Pakistan cricket was dealt a damaging blow on Tuesday when its two star players, the former captain, Salman Butt, and fast bowler Mohammad Asif, were found guilty of “spot-fixing” by conspiring to deliberately bowl no-balls during a Test match against England at Lord's last summer.
A third cricketer, pace bowler Mohammad Amir, had already pleaded guilty but this could not be reported earlier because he was only 18 at the time. He would be sentenced along with the other two later this week.
The verdict came after an often dramatic four-week trial that saw some of the biggest names in Pakistan cricket, including those of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, dragged into controversy.
The former chief of the International Cricket Council, Ehsan Mani, called it a “very sad day” for cricket.
“This tells us that Pakistani cricket establishment has failed somewhere. It's a very sad day for cricket around the world,” he said.
The former Pakistan captain, Asif Iqbal, told BBC that the case would send out a “huge message.”
The players, the first international sportsmen to be convicted of on-field corruption in a U.K. court in many years, showed no emotion as they were convicted at London's Southwark Crown Court teeming with cricket fans and journalists from around the world.
Asif declined to comment as he emerged from the court and walked slowly through a line of cameramen and television crews. There was a wave of murmurs as news came that Butt's wife Gul Hassan had given birth to a baby boy just an hour before he was found guilty.
After deliberating for nearly 17 hours amid reports of deep divisions, the jury found both Butt (27) and Asif (28) guilty of conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments. The latter charge carries a maximum jail term of seven years.
The players will remain on bail until they are sentenced.
The case followed a sting operation by the now-defunct News of the World in the run-up to the England-Pakistan series here last year purporting to show that the three cricketers took money from their London-based agent Mazhar Majeed to “fix” parts of the Lord's Test.
The secretly-filmed footage showed Majeed accepting ?150,000 from the reporter and promising him that next day Asif and Amir would deliver three no-balls at specific intervals, which they did. Butt's role allegedly was to make sure that his bowlers bowled the three no-balls.
Butt denied the allegation claiming he had ignored Majeed's request. Asif, also denying any wrongdoing, claimed he ended up bowling a no-ball because Butt had told him to run faster moments before bowling.