Strauss 'outraged' at Butt allegations

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The Independent Online

England will take on Pakistan at Lord's today, despite the "outrage" felt by Andrew Strauss' team over Ijaz Butt's claims that they deliberately lost at the Brit Oval.

Strauss was quoted in a strongly-worded England and Wales Cricket Board statement today, in which it emerged the deterioration of relations between the two teams in the ongoing NatWest Series has escalated to ministerial level.

Sport and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson and Professional Cricketers' Association chairman Angus Porter have also issued personal statements following Butt's remarks yesterday.

The Pakistan Cricket Board chairman claimed he was aware of bookmaker information that England's cricketers had "taken enormous amounts of money" to fix Friday's match, which the tourists won by 23 runs to make the series score 2-1.

Strauss said: "We would like to express our surprise, dismay and outrage at the comments made by Mr Butt yesterday.

"We are deeply concerned and disappointed that our integrity as cricketers has been brought into question.

"We refute these allegations completely and will be working closely with the ECB to explore all legal options open to us."

Strauss added that he and his team have clearly had mixed feelings over the past few hours over whether to take the field today - but have decided they have a responsibility to do so.

"Under the circumstances, we have strong misgivings about continuing to play the last two games of the current series and urge the Pakistani team and management to distance themselves from Mr Butt's allegations," he said.

"We do, however, recognise our responsibilities to the game of cricket - and in particular to the cricket-loving public in this country - and will therefore endeavour to fulfil these fixtures to the best of our ability."

The ECB statement makes no secret of the board's dismay at Butt's remarks, which follow an International Cricket Council revelation on Saturday that the world governing body were to investigate "a certain scoring pattern" - broadly perceived to implicate Pakistan but not England - after a tip-off from The Sun newspaper.

That bombshell came after three weeks of crisis which began when Pakistan's Test captain Salman Butt and seamers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer were alleged to have taken part in a plot to defraud illegal bookmakers by bowling no-balls to order at Lord's.

Those three were subsequently charged and suspended under the ICC's anti-corruption code.

The ECB said today: "This decision was unanimously taken by the ECB board following a meeting between the ECB chairman Giles Clarke, CEO David Collier, ECB managing director - England Cricket, Hugh Morris, and the England captain and coach, Andrew Strauss and Andrew Flower and a subsequent meeting with all of the England team.

"The ECB and the England players completely reject the remarks made by the PCB Chairman Ijaz Butt yesterday about the England team's conduct in the third Nat West ODI at the Brit Insurance Oval.

"Mr Butt's comments were wholly irresponsible and completely without foundation.

"The ECB expresses its gratitude for the outstanding conduct of the England team this summer and will take all legal and disciplinary action which may result from Mr Butt's comments.

"The board and the team, however, are of a view that it remains in the best interests of world cricket, the players and in particular of cricket supporters that the tour should continue - and it would set a dangerous precedent to call off a tour based on the misguided and inaccurate remarks made by one individual.

"ECB will continue to offer ICC its full support in taking the strongest possible action against all areas of corruption and is pledged to offering the ACSU [anti-corruption unit] its full support at all times.

"Given the current sensitivities surrounding this issue, ECB believes it is imperative that any serious allegations made against another team or player should be presented through the proper channels to the ACSU.

"Both ECB and Team England view the comments made by Mr Butt as defamatory and not based in fact.

Robertson gave Government backing to England's pledge to continue with the two remaining matches in the series.

"I welcome the decision by England to play the last two games of this tour," he said.

"It is a pragmatic decision that is in the best interests of world cricket."

Today's press release also contained a statement from the England team, in conjunction with the PCA.

It reads: "The team deplores and rejects unreservedly the suggestion that any England cricketer was involved in manipulating the outcome, or any individual element, of the third NatWest Series ODI at the Brit Insurance Oval between England and Pakistan last week.

"The players fully understand their responsibilities as representatives of their country, and would not countenance giving less than 100% in any match they play.

Porter added, on behalf of the PCA: "The players appreciate the difficult position the ECB finds itself in, and is fully supportive of the actions taken by the board, along with the ICC, to ensure all allegations of wrong-doing are properly investigated and acted upon.

"We will continue to co-operate closely with the ECB, with the aim of ensuring that the work to root out corruption is not derailed by mischievous attempts to detract attention from the real issues."