The England & Wales Cricket Board has announced that it will be taking legal action against Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the PCB, after describing his allegations that England's players accepted a bribe to lose the third ODI at The Oval as "wholly irresponsible and completely without foundation".
However, in a strongly-worded statement on behalf of the ECB and the England team, it was announced that the final two matches of Pakistan's tour would go ahead as planned. "It remains in the best interests of world cricket, the players and in particular of cricket supporters that the tour should continue, and it would set a dangerous precedent to call off a tour based on the misguided and inaccurate remarks made by one individual."
Butt's allegations were of such extraordinary gravity that the ECB waited almost 24 hours before formulating its official response, and their statement was only issued after a lengthy meeting between the ECB and Team England, which stretched late into Sunday night. Present at the discussions were the ECB's chairman Giles Clarke, the CEO David Collier, the managing director of England Cricket, Hugh Morris, and the England Captain and Coach, Andrew Strauss and Andrew Flower, who went on to have a subsequent meeting with all of the England team.
"The team deplores and rejects unreservedly the suggestion that any England cricketer was involved in manipulating the outcome, or any individual element, of the third NatWest Series ODI at the Brit Insurance Oval between England and Pakistan last week," read a statement issued on behalf of the England team. "The players fully understand their responsibilities as representatives of their country, and would not countenance giving less than 100% in any match they play."
In the circumstances, England's players were, by the admission of their captain, Andrew Strauss, extremely reluctant to complete the series, and the rawness of the emotions between the two sides was demonstrated by an altercation in the Nursery Ground nets shortly before the start of the the Lord's ODI, between Jonathan Trott and Wahab Riaz. There had been some speculation that the toss would be delayed as a result, but the game eventually got underway as scheduled.
"We would like to express our surprise, dismay and outrage at the comments made by Mr Butt yesterday," said Strauss. "We are deeply concerned and disappointed that our integrity as cricketers has been brought into question. We refute these allegations completely and will be working closely with the ECB to explore all legal options open to us.
"Under the circumstances, we have strong misgivings about continuing to play the last two games of the current series and urge the Pakistani team and management to distance themselves from Mr Butt's allegations. We do, however, recognise our responsibilities to the game of cricket, and in particular to the cricket-loving public in this country, and will therefore endeavour to fulfil these fixtures to the best of our ability."
Angus Porter, Chief Executive of the PCA, added: "The players appreciate the difficult position the ECB finds itself in, and is fully supportive of the actions taken by the Board, along with the ICC, to ensure all allegations of wrong-doing are properly investigated and acted upon. We will continue to cooperate closely with the ECB, with the aim of ensuring that the work to root out corruption is not derailed by mischievous attempts to detract attention from the real issues."
The ECB reiterated its faith in the integrity of its players by expressing its gratitude for the "outstanding conduct" of the players since the first allegations surfaced against the Pakistan team during the fourth Test at Lord's, and added that it would be taking "all legal and disciplinary action which may result from Mr Butt's comments".
"The ECB will continue to offer ICC its full support in taking the strongest possible action against all areas of corruption and is pledged to offering the ACSU its full support at all times," continued the statement. "Given the current sensitivities surrounding this issue, ECB believes it is imperative that any serious allegations made against another team or player should be presented through the proper channels to the ACSU. Both ECB and Team England view the comments made by Mr Butt as defamatory and not based in fact.
Hugh Robertson, Minister for Sport and the Olympics, said: "I welcome the decision by England to play the last two games of this tour. It is a pragmatic decision that is in the best interests of world cricket."