England in 'bribe' row

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The Independent Online
Cricket

England have not been entirely happy with the net facilities here, describing yesterday's surface as "average", but attempts to remedy the situation by asking the groundsman to provide a net on the square led to bizarre accusations of "bribery".

Apparently, the groundsman was even offered a financial inducement to do so, which clearly offended him. "We are poor people," he said. "We are just honoured to have England here."

It was an incident more colourfully reported in the Frontier Post, which claimed England were using "cheap tactics in an attempt to assess the behaviour of the wicket". A terrible underhandedness was attempted, which according to eye witnesses, saw the cricketers involved "crimson with palpable embarrassment when upbraided by an official".

England admit asking the groundsmen for permission to use a pitch adjacent to the one being prepared for tomorrow's World Cup match against the Netherlands. However, the assistant manager, John Barclay, insisted: "To describe what we did as trying to bribe [the groundsman] is totally false and hurtful to the very good relationship we have with people here."

Barclay later said: "The designated net facilities are not great and it would be unprofessional of us not to try to get the best available practice facilities.

"No money was offered in the sense described in the story. We did say that if cost was involved in setting up a net on the edge of the square, we would be more than happy to cover it."

The team manager, Ray Illingworth, said: "The net pitch is rubbish. I can't see anything wrong with practising in the middle." Asked whether a few rupees had been offered to try to achieve that aim, Illingworth replied: "It seems like that wasn't any good."

Mir Bashar, the groundsman, said: "It was disgusting. They should not have done it but we are treating it as a joke." Although England never expected to be given permission to practise on the square, they see nothing wrong in having asked. But there is now concern at the adding of another, albeit small, chapter to the long tale of Anglo-Pakistani cricketing disagreements.

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