Trio will face PCB on Thursday
Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, the three Pakistan cricketers at the centre of the spot-fixing scandal, have returned to London from Taunton and will meet with PCB officials on Thursday for an internal inquiry. Cricinfo understands that the three men have already had an informal briefing with the chairman of the board, Ijaz Butt, ahead of a more intense round of talks in the wake of last week's allegations in the News of the World.
However, in an interview with the BBC, Ijaz Butt reiterated his stance, first outlined to Cricinfo on Monday, that he would resist all pressure to remove the players from the reckoning for the one-day series that gets underway at Cardiff on Sunday. "They will be free to play immediately," he said. Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, met with the PCB chairman on Thursday, while the ECB remain firm in their stance that the trio should not be allowed to play.
The players' presence in London effectively rules them out of Pakistan's warm-up game against Somerset on Thursday, and though they are still expected to rejoin the squad on Friday, it now seems likely that they will have to remain in London for a planned meeting with the Pakistan high commissioner to the United Kingdom, as well as further interviews with the Metropolitan Police.
Meanwhile the rest of the squad had another training session at the County Ground and Shahid Afridi, who has resumed the captaincy from Salman Butt, said the players wanted to move on. "All the players are focussed," he told Sky Sports News. "What has happened has gone."
As the three players left for London a senior English journalist asked Butt "will you be back?". Butt turned his head, looked the man in the eye and said: "Yes, why not?." That response only attracted unwanted attention. A tabloid reporter pounced on the opportunity and said "are you guilty?". Butt started to look towards the journalist but wisely did not react and walked into the cab.
Butt's insistence he will return shed further doubt on whether the three players allegedy involved will be suspended, something the England players are very keen takes place before the Twenty20 internationals.
"The feeling among the players is that they are professional cricketers and the matches will go ahead," Angus Porter, the Professional Cricketers' Association chief executive, told Cricinfo, "but they don't want them to become sideshows so there is a preference that it would be beneficial if the three players didn't appear."
Amir was his usual jovial self at the team hotel on Wednesday morning, with a smile on his face, and was bantering with team-mates. He was later joined by Butt, who looked a little circumspect. Both are understood to have received support from Waqar Younis and Ijaz Ahmed, the head and deputy coach respectively. Asif has largely confined himself to his room since the spot-fixing story broke on Saturday night.
The hotel has been the centre of attention since the Pakistan squad checked in on Monday afternoon, a day ahead of schedule. The lobby, a business lounge in normal times, was overnight transformed into a high-security zone with hotel staff keeping a close watch on movement in the area.
A couple of unarmed policemen arrived minutes before the three players left for London in a luxury cab, with the team's security officer Khawaja Najam in their wake. Fears of crowd trouble, of which there has been some in the past few days, proved unfounded.
Meanwhile the rest of the squad carried on with their schedules, though the mood was palpably subdued. "It doesn't feel like practice day, does it," remarked Alex, the bus-driver who has been driving the team around on this tour. Afridi broke with habit to read the morning papers at the breakfast table. The team had a closed-door nets session at the Somerset County Cricket Club ground on Tuesday afternoon; they held another on Wednesday that was open to the media.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo