|Amir, right, arrives at court after 'overcoming considerable odds' to get through immigration [Reuters]
Three Pakistan cricketers accused of 'spot-fixing' at the Lord's Test match in England last year told police the incidents were coincidental or bad luck, a London court heard.
The trio, banned captain Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, are accused by British prosecutors of rigging the match by bowling no-balls at pre-agreed times during the fourth Test in August.
"There is no doubt that the allegations are very serious. I know you understand that," Judge Howard Riddle told the men at a hearing at London's Westminster Magistrates' court.
Along with a fourth man, sporting agent Mazhar Majeed, the three players, who appeared in court wearing dark suits and dark open-necked shirts, face charges of conspiracy to obtain and accept corrupt payments, and conspiracy to cheat.
"Their reputation is of the utmost importance. They have a very strong incentive to attend trial and to defend this"
Judge Howard Riddle, Westminster Magistrates' Court
Prosecutor Sally Walsh told the court Butt and Amir had said in police interviews that money which had been found was from appearances at an ice-cream parlour owned by Majeed.
Butt told detectives the no-balls were coincidental and Amir said they were the result of bad luck because the ground had been slippery, Walsh said.
The men were ordered to appear again at London's Southwark Crown Court on May 20 and were given unconditional bail, while Majeed was ordered to surrender his passport.
Riddle said, while Britain had no extradition treaty with Pakistan, any failure to show up for future court hearings would end their careers.
"Failing to attend these proceedings will destroy playing international cricket in the future," he said, describing the men as being of good character.
"Their reputation is of the utmost importance. They have a very strong incentive to attend trial and to defend this."
As well as the criminal case, the men have been given lengthy bans after having been found guilty of corruption by the International Cricket Council.
They have all lodged appeals against the bans with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Amir's lawyer Gareth Peirce said her client had had to deal with problems with British immigration in order to attend Thursday's hearing.
"He got here overcoming considerable odds. Immigration authorities managed to lose his application," Peirce told the court, saying Amir's whole future depended on the trial.
"Mr Amir has gone the extra mile to ensure he is here."
Meanwhile, Asif's lawyer said the evidence against his client was weak, neither indicating he was part of a conspiracy nor that he had received any money.
If found guilty of the charges, the men face prison sentences of up to seven years.
Meanwhile at the Cricket World Cup, Pakistan's maverick paceman Shoaib Akhtar, whose colourful career has been a heady mix of on-field brilliance and off-field controversy, will quit international cricket after the competition.
"Yes, I will quit international cricket after the World Cup" the 35-year-old told AFP.
"I have taken this decision after much thought. Pakistan's last match in this World Cup will also be my last. I hope that will be the final on April 2."
Akhtar made up his mind after Pakistan's 110-run defeat against New Zealand, in which he went for 70 runs in his nine overs.
He was rested for the match against Zimbabwe on Monday and was thought to be an unlikely starter for Saturday's last Group A match against Australia.