Pakistan cricketers head for talks
Three Pakistani cricketers embroiled in match-fixing allegations have set off for crucial talks with officials from their country.
Test captain Salman Butt and seam bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer left the team hotel in Taunton, Somerset, for London ahead of questioning on Thursday from Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ijaz Butt and the country's high commissioner.
The timing of the meeting at the Pakistan High Commission means they will be unavailable for their team's friendly match against Somerset - amid speculation that they could be asked to withdraw from the forthcoming Twenty20 internationals and one-day internationals against England, which begin on Sunday in Cardiff.
Accompanied by Pakistan's security officer, Major Khawaja Najam, Butt, Aamer and Asif left the hotel by the front door and were taken away in a waiting minicab. After an overnight stay in London, they are due to arrive on Thursday morning at the High Commission.
They are to be quizzed over the story in the News of the World which said journalists posing as Far Eastern businessmen paid a middleman £150,000 to arrange for Pakistan players to deliberately bowl no-balls to order in last week's fourth Test against England at Lord's.
Following the report, Mazhar Majeed, 35, a cricket agent who also owns Croydon Athletic Football Club, was arrested by Scotland Yard detectives and later released on police bail. The three players were questioned by police at the weekend at their London hotel.
The England and Wales Cricket Board are understood to have lobbied for the players to be stood down, by whatever means, from the forthcoming limited-overs matches - and their absence may well be the first step towards ensuring that. Yet asked as he left Taunton on Wednesday morning whether he would be returning, a calm and smiling Butt responded: "Why not?"
Haroon Lorgat, of the sport's ruling body the International Cricket Council (ICC), has said he hopes there will be "some sort of a conclusion" to its own investigation by the weekend. The ICC's anti-corruption and security unit is probing the claims and Mr Lorgat has said "prompt and decisive action" would be taken against anyone who sought to harm the game's integrity.
Cricketers found guilty of cheating could be thrown out of the sport but Mr Lorgat has said "a couple of individuals that might have got caught up in corrupt practices" should not bring the entire game to a standstill.
Three people have also been arrested by customs officials in connection with betting allegations against Pakistani players. Two men and a woman, all from London, were questioned on Monday as part of an investigation into money laundering before being released on bail, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has said.