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No sympathy in Pakistan for convicted cricketers

November 2, 2011 |  8:10 am

Three members of Pakistan's national cricket team, convicted in a British court of match manipulation, have gotten little sympathy from their countrymen

This post has been updated. See note below for details.

REPORTING FROM ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- If three Pakistani cricketers convicted in a London court of match manipulation are expecting a shoulder to cry on in their home country, they're not going to get it.

Pakistani reaction to the convictions of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, members of the country’s national cricket team, has been anything but sympathetic. The way many Pakistanis see it, the trio has sullied a national pastime that represents a welcome counterpoint to the ceaseless grind of power shutdowns, murder sprees and suicide bombings.

"This is a great misfortune for this country," former Pakistani cricketer Zakir Hussain Syed told a Pakistani television channel Wednesday. "This incident has badly defamed Pakistan around the world."

Butt and Asif were convicted on Tuesday of accepting bribes to fix part of a match against England held in London last year. Amir pleaded guilty to his involvement in the scam before the start of the trial for Butt and Asif, but his plea wasn't disclosed until after their convictions were announced.

[Updated, 11:58 a.m., Nov. 2: A sentencing hearing for the three men began Wednesday and was slated to resume Thursday. Butt and Asif could face up to seven years in prison. Amir also could face a possible prison term, though his sentence could be reduced because he entered a guilty plea.]

A byproduct of British rule over colonial India, cricket is beloved by every layer of Pakistani society. It's watched by the wealthy elite in swanky Islamabad hotels and cafes, and by dirt-poor farmers swarming around a single television set in thatched-hut villages.

Scandals have rocked Pakistani cricket for years. In 2000, two players received lifetime bans from the sport after they were found guilty of match-fixing. Last year, Pakistani cricket star Shahid Afridi was put on probation by the country's cricket board after he was caught on video biting into the ball during a match, to alter its flight path.

This latest scandal, however, likely will overshadow cricket in Pakistan for some time, former cricketers said. The only hope, Afridi told reporters Wednesday, is that "this case can be a lesson" for the country's next generation of cricketers.

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Photos: Pakistani cricket player Salman Butt, surrounded by members of the media, leaves the courthouse in London on Tuesday. Credit: Lefteris Pitarakis / Associated Press

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