LONDON, August 31 – Cricket's world governing body on Monday vowed to take swift action if betting scam allegations against Pakistan were proven as damaging claims threatened the sport's credibility.The International Cricket Council (ICC) said corruption would not be tolerated and anyone found guilty of "spot-fixing" would be punished as the allegations of bowling pre-arranged no-balls engulfed top Pakistan players.
The world of cricket, a sport that prides itself on "fair play", reacted with shock and dismay to claims huge sums of money had changed hands in alleged fixing schemes at international level, linked to shadowy betting rings.
The scandal broke Sunday when Britain’s News of the World newspaper claimed it had paid middleman Mazhar Majeed 150,000 pounds (230,000 dollars, 185,000 euros) for advance details of three no-balls in the fourth and final Test match between Pakistan and England, staged at Lord’s in London.
Neither the ICC nor the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) have suspended the cricketers named in the sting operation.
ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said that they were conducting their own inquiry and would take action against any guilty players.
The ICC had a "zero-tolerance approach to corruption in cricket", he said in a statement Monday.
"The integrity of the game is of paramount importance.
"Prompt and decisive action will be taken against those who seek to harm it.
"We will not tolerate corruption in this great game."
The South African told BBC radio that he wanted anyone found guilty of corruption to be "taken out" of the sport.
"It is also appropriate that the game continues," he added.
"The vast majority of players are not guilty of any such behaviour.
"We shouldn’t let a couple of individuals, a few players, bring the entire game to a standstill."
Majeed, a 35-year-old agent for several Pakistan players, was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers in the wake of the newspaper’s transcripts and audiovisual footage, but was released on bail without charge on Sunday.
Detectives questioned Pakistan captain Salman Butt and wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal plus star strike bowlers Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif, who bowled the no-balls — normally an accidental and unpredictable occurrence — in question.
Butt, Asif and 18-year-old Aamer — who was named Pakistan’s man of the series — all had their mobile phones seized.
Pakistan are due to play two Twenty20 matches against England in Cardiff, starting Sunday, with a five-match one-day international series to follow.
However, ex-England captain Michael Vaughan said any fixtures against the tourists would now have "no credibility" in the light of the allegations.
The Pakistan team headed Monday for Taunton in southwest England, where they are due to play a warm-up match on Thursday against county side Somerset amid suggestions Butt, Aamer and Asif could be withdrawn from the tour to ensure the Twenty20 internationals in Cardiff on Sunday and Tuesday go ahead.
An England and Wales Cricket Board statement said their squads for the Twenty20 and one-day matches would be named Tuesday.
News of the World also reported fixing allegations in relation to January’s second Test between Pakistan and Australia in Sydney, in which Australia overcame a 206-run first innings deficit to win when Pakistan collapsed.
And according to Monday’s Sun newspaper, sister publication to the News of the World, police in Britain were told a month ago about alleged match-fixing in the first Test between England and Pakistan.
The news has hit hard in Pakistan, already suffering from widespread flooding, where Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the claims "have bowed our heads in shame" as he launched an investigation.
The scandal has cast a pall over Pakistan cricket which has been dogged by "fixing" allegations since the 1990s as well as charges of ball-tampering.
But Pakistan cricket great Imran Khan said this could be the worst scandal of all.
"If, God forbid, it turns out to be true then it will be the biggest setback for Pakistan cricket and, probably, end the careers of the two best bowlers in the world," Khan told AFP.
"To me Aamer is potentially the best young talent in the world and I feel sad for him."
Cricket lovers in the eastern city of Lahore pelted tomatoes at donkeys labelled with the names of top national players embroiled in the allegations and an effigy of Butt was burnt publicly in Karachi.
Meanwhile a parliamentary sports committee called on the government to dissolve the Pakistan Cricket Board.