Fresh allegations leave Twenty20 under a cloud

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The Independent Online

The Twenty20 champions of the world are at last in action again today. Or that is the intention. England, unexpected but thrilling winners of the event in the West Indies in May, are expected to play their immediate predecessors as champions, Pakistan.

But nothing is certain in the wake of more damaging allegations about match-fixing which were made last night. In normal circumstances the match in Cardiff would be an event to relish. During their respective victories both teams – Pakistan won in England last summer – showed all that was good about the shortest form of the game and provided memories to savour for a thousand years.

Yet these circumstances are about as abnormal as it is possible to get. Whatever memories there are will be peculiarly sullied. Today's match, the second T20 on Tuesday and the five one-day internationals which follow will be overshadowed by the scandal which has dominated front, back and inside pages for a week. More disclosures are made today in the News of the World, which broke the story last Sunday after paying £150,000 to a middleman-cum-fixer named Mazhar Majeed.

While they are not quite in the revelatory category of last week's story, which has led to the suspension of three players – the Test captain, Salman Butt, and the two fast bowlers Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif – they claim to detail a story of corruption and bribery at the heart of the Pakistan team.

The newspaper reports that a fourth player with the party in England is being investigated, though does not name him for legal reasons. Kamran Akmal, the wicketkeeper, has been asked for information on another match.

It also carries an interview with opening batsmen Yasir Hameed, who played in two of the Tests against England. Hameed told the paper: "They've been caught. Only the ones that get caught are branded crooks. They were doing it [fixing] in almost every match. God knows what they were up to.

"Scotland Yard was after them for ages. It makes me angry because I'm playing my best and they are trying to lose," he added.

It was perhaps typical of a risible week when Pakistani cricket has been exposed as deeply dysfunctional that within minutes of the Hameed interview becoming public, tour manager Yawar Saeed claimed Hameed denied speaking to the paper.

This was in line with the almost nonsensical musings from the mouth of the Pakistani High Commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, who has portrayed the accused players as victims rather than perpetrators and tried to cast doubt on the paper's evidence.

Over 18 pages of this morning's paper detailing investigations going back to January, that is rebuffed utterly as might have been expected. Every conversation that they had in setting up Majeed is detailed.

While police continue their criminal investigation into the players' alleged misdeeds – which specifically involve the bowling of no-balls to order in the Fourth Test against England at Lord's – the International Cricket Council have laid charges under their anti-corruption code against the trio.

Butt, who as captain was alleged to have colluded with and encouraged the players to bowl deliberate no-balls, was already under investigation. The newspaper says that some of the marked bills handed over to Majeed were found in Butt's hotel room.

The tourists will have only 13 players to pick from for the T20 series, Butt, Aamer and Asif having been suspended by the International Cricket Council on Thursday night.

Against such a backdrop it is impossible to anticipate today's match with any enthusiasm. This is a huge pity for a multitude of reasons, one of which is the feeling that England have never truly been accorded due appreciation for their victory.

Pakistan's greatest hero, Imran Khan, supported the suspensions yesterday and sympathised with 18-year-old Aamer, whom he described as the greatest cricketing talent to emerge for years. But sympathy for Pakistan's cricket in general has all but expired.