Pakistan shamed as plot thickens

Plea to ban Pak team grows; agency team goes to London; Asifs girlfriend calls him serial fixer

Pakistan shamed as plot thickens

In a fix; a larger scandal

As it began to emerge that the dangerous lure of filthy money has damaged Pakistan cricket’s reputation and integrity, revealed in a sting operation by the British tabloid “News of the World”, the scandal opened a Pandora’s box with fresh reports suggesting that the opening Test between England and Pakistan and the January Sydney Test between Australia and Pakistan were rigged.

Wider scam
More damaging were revelations of one of the tainted cricketers, fast bowler Mohammad Asif’s ex-girl friend Veena Malik, saying in no uncertain terms that he was “criminal-minded” and a “serial match-fixer”. Over the past two days, the Pakistani media has gone to town with the story, indicating that more cricketers might be involved in a larger, wider betting scam.

Appearing on a television panel discussion, Malik quoted Asif telling her that Pakistan will not win a series until 2010. She also accused her former boy friend of bribing an Indian doctor during his doping trial at the Indian Premier League.

Before the beginning of the Australia tour early this year, Asif reportedly told Veena to “stop praying...we will not win a single match during the tour to Australia”. On Asif’s alleged dealings with bookies, Malik reportedly said: “He went to Bangkok to meet some bookmakers within a notice of 24 hours. This is when we were in a relationship. The conversation on the phone before the tour of Australia was specifically about fixing."

In her damning indictment of the Pakistani star bowler, Malik goes on to say that Asif would send text messages to one Dhiraj Dixit from his deomestic help’s cellphone. In one alleged conversation between Asif and Dixit, the Indian (a suspected bookmaker) says: “I can give you $40,000 for this deal.” To this Asif says: “No, I want $200,000.” Dixit’s reponse was: “I would like some more team members for this deal.”

Asif, another young prodigious swing bowler Mohammad Aamir, Pakistan cricket team captain Salman Butt and four others cricketers, whose identities are yet to be disclosed, are believed to be at the centre of the most recent scandal in which money was staked on individual and likely team failure.
The furore follows allegations that a bookie, Mazhar Majeed, arrested and later released on bail, bribed Pakistani pacers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir for “spot-fixing” to bowl no balls during the Lord’s Test against England, which the visitors lost by an innings and 225 runs.

Initially appearing loathe to recommending ruthless punishment for the seven suspects, the International Cricket Council (ICC) president Sharad Pawar is believed to have advised Pakistan Cricket Board chief Ijaz Butt to drop Aamer and Asif from the team for the One Day International and Twnety20 series which, according to the ICC, would continue despite the match-fixing allegations and English players’ reservations to take part in.

Cash recovered
As police questioned Salman Butt, Asif and Aamir over the weekend, a team of Scotland Yards sleuths recovered an undislcosed amount of cash from the players and seized their mobile phones to get to the root of the scandal.

But the storm has failed to force a resignation from Butt, who reacted by saying that, “I haven’t heard any allegations, except just taking my name. There’s nothing I’ve seen or been shown on TV that involves me.”

The strongest reaction to the scandal came from the Pakistani government with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani saying in Islamabad that “the latest fixing allegations have bowed our heads in shame. I have ordered a thorough inquiry into these allegations so that action could be taken against those who are proven guilty.”

The inquiry would include an independent investigation by three Federal Investigation Agency officers who would coordinate their efforts with Scotland Yard detectives.

“Scotland Yard is doing its own investigations, our team is there to assist them and also independently find out what has happened,” Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, adding that the “issue has already hurt our image and that of Pakistan cricket and we want to know the truth. We want to be clear about our cricket future.”

Former players such as Ian Chappell, Ramiz Raja, Michael Vaughan and Ian Botham condemned the scandal and said they were worried about the future of cricket.

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