The tour from hell enters its final phase today. England will play Pakistan at Lord's in the fourth match of the NatWest Series, which will feel less like a one-day international than a return to the scene of the crime.
If all goes according to plan, and not much has so far, there will be one more match at the Rose Bowl on Wednesday and then at last the end will come. What a merciful release it will be. The games themselves – although, paradoxically, highly entertaining – have been overshadowed by repeated claims of corruption.
It was at Lord's in the fourth Test match that Pakistan were alleged to have bowled no-balls to order. Three players were suspended by the International Cricket Council and are still being investigated by the Metropolitan Police.
But as if that were not enough match-rigging controversy for one tour, fresh suspicion has now fallen on the third one-day international at The Oval on Friday. The ICC has launched an investigation after being handed information which purports to show that scoring patterns in the early stages of Pakistan's innings were pre-determined after a deal struck during a telephone call between a man in Dubai and a bookmaker in Delhi.
Yet calls from several quarters for the tour to be stopped were firmly resisted by both sides. Indeed, Andrew Strauss, the England captain, insisted that it was correct for it to proceed given the lack (thus far, that is) of any compelling evidence of misdeeds. He also pointed out that the matches had been "high-intensity affairs" – and the sides have frequently been close to being at each other's throats.
Pakistan undoubtedly feel there is a conspiracy against them and the chairman of its board, Ijaz Butt, said as much in Karachi. In his characteristically maverick fashion he said that as Pakistan had won the match by 23 runs, it was England's players who should be investigated.
"There is loud and clear talk in the bookies circle that some English players were paid enormous amounts of money to lose the match," he told Duniya television. "No wonder there was a total collapse of the English side.
"We won the match and we are under suspicion. England lost, their players should be investigated."
It has been made clear by the game's authorities that no England players are under any suspicion. Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, has so far added nothing to his statement on Saturday when he decreed that an immediate inquiry was warranted. "A source informed The Sun newspaper that a certain scoring pattern would emerge during certain stages of the match and, broadly speaking, that information appeared to be correct.
"We therefore feel it is incumbent upon us to launch a full inquiry into this particular game although it is worth pointing out at this stage that we are not stating as fact that anything untoward has occurred."
So far neither the ICC nor the newspaper have revealed details but the latter was last night preparing to publish what it had been told in the form of a tip-off. It seems that two overs were particularly targeted.
Pakistan lost three early wickets in the match: one batsman bowled off his thigh pad, another edging behind a lovely away swinger and a third given lbw – a close verdict that on another day might have gone the other way – all of which must have made it hard to orchestrate precise slow scoring. They went on to win because of a wonderful spell of reverse-swing bowling by Umar Gul who took six for 42. But the ICC could hardly afford to be seen to be doing nothing. It had to act.
Pakistan see matters somewhat differently. Butt, who did not support the provisional suspension of the Test captain Salman Butt and the bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer, was irate, as his comments in Pakistan yesterday demonstrate.
Strauss seemed keen for the series to continue, though, he did not dismiss out of hand those who supported abandonment. "I can totally understand that viewpoint but it's a hard thing to stop a series when we don't know how credible the evidence is," he said. "I think we've got used to putting that to one side now. I think we've got used to focusing on the cricket side of things now. Clearly if the ICC had hard evidence of what was taking place then we would change our views."
England have recalled Ian Bell to their squad, a summons which in normal circumstances would have been greeted with joy, instead of which the so-what factor has kicked in. Bell broke his foot during a one-day inter- national at Bristol in July but confirmed his return to full fitness with a captivating hundred in the CB40 final at Lord's on Saturday, a match that otherwise might have gone unnoticed.Reuse content