ECB lines up fall-back fixtures to fill Pakistan vacuum

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The Independent Online

Pakistan's dithering over whether they will play in the coming Twenty20 International and NatWest one-day series against England has forced the England and Wales Cricket Board to make contingency plans in case Inzamam-ul-Haq's side fail to turn up. Officials at the Pakistan Cricket Board have stated their desire for the limited-over matches to go ahead but Inzamam, the captain, has yet to give a definitive answer.

Should Pakistan not make themselves available for the Twenty20 match in Bristol on Monday, they will be replaced by an Invitation XI, containing overseas players who are currently playing county cricket in England.

In an effort to make available four of these players - Stephen Fleming, David Hussey, James Franklin and Mark Cosgrove - Nottinghamshire's Pro40 match against Glamorgan on Monday has been rescheduled for the previous day.

The ECB has also been in discussion with the International Cricket Council about the possibility of a replacement side travelling to England to compete in the five NatWest series games due to be played against Pakistan. It is believed that the West Indies are preparing to fill the vacuum and save English cricket from a potential loss of £15m.

In a statement, the ECB chief executive, David Collier, said: "We are pleased that discussions strongly indicate the England v Pakistan NatWest International Twenty20 internationals and the subsequent NatWest Series will proceed as planned.

"However, given the current uncertainty concerning the scheduling of the code-of-conduct hearing and imminence of the NatWest International Twenty20, it is prudent to examine all options to provide spectators with guaranteed play on Monday.

"This has been achieved and, while the ECB and PCB hope that this contingency plan will not be required, the International XI remains on standby. ECB can also confirm that it has been in discussion with ICC and other full member boards to provide a further contingency plan for the NatWest series. These discussions are well advanced, but it is hoped that the Pakistan team will be able to fulfil its commitments."

Inzamam was charged with ball tampering and bringing the game into disrepute after Sunday's controversial fourth Test at the Oval, which ended when Pakistan failed to take the field. The code-of-conduct hearing was scheduled to take place today, but it was postponed indefinitely when personal reasons prevented Ranjan Madugalle, the ICC's most respected match referee, from attending.

Had the hearing taken place, Inzamam could have picked up a heavy fine and a 10-match ban, punishment that would probably have led to Pakistan withdrawing from the one-day section of the tour. The postponement seemed to suggest that the one-day matches against Pakistan would go ahead, but Inzamam wants the hearing to take place before his side play another international match.

Inzamam remains the key figure in the sorry saga. The PCB and ECB support the ICC's decision to postpone the hearing until Madugalle is ready, but Inzamam wants his name and that of his team, who vehemently deny ball tampering, cleared as soon as possible. Inzamam's influence on the team goes far beyond a cricket field. His team-mates worship him and they are unlikely to play in the one-day series should they be without him in charge.

The ECB's move will add extra spice to today's meeting's between Inzamam, Pakistan officials and Malcolm Speed, the chief executive of the ICC. Speed flew into London last night and he is expected to confirm a new date for the code-of-conduct hearing today. His presence highlights how emotive the affair, which started on Sunday when the umpire Darrell Hair accused the Pakistan team of cheating by changing the condition of the match ball, has become.

Shaharyar Kahn, the chairman of the PCB, remains confident that Pakistan will fulfil their obligations. "We will know the date of the hearing on Friday," he said. "The players did not want the sword of the hearing hanging over them, but they have realised the importance of playing. We do not have any problems with the England and Wales Cricket Board, so we must continue with the tour. Our focus is on the cricket."

Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, could be summoned to the hearing to explain his behaviour on the Sunday morning of the fourth Test, the day Pakistan were accused of ball tampering. Before the start of play Fletcher attempted to meet the match referee, Mike Procter, and there are allegations that his actions could have prompted the events that followed.

* Heavy overnight rain and a saturated outfield caused Pakistan's 50-over match against Middlesex at Uxbridge to be abandoned without a ball being bowled.

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