Belfast Telegraph

Cricket: Tour hits a new low as ‘fix’ claims rile England

The most ill-starred tour of modern times turned even uglier yesterday when two players were involved in a fight. Jonathan Trott of England and Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz had to be separated as the teams practised before the fourth one-day international at Lord's.

On a day already imbued with high tension after England were outrageously dragged into the match-rigging scandal besmirching the game, it was exactly what was not wanted. The players approached each other on the Nursery Ground behind the main arena where the teams net.

After angry words were exchanged they were eventually pulled apart by the England batting coach, Graham Gooch.

The match referee, Jeff Crowe, who witnessed some of the altercation spoke to both players, but decided against taking further action.

Eyewitness Andrew Brinded said: “There was pushing and shoving by both players. I guess it's the sort of thing that rugby players would call handbags. Graham Gooch came across to calm things down and gently removed the England player and put his arm round the Pakistan player. I didn't think it was cricket, it was very footballesque to me.”

The tour had already come within an ace of being cancelled following wild allegations of misdeeds by England's players in the third match of the NatWest Series at The Oval last Friday. Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, provoked unprecedented anger after his speculative remarks on television in which he said: “There is loud and clear talk in bookie circles that some English players have taken enormous amounts of money to lose the match (the third ODI). No wonder there was such a collapse.”

The idea was as nonsensical as it was uncorroborated and not surprisingly the team were furious. Although Butt appeared to backtrack in another interview when he said he was merely relaying information he had from bookies, the damage had already been done. For a few hours it seemed as if the England and Wales Cricket Board would do what many observers have been urging for a fortnight and cancel the last two matches in the Series.

Eventually they settled for proceeding with games four and five, at Lord's yesterday and the Rose Bowl tomorrow, while making it perfectly clear that they are incandescent with anger. Andrew Strauss, their captain who is nothing if not measured, said: “We would like to express our surprise, dismay and outrage at the comments made by Mr Butt. We are deeply concerned and disappointed that our integrity as cricketers has been brought into question. We refute these allegations and will be working closely with the ECB to explore all legal options.

“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.”

Former England captain Ian Botham, was unreserved in his stinging criticism of Butt’s remarks.

“I would like to know how Ijaz Butt knows what the bookmakers are doing. Maybe he should tell us,” he said.

Butt's misplaced comments followed the latest allegations made against Pakistan which have also not been substantiated.

The ICC announced an investigation after being handed information by The Sun newspaper, alleging that Pakistan batsmen had scored at a pre-ordained rate in the early overs of the third one-day international last Friday.

Pakistan went on to win the match by 23 runs. Their attitude now is that if they lose they are accused of wrongdoing and if they win they are still accused of wrongdoing.

Hence Butt's intemperate comments.

Three Pakistan players have already been suspended in the wake of alleged events in the Fourth Test match between England and Pakistan at Lord's. Salman Butt, the captain and the bowlers, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer face accusations of bowling no balls deliberately and are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police.

Only when that is complete will the ICC pursue its own inquiry.

The latest twist with England being dragged into the affair was stunning — and that was before the scuffle. Only after emergency meetings involving the ECB and the players did they decide that the series could go ahead. In reaching its unanimous decision to continue, the ECB went against strong feeling elsewhere that it was simply time to call a halt.

Belfast Telegraph

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