London: Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were ordered to stand trial in a British court on Thursday over spot-fixing allegations that cast a shadow over the integrity of the sport.
The trio, along with their agent Mazhar Majeed, appeared in the dock at Westminster Magistrates Court for the first time since being charged with conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments.
The case centres on allegations first uncovered in a British tabloid investigation that the players received money for deliberately bowling no-balls during the fourth Test against England in August.
District Judge Howard Riddle said all four must appear for trial at Southwark Crown Court on May 20.
"There is no doubt the allegations are very serious and I know you recognise that," Riddle said, acknowledging that the players' reputations were of the "utmost importance" to them.
The cricketers, who all live in Pakistan, were given unconditional bail. The 35-year-old Majeed, who lives in south London, was told to surrender his passport and not apply for international travel documents.
The four only spoke on Thursday from behind a glass screen to confirm their name, age and address and that they understood the charges against them.
Majeed is accused of accepting 150,000 pounds ($242,000) during a sting by undercover newspaper reporters to arrange for the players to bowl no-balls.
Accepting corrupt payments is an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 and carries a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
Cheating is an offence under the Gambling Act 2005 and carries a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
The Pakistan Cricket Board had a legal observer in court but is no longer providing funding for the players.
The 26-year-old Butt, the captain during last year's series, and fast bowlers Asif, 28, and Amir, 18, all received bans of at least five years from the sport following an investigation by the International Cricket Council's anti-corruption tribunal.
Butt received a further suspended five-year ban and Asif a two-year suspended sanction.
The trio have filed appeals with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
It is not the first time that international cricket has been hit by spot- and match-fixing. Former Pakistan captain Salim Malik and fast bowler Ata-ur-Rehman were banned for life in 1999 by Justice Malik Mohammad Qayyum, who also fined several leading players, including Younis and Wasim Akram.
Former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin and ex-South Africa skipper Hansie Cronje, who later died in a plane crash, also received similar punishments for their involvement in match-fixing around that time.