Fourth Pakistan player now under investigation

Team prepares to play ODI against England today under cloud of match-fixing

Pakistan's cricket team prepared to face England in a one-day match Sunday under the shadow of fresh claims about an alleged betting scam and reports that a fourth player was being investigated.

The News of the World said the International Cricket Council (ICC), which has already charged three Pakistan stars with corruption, was now investigating a fourth player, although the tabloid did not name him "for legal reasons".

It also claimed Pakistan batsman Yasir Hameed had accused some of his team mates of corruption and suggested the problem of fixing games for cash was widespread in the sport. Hameed denied he had made the remarks.

The News of the World's report last Sunday into the fixing allegations caused a major scandal and led the ICC to charge Test captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif under its anti-corruption code.

The ICC refused to comment on the newspaper's latest claims Sunday, including that the accused trio were facing 23 charges between them and that a fourth unnamed player was under the spotlight.

At the team's hotel in Cardiff late Saturday, Pakistan coach Waqar Younis also refused to discuss the new revelations.

However, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Giles Clarke, said the first Twenty20 match between England and Pakistan in Cardiff Sunday would still go ahead. Asked if it would be called off, he said: "No."

The allegations all relate to the recent fourth and final Test between England and Pakistan at Lord's, which ended with an England victory, in which the News of the World said deliberate no-balls had been bowled.

Aamer, at 18 one of cricket's hottest talents, Asif, 27, and Butt, 25, were questioned by police about the claims on Friday but were released without charge, their lawyer said. They have denied any wrongdoing.

The News of the World on Sunday claimed its allegations had been confirmed by Pakistan batsman Yasir Hameed.

"They were doing it (fixing) in almost every match. God knows what they were up to. Scotland Yard was after them for ages," Hameed reportedly told an undercover reporter in a bar in the central English city of Nottingham.

"It makes me angry because I'm playing my best and they are trying to lose."

Speaking to AFP late Saturday, Hameed denied he had spoken to the paper or bad-mouthed other players.

"I can never think of blaming my teammates in match-fixing," said the batsman, who remains in England after playing in Pakistan's Test series here, despite not being picked for the one-day matches.

"I have just told the team management that the newspaper is claiming I have given them an interview. This is not correct."

He admitted attending a couple of parties in Nottingham but denied talking to any unknown people, saying: "There were no strangers."

Pakistan team manager Yawar Saeed confirmed Hameed's denial but refused to comment further, saying: "Let's wait and see what happens."

The News of The World also published details Sunday of its conversations with Mazhar Majeed, an agent for several Pakistan players who it claims to have paid for advance knowledge of no-balls in the final Test.

It claims it paid him 150,000 pounds (185,000 euros, 230,000 dollars) for the information, which could be bet upon. Majeed, 35, was subsequently arrested and bailed by British police.

Some of this cash was found in Salman Butt's hotel room in London, the newspaper said, although Butt's lawyer rejected any suggestion of wrongdoing, saying it would not be unusual for his agent to give him money.

Earlier, Pakistan one-day captain Shahid Afridi apologised for the scandal, telling reporters: "I think this is very bad news.

"On behalf of these boys -- I know they are not in this series -- I want to say sorry to all cricket lovers and all the cricketing nations."

The ICC action against the three players has infuriated the Pakistani authorities, in particular ambassador to Britain Wajid Shamsul Hasan, who said the ICC had "no business" to suspend the trio and suggested they were set up.

England Twenty20 captain Paul Collingwood said: "I just want this (fixing) eradicated from the game, full stop." 
 

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