Doha:The endgame has begun at the ICC's hearing into the spot-fixing inquiry involving three players from Pakistan. The anti-corruption tribunal will hear closing statements from the ICC and lawyers for Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir from Monday and is expected to reach a verdict on Tuesday.
Sunday, day four of the hearings taking place in Doha, Qatar, began with the completion of the cross-examination of former captain Butt by the ICC's lawyers. The focus then shifted to Amir who presented his defence, questioned first by his lawyer Shahid Karim before Jonathon Taylor and Ian Higgins, the ICC's lawyers, began their questioning; Amir used an interpreter, who was present through the hearings.
It is believed that the broad strategy of Amir's defence relies on the burden of proof being on the ICC to prove their case. Indications throughout, reinforced by those familiar with the case, have been that a previously unblemished disciplinary record, and his youth, might be played upon to buffer against potential sanctions; the possibility of precisely such mitigating circumstances is present in the ICC's anti-corruption code of conduct.
Such a strategy would be, legal practitioners in Pakistan observe, entirely in keeping with Karim's reputation as an astute litigation expert. Nevertheless, Amir's day of questioning is thought to have been middling, neither disastrous nor outstanding for his prospects.
But as the days pass and a picture of proceedings slowly emerges from a hearing which has, in the fullest sense, been held behind closed doors, it appears that the equation between Butt and Asif could be vital to how events pan out.
Already it has played a part. In their opening remarks on the first day, it was reported by the BBC, Asif and Butt's reasons behind the deliberate, pre-planned no-balls allegedly bowled in the Lord's Test last year differed. It also emerged that Butt, as well as being cross-examined by the ICC's lawyers, was also questioned by Asif's lawyer Alexander Cameron. Significantly, Amir was not questioned by either Butt's or Asif's lawyer on Sunday.
Butt's own defence had what was described as a "tough" cross-examination on Saturday. There are suggestions also that the questioning of one particular witness by Butt's lawyer Yasin Patel earlier in the hearing may have hurt his client's stance. In any case, the equation is likely to become clearer on Monday, when Asif begins his defence and will presumably be open to questioning by the ICC as well as Patel.
Butt and Amir left together at the end of a day that extended nearly half an hour beyond its scheduled time. Asif, as has become usual, was the last to leave and he arrived on Sunday nearly one and a half hours before the hearing began at its scheduled time of 9 30am.
After Asif completes his defence, both the ICC and the players' lawyers will be expected to make their closing statements - and the former appear perky enough ahead of it - before the three-man tribunal of Michael Beloff QC, Justice Albie Sachs and Sharad Rao deliberate over the verdicts.