LONDON // Three of Pakistan's star cricketers were behind bars last night after being jailed for a spot-fixing scam that has shaken the foundation of the sport.
The heaviest sentence - two and half years in prison - was imposed on the former captain Salman Butt, 27, who was deemed to be the leader of the plot during the Lord's Test against England in August last year.
Mohammad Asif, 28, once ranked the second best bowler in the world, was jailed for a year while the 19-year-old Mohammad Amir, tipped as a future great, was sent to a young offender's institution for six months.
The trio were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court in London yesterday along with their UK agent, Mazhar Majeed, 36, the "fixer" who accepted £150,000 (Dh882,837) from an undercover reporter posing as the representative of an Indian betting syndicate.
In return, Majeed revealed exactly when three "no balls" would be bowled by Asif and Amir in the upcoming Test, opening up the possibility for gamblers to make millions on the illegal "spot betting" market on the subcontinent.
Majeed, who was jailed for two years and eight months, later told police that he had paid Butt £10,000, Amir £2,500 and Asif £65,000.
He claimed that Asif had been given so much to stop him from joining a competing match-fixing syndicate that operated within the Pakistani team.
Under British law, the players - all of whom have already been banned from playing for five years by the Dubai-based International Cricket Council (ICC) - are likely to be released after serving half their sentences.
Jailing them yesterday, the judge, Justice (Sir Jeremy) Cooke, told the players that, through their greed, they had damaged the integrity of cricket and betrayed fans.
"It is the insidious effect of your actions on professional cricket and the followers of it that make the offences so serious," he told them.
"The image and integrity of what was once a game but is now a business is damaged in the eyes of all, including the many youngsters who regarded you as heroes and would have given their eye teeth to play at the levels and with the skills that you had.
"You procured the bowling of three no-balls for money, to the detriment of your national cricket team, with the object of enabling others to cheat at gambling.
Nadeem Sarwar, the Pakistan Cricket Board spokesman, called the conviction and sentecing of the players a "sad day for Pakistani cricket."
"Instead of having pride in playing for their country, these players chose to disappoint their supporters, damage the image of their country and bring the noble game of cricket into disrepute. There is little sympathy in Pakistan for the sorry pass they have come to," Mr Sarwar said.
Relatives of the convicted wept and professed the innocence of their loved ones after they learned of the verdict.
"My son is innocent and he did the no ball at the asking of the captain," said Nasim Akhtar, the mother of Mohammad Amir, tears rolling down her cheeks at her home in the village of Changa Bangial outside the Pakistani capital, Agence France Presse reported.
The former Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan told Pakistan's Geo News: "I think what is most important is that our cricket system needs to be radically changed. Only then will we be able to rid ourselves of corruption in cricket."
The former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan told the BBC: "I hope the sentences in the Pakistan cricketers trial sends shock waves through the game.
"I am delighted with the way it has been handled, but I believe there are still more out there and I hope more can be done to catch them."
Sir Ronnie Flanagan, the chairman of the ICC's anti-corruption and security unit, insisted that corruption "is certainly not rampant in the world of cricket - I think it is engaged in by a tiny number of people".
But he added: "Sadly I wouldn't say the instances we have seen brought to justice are totally isolated either.
"They indicate we must be ever vigilant.
"The vast, vast majority of cricketers are not only wonderfully talented, but wonderfully ethical people.
"It is only a tiny proportion of people, some of whom may have a pre-deposition to it and some who succumb to the evil advances of other people."
Lawyers for Butt and Amir said later that they planned to appeal against the sentences.