Inquiry into Test match bribery plot

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SCOTLAND YARD detectives are investigating allegations that an Asian betting syndicate tried to bribe members of the England cricket team with nearly pounds 1m.

The inquiry was set up after a former international player told police he had been offered a massive bribe in return for persuading two team members to perform badly during a Test match against New Zealand this summer.

Police will be questioning players to discover whether the attempted match-rigging was a one-off or whether other people have been offered bribes.

The inquiry is the latest to involve allegations of match fixing by Far Eastern criminals.Last month, a gambler with direct links to Chinese Triad gangsters was among four men jailed for plotting to sabotage a Premiership football match as part of a betting scam.

In the latest incident, the former England player Chris Lewis reported to police and the cricket authorities that he had been offered a bribe. Mr Lewis, 31, is said to have been offered pounds 300,000 to act as a go-between for an Asian "businessman". He is reported to have been asked to approach Alec Stewart, the England wicketkeeper batsman, and Alan Mullally, a bowler, and offer them pounds 300,000 each to drop catches and perform badly during the third Test match against New Zealand at Old Trafford, Manchester.

Betting syndicates make vast profits by offering good odds on the favourite team, who most punters will back, and cleaning up when they lose.

Mr Lewis is reported to have said: "I was introduced to some people who had what they called a business proposal. But it was a bribe ... if they're offering pounds 300,000 at the bottom of the chain there must be an awful lot more money involved."

Scotland Yard's organised crime group will also investigate allegations that the New Zealand captain, Stephen Fleming, was approached.

In the event, Alec Stewart did not keep wicket and Alan Mullally was not selected to play at Old Trafford. England avoided defeat thanks largely to bad weather, but went on to lose the series 2-1 when New Zealand won at The Oval.

Tim Lamb, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, said yesterday: "We have reminded the players on several occasions that there are suspicious and shady people around and should they be approached they should report to the appropriate authorities straight away.

"The International Cricket Council are determined to stamp out incidents of this nature and we take all these type of things very seriously. There have been a lot of allegations and suspicion around the world in recent years, but we have no reason to suppose any England player has done anything wrong."

The board said in an earlier statement: "The player concerned acted entirely properly by bringing this to our attention. We have passed the matter to the police and there is nothing to suggest to the ECB that this is anything other than an isolated incident."