Pakistan players were 'set up', claims envoy
Pakistan's high commissioner to the UK, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, has provided a new twist to the spot-fixing saga after suggesting in an interview with the BBC that Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, the three players at the centre of the controversy, may have been the victims of a "set-up".
Hasan was speaking after the confirmation that the three players would be playing no part in the limited-overs leg of the England tour, after extensive talks between officials from the ICC and PCB led to the announcement that they had pulled out of the squad due to "mental torture".
"The three players have said they are extremely disturbed with what has happened in the past one week, especially with regard to their alleged involvement in the crime," Hasan said. "They have mentioned that they are entirely innocent of the whole episode and shall defend their innocence as such. They further maintain that on account of the mental torture that has deeply affected them, they are not in the right frame of mind to play the remaining matches, therefore they have requested the PCB not to consider them until their names are cleared.
"They are innocent until proven guilty. They are under interrogation so they have to defend themselves. They are bright young men, one of them has just broken a world record, and we will go to a court of law to defend them."
However, speaking in a separate interview later in the day, the commissioner appeared to support the notion that the players had been set up. Asked specifically if he believed this was the case, he responded: "Yes, I would say that. Yes." A spokesman for the News of the World later said the paper would "refuse to respond to such ludicrous allegations".
Cricinfo understands that the decision to omit the players only came about after extensive meetings between Ijaz Butt, the PCB chairman, and Haroon Lorgat, the chief executive of the ICC, which went on past midnight on Wednesday evening. The PCB's position had been one of reluctance to act before the investigations had run their course, but with the integrity of the sport at stake, Ijaz was finally persuaded to back down.
On a day of hectic developments, officials from the ACSU met officials from Scotland Yard in relation to the ongoing investigation, and the three players will be be questioned by Scotland Yard early Friday morning. In the meantime, a local legal firm has been appointed, with the PCB's legal advisor, Taffazul Rizvi, also in London assisting the case.
A source close to the investigation denied that any pressure had been applied from the Pakistan government, but added that the deputy attorney general of Pakistan was in London and had attended the meeting with the high commissioner. Later in the day, Lorgat and Ijaz Butt attended a separate meeting at the Pakistan High Commission.
The players, who arrived at the high commission in a car with blacked-out windows, were escorted by 10 police officers past a media scrum, involving up to 20 photographers and reporters, as they entered the building.
Earlier in the day team manager Yawar Saeed announced the players' exclusion from the squad in Taunton, where the Pakistan team is playing a warm-up game. "The T20 squad will remain what it is here this morning, i.e. 13 people," Saeed said. "When we play the one-day internationals we will be asking for replacements to make the squad up to 16."
The ECB, whose stance on the omission of the players has been clear from the start, estimates that an income of approximately £10 million hinges on the successful staging of this series and the chairman Giles Clarke said "he welcomed the decision". He said he looked forward to the series being playing "in the spirit" that matches between England and Pakistan are always played in.
"I look forward to working with Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, and Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, and everyone involved in Pakistani cricket in taking forward cricket in Pakistan so that a proper plan exists for the whole of Pakistani cricket," Clarke added.
Alan Hamer, the chief executive of Glamorgan, also welcomed the news of the trio's omission ahead of the county's hosting of the two Twenty20 matches on Sunday and Tuesday.
"This is definitely the right decision going forward into the series," Hamer told Cricinfo. "The week leading up to the matches has felt like a department store in the lead-up to Christmas, with no-one coming through the doors. It has been clear from our initial market research that many people have been waiting for clarity on the allegations before committing to buying tickets, so hopefully with this decision, the emphasis will now shift back to the cricket, and a contest between the past and present World Twenty20 champions."
Additional reporting by Osman Samiuddin.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo, Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor.