Three Pakistan players charged by ICC under corruption rules

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The Independent Online

Three Pakistan players accused of corruption were suspended last night. The International Cricket Council charged the players under its code of conduct and warned that they could face a life ban.

The official charges followed days of official inactivity in the light of newspaper allegations last Sunday that the players had been involved in malpractice during the fourth Test against England at Lord's. But the ICC eventually acted after a bizarre day in which the players had said they were suffering "mental torture".

Salman Butt, Pakistan's Test captain and the two fast bowlers, Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif have been barred from all cricket pending the conclusion of the ICC hearing. They have been charged with various offences under Article two in the ICC's anti-corruption code to which all members countries subscribe.

In a hard-hitting statement, Haroon Lorgat, the ICC's chief executive, said: "We will not tolerate corruption in cricket – simple as that. We must be decisive with such matters and if proven, these offences carry serious penalties up to a life ban.

"The ICC will do everything possible to keep such conduct out of the game and we will stop at nothing to protect the sport's integrity," Lorgat added. "While we believe the problem is not widespread, we must always be vigilant. It is important, however, that we do not pre-judge the guilt of these three players. That is for the independent tribunal alone to decide."

The decisive move at last demonstrated that the ICC realised the talking had to stop. It has been open season on the game all week, with pundits condemning the governing body for failing to act and suggesting that match-rigging is rife.

The trio have been at the centre of the storm created by a report in last week's News of the World in which Aamer and Asif were accused of bowling no-balls to order with the collusion of Butt. The newspaper exposed them after paying £150,000 to a middleman cum fixer, Mazhar Majeed, an agent to many of the players who claimed to have links with illegal Indian bookmakers. According to the paper, the players bowled the no-balls at precisely the time in the match that Majeed allegedly said they would do so.

Last night's official suspension came after a day in which the players had already withdrawn from the series of limited-overs matches against England which start in Cardiff on Sunday. But the Pakistan Cricket Board and government had made it clear that they had not been banned.

Indeed, for most of the day it was made to appear as if the trio were victims instead of perpetrators. Their withdrawal, which certainly rescued the series, was announced in Taunton where Pakistan were playing Somerset by the tour manager Yawar Saeed. Shortly afterwards, the players presented themselves, amid chaotic scenes, for talks at the Pakistan High Commission in London. Then, an hour later, the High Commissioner himself, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, emerged to make a formal announcement. "The three players have said they are extremely disturbed with what has happened in the past week especially with regard to their involvement in the scam," he said. "They mentioned that they are entirely innocent in the whole episode and will defend their innocence as such.

"They further maintain that on account of the mental torture which has deeply affected them they are not in the frame of mind to play the remaining matches. Therefore they have requested the Pakistan cricket board not to consider them for the remaining matches until their names are cleared."

England's players had made it plain that they would be uncomfortable taking the field with the allegations hanging over the players' heads. But the Pakistan board seemed to be digging in their heels insisting that the players had not been found of guilty of any misconduct.

The players have continued to maintain their innocence and received the support of their government. On the steps of the High Commission, Wakid Shamsul Hasan said: "I believe in their innocence," he said. "They are bright young men, and one of them has just set a world record for taking 50 wickets in the fastest time. I think we will go to the court of law to defend them. They are Pakistani nationals – and it is the responsibility of the Pakistan mission to provide every citizen with counsel when they are asked, to support them and help them."

England were simply relieved at the withdrawal. Giles Clarke, the chairman of the ECB, read a grim-faced statement in the Taunton car park earlier in the day. "The England and Wales Cricket Board welcomes the announcement of the Pakistan Cricket Board's squad for the NatWest T20, NatWest ODI series," he said, ensuring, naturally, that the sponsors' names were included.

"We look forward to an extremely competitive series full of excellent cricket and we can assure cricket fans the matches will be played in the most competitive spirit long associated with contests between England and Pakistan."

It was what Clarke added to his statement that offered some reason to believe that this time there was a mood not to allow the match fixers to have their way. "As chairman of the ICC's Pakistan Task Team I look forward to working with Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, Ijaz Butt, chairman of the PCB and everyone involved in Pakistan cricket in taking forward cricket in Pakistan so that a proper plan exists for the whole of Pakistan cricket given all the many and varied issues which have addressed it. We naturally have many challenges at ICC to face, cricket fans across the world can be assured that we will be doing so." The ICC last night gave renewed hope.