London, Aug. 29: Scotland Yard took away the cellphones of Pakistan skipper Salman Butt and pacemen Mohammed Aamir and Mohammed Asif today after a sting operation by a British tabloid plunged the visiting cricket team into yet another fixing scandal.
Police also arrested UK-based bookie Mazhar Majeed, 35, who had told an undercover News of the World reporter he had bribed the Pakistanis to bowl three deliberate no-balls in the just-ended Lords Test.
Officers had also questioned wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal at the team hotel last night and unconfirmed reports said a search of some players rooms had led to seizures of money and laptops. The tabloid has said seven Pakistani players may be involved but has named only four, who, some reports said, risk their passports being taken away.
The News of the World mounted the sting operation through its Pakistani-origin reporter Mazher Mahmood, often called the Fake Sheikh because of his ability to fool the gullible (including Fergie, the Duchess of York) into believing he is a rich Arab. Mahmood convinced Majeed that he was acting on behalf of an East Asian betting syndicate, and apparently won the bookies confidence by handing him £150,000 in cash.
There is no suggestion that the Lords Test, which England won by an innings and 225 runs today after an incredible recovery from 102 for 7 on Thursday, was fixed.
The allegations are not about match-fixing but spot fixing or fancy fixing, where the betting involves not the final result but small events within the game such as how many boundaries will be hit in a session, how many consecutive wides a bowler might bowl, or how many fielders will be wearing sun cream.
The transcript of the tabloids conversation with Majeed shows the bookie revealing details of the planned no-balls:
Majeed: So, the first ball of the third over of the innings, yeah.... Amir is to bowl the first over (meaning he will also bowl the third), yeah? Okay? Then the tenth, the last ball... sixth ball of the tenth over.
Reporter: The tenth over. Whos bowling it?
Majeed: Asif will be bowling it.
Sure enough, the first ball of the third was a huge no-ball from Aamir on Thursday. Asif too overstepped on the last ball on the tenth. On Friday, Aamir apparently bowled the last fixed no-ball: the third ball of the days third over.
Many here suggested in defence of Aamir ó the 18-year-old Man of the Series ó that if the captain asked him to bowl a no-ball, he could hardly refuse.
The Pakistan sports minister has called for a life ban on whoever is proved guilty but team manager Yawar Saeed seemed to suggest the allegations were not all that serious. If I have stolen one shilling off you, you punish me for talking a shilling, not a million pounds, he said.
More video footage could implicate two other players ó Umar Amin and Wahab Riaz ó whom Majeed is shown introducing to the reporter. The bookie then gives the duo a jacket, in which he had a while earlier stuffed £10,000 that the reporter had given him.
A PTI report said British detectives had also got hold of audio tapes in which some Pakistani cricketers are heard discussing spot fixing with Majeed during the Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies this year.
The team management had warned the players not to invite Majeed or his brother Azhar Majeed into their hotel rooms, manager Saeed said. The brothers represent several Pakistani players as their UK agents, helping them secure sponsorships among other things. A source said the warning had come on the advice of Pakistans ODI captain Shahid Afridi.
After the tabloid published its story, the tourists cancelled nets today and closed their dressing room throughout the 96 minutes of play. The on-field trophy presentations took place away from the public gaze, in the famous Long Room at Lords.
The News of the World quoted Majeed as saying up to seven Pakistani players could be bought for cash. Ive been doing it with them for about two-and-a-half years and weve made masses of money, he purportedly said.
He also spoke about his links with Indian bookies. I deal with an Indian party. They pay me for the information, he said, adding that there were no major activities when the Indian market is not open.
In one conversation, the tabloid reported that to hammer home the amounts of money our man could win, Majeed called an Indian bookie he regularly deals with and asked him how much he would pay for a definite Oval Test result. Majeed demanded $1.2 million but the bookie replied, Ill give you one (million).
Fears were expressed that the scandal might discourage the public from donating towards flood relief in Pakistan. The BBC cricket correspondent, Jonathan Agnew, summed up: When people are drowning in floods one should not use the word tragedy but this is a tragedy for Pakistani cricket.
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