside his two National Bank team mates and an agent.

There was very little emotion from all four when the sentences were announced by the Judge. They controlled their emotions very well and gave very little away, what was going on inside their minds and hearts must have been totally different to what was displayed to the watching world. Perhaps all of them had expected custodial sentences, perhaps their legal teams had told them to heed the Judges words of no reaction in the courtroom to the sentences. Only the four men in the dock will know what went through their minds when the sentences were delivered.

I’ve spoken separately on PakPassion about the moment the four of them had to pick up their bags and head for the cells at Southwark Crown Court, it was a horrible moment, a moment where their lives will have flashed in front of them. Even those sat in court sat literally frozen to their seats when the four men turned to their right for the court officers to take them to the cells.

The rollercoaster of emotions for those of us who followed this trial at close quarters is probably difficult to understand for those following the events on television or over the internet. Only the four found guilty and those pulling the strings behind the scenes know exactly what went on and what had been going on and perhaps how long this had been going on. We’ve heard that perhaps spot fixing had been passed down the generations, we’ve also heard that spot fixing is not allegedly exclusive to Pakistan cricket.

Unlike some, I don't feel like applauding anyone, I don't feel like congratulating anyone, especially when Pakistan cricket has been humiliated. I don't feel resentment or anger, I'm literally just numb at what I have witnessed and hope that this sort of thing never happens again.

Ultimately we have had some answers and closure as a result of this trial, but what is more worrying is the fact that this trial of 22 days has raised more concerns and questions than answers it has provided. The trial above all should be a wakeup call for those running the game of cricket.

Discuss!