Investigators from Pakistan's highest crime-fighting agency will arrive in London today to begin their own inquiry into allegations of a cricket betting scam amid growing calls for the country to be suspended to prevent further damage to the reputation of the international game.
The Pakistan cricket team yesterday left London for Somerset ahead of the series of one-day matches against England due to start this weekend as the political and sporting fallout continued from the sting by the News of the World (NOTW) against a sports agent who claimed to be able to provide information worth large sums to gambling syndicates.
A three-strong team from Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency will work alongside Scotland Yard detectives investigating claims by Mazhar Majeed, 35, a property developer and cricket agent, that he controlled seven Pakistani players and could rig the results of matches. In return for £150,000, undercover reporters were given precise details of three no-balls which were duly delivered by bowlers Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif in last week's Lord's Test against England.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) last night warned of "prompt and decisive" action against any players found guilty of wrongdoing, but stopped short of ordering the suspension of the Pakistan cricketers named in the NOTW inquiry – the captain, Salman Butt, vice-captain, Kamran Akmal, and the two bowlers – for the remainder of the country's matches in England.
The ICC's chief executive Haroon Lorgat said he was "very, very determined" to punish any players found to be corrupt. "We will do our utmost to ensure that before any players who are found to be guilty actually take to the field of play they are brought to book," he said.
A small crowd of cricket fans shouted "thieves" as the coach carrying the Pakistan team left its hotel yesterday and eggs were confiscated from a number of bystanders.
Calls for sterner action were led by Malcolm Speed, the Australian head of the ICC between 2001 and 2008, who said there was a "fairly compelling case" for the entire Pakistan team to be suspended immediately from the sport and there were concerns that corruption was "endemic" within the side.
Mr Speed said: "It looks as though it is endemic, that several of the team members are involved and have been for some time. So perhaps they need a rest."
Pressure for draconian measures against Pakistan was countered by Imran Khan, perhaps the country's most renowned player, who said it would be wrong to punish Pakistanis for the alleged wrongdoing of a handful of their compatriots. Despite the devastation caused by the floods, the alleged gambling scam has dominated the front pages of newspapers and television news bulletins since Sunday.
Mr Khan told ITV News: "Why should Pakistani cricket suffer if some players have indulged in a crime? Why should Pakistani supporters suffer because of that? The people who are found guilty should be removed from the team and replaced and should be punished as an example for future generations."
Scotland Yard yesterday denied claims it had given the green light for the players at the centre of the allegations to leave Britain as investigations continue into the actions of Mr Majeed, who was released on police bail on Sunday night following his arrest on suspicion of conspiring to defraud bookmakers.
Croydon Athletic, the non-league football team bought by the businessman in 2008 and which he boasted of using to "launder" the proceeds from a gambling syndicate based in India, said yesterday it was "devastated and appalled" by the allegations.
Detectives visited the hotel of the Pakistan team on Saturday night and took statements from Mr Butt, Mr Akmal, Mr Asif and Mr Aamer, along with the mobile phones of three of the men. None has been arrested. Mr Butt, who is not captain of the side for one-day matches, said: "I will say everyone in my team has given his 100 per cent."
It emerged yesterday that Mr Butt and Mr Akmal were already part of an investigation by the anti-corruption unit of the ICC, Acsu, which is led by Sir Ronnie Flanagan. The unit is looking into the conduct of the Pakistan side during a tour of Australia earlier this year, where it lost every match, including a Test match where the visiting team threw away a seemingly unassailable lead.