Pakistan in disarray off the field as tour lurches to disaster

Familiar concerns about gambling emerge at the home of cricket

When the storm broke last night any element of surprise was absent. The loudest noise was the air of resignation. All summer, those closely following this Pakistan tour of England had mentioned that something was bound to happen.

It was said half as a joke, half as expectation. Then it came, hours after the close of the third day of the Fourth Test. The tourists were being accused of involvement in a betting scam.

If it did not involve fixing the outcome of the match, that hardly mattered. Their bowlers stood charged with bowling three deliberate no-balls in England's first innings in the Fourth Test at Lord's. Given the millions gambled on cricket in the Sub-continent – on anything that happens – every aspect is open to scrutiny.

It was alleged by the News of the World that two of Pakistan's fast bowlers, Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif, bowled the no-balls to order. The newspaper reported that it had paid £150,000 to a fixer, Mazhar Majeed, to be part of his betting ring.

Majeed told the newspaper's undercover reporters that the Pakistan captain, Salman Butt, was involved and that he had seven players under his wing altogether. There was no suggestion that they were deliberately losing the match – though suspicions are now bound to be rife as they have three times been bowled out for under 100 in the four-match series.

In his brief tenure, Butt, who took over when Shahid Afridi resigned at the start of the tour, has conducted himself with quiet dignity. He has frequently referred to the plight of his compatriots caught up in the country's flood disaster and the importance of giving them something to make them happy.

Majeed, the owner of Croydon Athletic Football Club, was arrested last night as police pursued their investigations with some urgency after being handed the newspaper's dossier. The fourth and probably final day of the match today must be in some doubt.

It was while the home side were collapsing on Friday morning that Asif and Aamer are alleged to have committed their misdemeanours. Aamer, who bowled four no-balls in the innings, twice overstepped by huge margins, perhaps a foot, which is highly uncommon.

Some fast bowlers are cursed with a no-balling problem, though until this match Aamer had bowled only three in the series. It is usual for the overstepping to be a matter of centimetres, even millimetres.

The whole of the cricket world will hope the allegations are untrue despite the filmed evidence of money changing hands and the no-balls being delivered at precisely the time Majeed informed the reporters they would be delivered.

Cricket was damaged to its core when serious and wide-ranging match-rigging was uncovered at the start of the decade. Hansie Cronje, the captain of South Africa, who subsequently died in a plane crash, was the first player to be exposed but he was followed by plenty of others from India, Pakistan and beyond.

The International Cricket Council reacted belatedly but decisively by instigating an Anti-Corruption Unit, headed by Lord Condon, the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The ACU is still in existence, and while it has never claimed completely to have stamped out player involvement in illegal betting markets in the Sub-continent, it has made huge inroads.

If last night's allegations prove to be well-founded, it will be a blow both to the ACU and to international cricket. One-day matches have tended to be the usual hunting ground for bookies, partly because that is what excites both punters and spectators in the Sub-continent.

That Pakistan stand accused of committing their misdeeds at Lord's, the most famous ground in the world, lends an extra gravity to them. Quite what will happen today nobody knows but the ground and the dressing-room will be besieged.

It is, of course, perfectly in keeping. Four years ago on Pakistan's last tour of England, the Fourth and final Test, then at The Oval, had to be abandoned after the tourists refused to take the field on the fourth afternoon. They had been penalised five runs for ball-tampering and although they did nothing at the time, they did not re-emerge after the tea interval.

Initial efforts to persuade them to play came to nothing, the umpires abandoned the match and refused to rescind their decision, and all hell broke loose. Pakistan were later found to be innocent of that alleged instance of ball-tampering.