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Players face grilling

TAUNTON, September 2- Three Pakistan cricket players faced a grilling Thursday over allegations they were involved in a betting scam, amid uncertainty over their role in the rest of the team's tour of England.Test captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif have been summoned to London to meet Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ijaz Butt and Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s high commissioner to Britain.

As a result, the trio will miss Pakistan’s match on Thursday with county side Somerset in Taunton, a warm-up fixture before the side’s limited overs internationals against England.

Their role in those forthcoming matches remains unclear, but Ijaz Butt suggested he would continue to resist calls for the trio to be barred from appearing while the allegations are still being probed.

"They will miss the first match and then we will see what will happen in the future," the PCB chairman told the BBC late Wednesday.

"They will be free to play immediately, not just in the one-day series. As far as we are concerned unless they are charged they are free to do whatever they want."

The three players left the team hotel in Taunton on Wednesday accompanied by team security officer Major Khawaja Najam, flanked by private security guards and police officers.

Salman Butt shook his head when asked by a reporter if he was "guilty".

"The boys are leaving today (Wednesday). They will have a meeting at the High Commission tomorrow (Thursday)," Pakistan team manager Yawar Saeed said.

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Following the Somerset warm-up, Pakistan play two Twenty20 matches against England in Cardiff on Sunday and Tuesday, then five one-day internationals.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) is investigating and has promised "prompt and decisive action" if the "spot-fixing" allegations linked to betting rings made by Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper are proven.

ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said he hoped there would be "some sort of conclusion" to the probe within the next few days.

England’s players meanwhile were reportedly reluctant to line up against a Pakistan team containing the tainted trio, according to Professional Cricketers’ Association chief executive Angus Porter.

"The England players understand it is important the games go ahead and they will be professional but they would or will find it really difficult to play against the guys directly implicated," Porter told the Daily Telegraph.

Pakistan’s one-day captain Shahid Afridi said he was battling to maintain his beleaguered squad’s morale as they prepared for the Somerset match.

"We are definitely looking forward to getting back to cricket," Afridi told reporters.

"Myself and the coach (Waqar Younis) are trying to keep morale high. It’s always very difficult in these conditions against a good team but they are all really focused."

The scandal erupted on Sunday when The News of the World alleged that Mazhar Majeed, a 35-year-old agent for several Pakistan players, took 150,000 pounds (185,000 euros, 230,000 dollars) to arrange for deliberate no-balls to be bowled at precise points in last week’s Test match against England.

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The information would be of enormous value to the spot-betting industry, where money is wagered on specific incidents in matches.

Majeed was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers in the wake of the allegations, but was released on bail without charge on Sunday.

Detectives interviewed Butt, Asif and 18-year-old prodigy Aamer, who delivered the no-balls — normally an accidental and unpredictable occurrence — and police seized their mobile phones.

The world of cricket has reacted with shock and dismay to claims that huge sums of money had changed hands in alleged fixing schemes at international level, and the repercussions for the players are already being felt.

Cricket manufacturers BoomBoom said Wednesday they had suspended their relationship with Aamer to protect the company’s image, although they stressed he had yet to be proven guilty.

Meanwhile it has emerged that four Australian cricket stars, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin, were targeted by a suspected illegal bookmaker while in England last year, according to media reports.

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