Final demand for apology sets up legal battle with Pakistan

England on verge of legal proceedings over Butt's match-fixing allegations
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The Independent Online

England warned yesterday that they will start legal action unless they receive an apology from Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board. In their first official move to show they mean business, the ECB and the Professional Cricketers' Association confirmed that it had sent a pre-action letter on behalf of the team. Butt accused England of fixing the outcome of the third NatWest Series match against Pakistan at The Oval "for enormous amounts of money". His comments came following an announcement by the ICC that it was investigating Pakistan's conduct in the match, an inquiry itself prompted by information received from The Sun newspaper.

England's players are seeking a full and unreserved apology. The statement issued on their behalf said: "Mr Butt has been advised that if a satisfactory response is not received, legal proceedings will be commenced against him without further notice."

The PCB said in a statement that it had received the letter. "In this letter multiple demands have been raised. The board has instructed London lawyers, Addleshaw Goddard, to respond on its behalf to these demands," the statement said.

There was one other uncomfortable subject for Pakistan to ponder too, if they had had time to read the newspapers before boarding their flight out of London yesterday.

Pictures of Shoaib Akhtar handling the ball during England's innings in Wednesday night's Rose Bowl decider were brought to the attention of the International Cricket Council.

A spokesman for the world governing body declined to comment on the likelihood of any suspicion of ball-tampering, and usual protocol dictates that some mention will have to be made in the match referee's report – which will be received "in due course" – for the ICC to deem any action necessary.

Butt's unsubstantiated and uncorroborated allegation, which he claimed to have heard from bookmakers, almost forced England to withdraw from the NatWest Series, which they won on Wednesday night with a handsome victory in the fifth match. It took everyone by surprise, not least because the ICC had already made it clear that its investigation did not involve anything to do with England.

Butt may have no option. His term of office is due to end soon, and considering the diplomatic pressure exerted on England to continue a series they were happy to abort that may also apply in Pakistan. If Butt refuses to comply shortly – and certainly before England embark on their Ashes tour – he can expect a writ. England's cricketers are in no mood to compromise and their attitude was that they had simply had enough.

World cricket in turn could do without another stand-off. Pakistan may be feeling persecuted but if Butt stuck by his words their team could expect to be shunned.

Although the tour came to an end yesterday, the ramifications could be long and significant. Police investigations are ongoing into the allegations against the Test captain, Salman Butt, and fast bowlers Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif at Lord's for allegedly bowling no-balls deliberately.

A fourth player, Wahab Riaz, was interviewed before being unconditionally released by police. Riaz was also involved in an altercation with England batsman Jonathan Trott in the Lord's nets before this week's fourth one-day international in a tour that, despite some wonderful cricket in the Test match series and the limited-overs action, will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.