Pakistan fast bowler Mohammad Asif has finally admitted to his part in the 2010 spot-fixing scandal.
Asif was one of three players, alongside Muhammad Amir and captain Salman Butt, who were caught orchestrating the bowling of no-balls in a Test match against England at Lord's in return for money.
Despite a scandal erupting in the press after the News of the World exposed the story and a subsequent court case which saw all three men given custodial sentences in the UK in 2011, Asif had previously protested his innocence.
In an emotional press conference in his homeland, however, Asif has now confessed to his role in the spot-fixing scandal and called for fellow cricketers to avoid falling into the same traps.
Cricinfo report his quotes:
I accept the punishment from the ICC tribunal in 2011. I apologise for my actions that have brought disrespect to my beloved country, to the millions of fans in Pakistan and in the world. When I look back at the events of my career, I feel very sorry.
I request all the players who want to represent their country that they must keep away from all sorts of corruption. I am ready to help any player who wants to avoid such pitfalls. I will duly cooperate with the ICC, its Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU) and with the PCB, in fighting corruption in the game.
Asif, aged 30, appears to have hopes of returning to cricket and is young enough that he could yet do so. But his return is, to say the least, complicated.
His mea culpa is a step in the right direction—but it is hard to overlook the fact that, as recently as this summer, Asif was appealing against his conviction in a court of appeal, as reported by the BBC. It does mean that his admission of guilt could be viewed as convenient if he harbours hopes of playing again.
Unlike Asif, his fellow bowler Amir admitted his part in the scandal before the 2011 trial, and his punishments were more lenient—six months in prison compared to Asif's 12 months, and a five-year ban from cricket as opposed to Asif's seven (two of which are suspended).
There has been more hope for Amir to play cricket again. He was 18 at the time of the incident and, even if he serves a full five years of suspension, he could still have a meaningful career. As reported by Eurosport, the Pakistan Cricket Board has already asked for a relaxation in his ban so he can train at their facilities.
Asif's ban runs until the summer of 2015, by which time he will be closer to 33 years old, around the age most fast bowlers begin to lose their speed and their thoughts turn to retirement. Perhaps he will be less affected here—his 80mph bowling has never been express, and he has relied on guile and control rather than pace to take his wickets.
His absence from the game could work one of two ways—either five years off will mean he is still fresh enough to prise out more from his career, or he will find it difficult to rediscover the matchcraft and nous required to be effective at the top level.
The great tragedy of Asif's fall from grace was that his record as a seamer was as good as any of his peers, and with time he could have been a great.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle to his return is public perception. Since 2010, the IPL and the BPL have been affected by spot-fixing and match-fixing incidents—in fact just yesterday nine individuals were charged over fixing in Bangladesh this year.
Should Muhammad Asif be allowed to play for Pakistan again?
Would there be a public appetite to see someone who has sullied the game have a shot at redemption? Would his teammates at international or domestic level be able to trust him again?
That remains to be seen, but his confession today represents the first step. Cricinfo report what lies ahead next:
The apology is not expected to have any immediate implications but Asif will have to undergo rehabilitation and present the whole truth to the ACSU and PCB.
Whether he returns or not, cricket has two years to acclimatise to the idea.