Pakistan cricket plunged itself into wholesale confusion as the sniff of match-fixing rolled around once again, this time as a particularly nasty smell. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) initially seemed to indicate that two players from the current squad were involved in match-fixing, but later insisted that the players, cases and incidents were old ones and that nobody from the current squad was involved. An ICC spokesperson though, told Cricinfo, "The ICC is unaware of the existence of any such reports."
The day began with a report in the News, a Pakistan daily, that a player from the current squad was being investigated by a six-man inquiry committee over allegations of match-fixing on Pakistan's recent tour to Australia. Ijaz Butt, the board chairman, was asked about the story at a press conference in Lahore later in the afternoon. Butt said that he would only comment once the inquiry committee had completed its report and presented its findings.
Having sensed something, journalists began to throw match-fixing questions at Butt. To one query, asking whether he believed match-fixing was now eradicated, he said, "I don't say match-fixing is over or is not happening. I just said that it is very difficult to prove."
Butt then talked about two players against whom the ICC had provided the PCB with definitive proof that they had been involved in match-fixing, without specifying whether they were from the current squad or not. Despite persistent queries he refused to provide further details.
One of the journalists, thinking the players were active ones, asked whether the board would take action against them. "You think we haven't taken action against them?" Butt responded, the implication that the players were current ones, seemingly lost on him. "When we took action, the public accepted that and from my friends sitting around here, no one commented on it."
However, when contacted by Cricinfo, Butt categorically denied that the players and cases he was referring to were current ones. Butt said by bringing up the cases, 10-12 years old, he was merely trying to clarify how the ICC procedure on incidents of match-fixing works between the body and boards.
"I was telling them of the procedure the ICC has evolved about how such cases work," Butt said. "I was telling them that proving match-fixing charges and allegations can be very difficult. One of our friends in Islamabad made allegations against Younis Khan without any proof and look how that has destroyed his career almost.
"If there is any match-fixing allegation you can ask the ICC about them and we did verbally. They communicated the two names to us and showed us incontrovertible proof of it. But I can confirm that the players are not from the current squad. The cases I am referring to are old ones and they didn't happen under our administration."
There remains no clarity on whether the present administration asked the ICC for proof - and thus what sparked the need for such a query - or whether this is an old report sent to a previous PCB administration.
The last nine months in Pakistan have witnessed persistent rumours of match-fixing. They first surfaced during Pakistan's tour of Sri Lanka last year, where the team - or members of it - were allegedly seen in the company of suspected bookies who were in the same hotel, albeit inadvertently. Pakistan's spectacular batting collapses, resulting in two Test losses from positions in which it looked difficult to lose, fuelled the speculation.
Then, after returning from a semi-final loss in the Champions Trophy in South Africa, Jamshed Dasti, a member of parliament and head of a committee on sports, levelled allegations against Younis Khan and his team, summoning them to a meeting in which Younis handed in his resignation.
Speculation has since continued, centering more often than not around the Sydney Test loss in January and a few other performances in Australia. And just recently, Butt made the same revelations - though about two officials, not players - at a senate committee hearing, though that wasn't as widely reported at the time.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo