What do these new allegations mean - and why hasn't the series been called off?

  • @stephenbrenkley

Q: Weren't some players accused of wrongdoing in a Test match weeks ago?

Yes, they were, but this is a different set of allegations arising from the one-day international between England and Pakistan at The Oval last Friday. The ICC has launched an investigation after details were handed to it by The Sun which purported to show the scoring patterns that would emerge early in Pakistan's innings.

When the runs actually scored were close to those which were predicted in information gleaned from a telephone call between someone in Dubai and a bookmaker in Delhi, the ICC felt it had no choice but to act. According to the newspaper there is a ringleader inside the Pakistan camp who effectively ordered what amounted to a go-slow in certain overs.

Quite how this could be orchestrated with any exactitude after the loss of three early wickets – none of which could have been deliberate – is presumably what the ICC hopes to find out. The Pakistan Cricket Board is aghast at the investigation, saying it was taken completely by surprise and denying any dodgy activity.

Three players have already been banned from playing by the ICC and are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police after a News of the World sting three weeks ago. The newspaper said that undercover reporters, posing as businessman wanting a slice of the betting action, paid £150,000 to a middle man who then instructed the players under his control to bowl no-balls at a specific time in the Lord's Test.

This, it said, subsequently happened and as a result Pakistan's Test captain, Salman Butt and two fast bowlers, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer, have been provisionally suspended. An initial file on the matter has also been handed by police to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration.

Q: In the light of the latest revelations shouldn't the tour just be called off?

It probably should and the England and Wales Cricket Board must have come close to doing so when the story broke on Saturday morning. But after an emergency board meeting it decided that the last two matches of the series, at Lord's today and the Rose Bowl, Southampton on Wednesday should proceed as planned.

The ECB said that it had been provided with no substantive evidence and also "noted the ICC is not stating as fact that anything untoward has occurred". Its chairman, Giles Clarke, has written to the ICC president, Sharad Pawar, seeking assurances that the ICC does not have evidence that could lead to the suspension of more players.

But there is not much stomach for the series – there was hardly any in the first place after the initial allegations – and whatever they might say publicly England's players are fed up. Their coach Andy Flower said on Saturday that relations between the sides had been affected and that it was all sad for the game. "It supplants the story of the game with the controversy of alleged cheating and the story should be about the cricket and the competition between two teams representing their country."

Q: If the tour had been cancelled would there have been financial implications?

There certainly would, and these would have played a part in the ECB's thinking. Although neither match is a sell-out and the last match on Wednesday is likely to attract an extremely sparse attendance, preparations were complete.

Food, drink and merchandise would all have been wasted. Ticket prices would have to be fully refunded, perhaps costing £1m and there may have been a forfeit to the broadcasting rights-holders. The game felt it could not afford this and was able to continue because nothing had been proven.

Q: What do Pakistan say about it all?

They are as fed up as England's players and are pleading innocence in all cases. Their displeasure at the latest scandal seemed genuine and if there was a deliberate go-slow, an examination of their innings shows that the Delhi bookmaker and his cohorts may have hit extremely lucky. Pakistan did not score many because they lost wickets to an incisive England attack.

The PCB feels it has been let down by the ICC and although it insists it will come down hard on any proven match-riggers it is not in the mood to show contrition.

Q: Is match-fixing rife?

It depends who you listen to. Since the initial allegations it has been open season on the game with matches virtually being plucked out of the air and said to have been fixed.

The conspiracy theorists say that while results may not be pre-ordained the events leading up to them often are. They talk of players (usually Pakistani players, it has to be said) ensuring that a certain number of runs are scored whether batting or bowling and that it is all worked out with their bookmaker ringmasters before the game. But decisions about whether to proceed are left late and can be conveyed by something simple like a batsman tapping the middle of the pitch with his bat or a bowler stopping in his run-up.

If this were the case it would be well nigh impossible to police. The ICC has not been silly enough to deny that there are nefarious occurrences but it insists that they are few and far between. They are probably right because dressing rooms are so well stewarded these days, mobile phones are banned and so many players have actually reported illegal approaches. But the feeding frenzy is now such that it will have to act further.

Q: So what happens now?

The police are continuing their investigation into the three banned players. Only then will the ICC investigation into that affair begin. The suspicion, given the evidence, is that the players will not escape censure and the prevailing sense of outrage would also indicate life bans.

As for the latest allegations, the ICC may be hard pushed to nail the culprits if there are any. The fact that the scores at a certain stage were similar to what a Delhi bookmaker wanted proves nothing.

On a wider scale, it seems that something must be done. What is much more difficult to identify. Do not expect England to play Pakistan – anywhere – in the near future, however.