Spot-fixing trio head to London for showdown with Board

Pakistan players could still feature in limited-overs matches but anger back home reaches epic levels
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The Independent Online

Views on the alleged involvement of Pakistani players in a betting scam entered extreme realms yesterday. A petition was filed in the Lahore High Court initiating charges of treason against seven players accused of colluding with a middle-man during the Test series against England.

Although this is unlikely to proceed much further and neither the septet nor the federal sports minister will be made to answer a summons to appear before a judge on 7 September, it was further evidence of the opprobrium being heaped on the supposed miscreants at home.

Of more immediate concern in England is the participation or otherwise of at least three players in the forthcoming set of limited-overs matches between England and Pakistan which begin in Cardiff on Sunday with the first of two Twenty20s. Salman Butt, the captain of the Test team, and the two opening bowlers, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer, will leave the team's temporary base in Taunton today for meetings in London.

It is expected they will meet Ijaz Butt, chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, to discuss whether they should play in the series, as well as having talks with lawyers. The apparent certainty that the trio – perhaps as well as the wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal – would play no part in the series began to recede.

Salman, Asif and Aamer were all named in a News of the World report last Sunday, which revealed the bowlers, with the authority of the captain, had agreed to deliver deliberate no-balls in the fourth Test against England. Reporters posing as businessman wishing to be part of a betting ring, paid a purported fixer, Mazhar Majeed, £150,000 for the intervention.

Although there was no record of betting activity on the no-balls, it was seen as Majeed, who acts as agent to several players, demonstrating his power to influence them. The balls were bowled precisely when Majeed said they would be. He was arrested by the Metropolitan Police and has been bailed.

Two men and a woman were arrested yesterday in connection with the allegations against the players. HM Revenue and Customs said the three had been questioned as part of an investigation into money laundering. All were questioned and later bailed.

With the world of cricket in uproar after the allegations, it seemed the three alleged protagonists would be withdrawn from the one-day squad. However, earlier yesterday Ijaz Butt appeared to contradict this version of events when he said: "There is a case going on over here with Scotland Yard. This is only an allegation. There is still no charge or proof on that account. So at this stage there will be no action taken."

It remains unlikely they will be permitted to play. Although the dust settled slightly yesterday and the 'innocent until proven guilty' line understandably, if belatedly, kicked in, there still seemed enough solid information to suggest it would be folly for the players to appear in international matches so soon after such serious allegations. Sympathy for Aamer, in particular, was prevalent but it is still difficult to see how he could be treated with special leniency.

The England and Wales Cricket Board has steadfastly declined to make any official comment, leaving it to the International Cricket Council and the Pakistan Cricket Board. However, it is thought it has made its unease clear about the participation of the players. If they somehow avoid suspension, they may simply not be picked.

Tim May, the president of FICA, the world players' association, called for Pakistan to be suspended from international competition. England's players, however, appear happy to follow their employers' desires and instructions that the matches must be played, almost at any cost.

The waters, never clear in issues such as this, were further muddied when it was reported that Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency – their top detective network – will send a team of three officers to Britain to investigate the corruption. The country's president, Asif Ali Zardari, has asked to be kept informed.

Pakistan returned to training in Taunton yesterday. They will play a warm-up match against Somerset tomorrow before the limited-overs matches against England, two Twenty20s followed by five 50-over matches. But the pretence at normality was abandoned.

Reporters were prevented from entering the Taunton ground, as the tourists were advised to practice in private. On that basis, of course, they may as well play the matches behind closed doors or not play them at all. But there is nothing normal about this, as the High Court action for treason demonstrated.

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