LONDON: Cricket`s world governing body promised swift action if betting scam allegations against Pakistan were proven as preparations began Tuesday for one-day internationals which some insist should not go ahead.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) said corruption would not be tolerated and anyone found guilty of "spot-fixing" would be punished as the allegations of bowling pre-arranged no-balls engulfed top Pakistan players.
The world of cricket -- a sport that prides itself on "fair play" -- reacted with shock and dismay to claims huge sums of money had changed hands in alleged fixing schemes at international level, linked to shadowy betting rings.
England were due to announce Tuesday their squad for the two Twenty20 and five one-day internationals with Pakistan despite the allegations swirling round the tourists.
Meanwhile the Pakistan team have shifted camp from London to Taunton in southwest England where they were to begin preparing for Thursday`s warm-up match with county side Somerset.
While the ICC, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) are insisting the fixtures are going ahead, some observers have questioned whether they can be played with any credibility in the current climate.
The scandal broke Sunday when Britain`s News of the World newspaper claimed it had paid middleman Mazhar Majeed 150,000 pounds (230,000 dollars, 185,000 euros) for advance details of three no-balls in the fourth and final Test match between Pakistan and England, staged at Lord`s in London.
Neither the ICC nor the PCB have suspended the cricketers named in the sting operation.
ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said that they were conducting their own inquiry and would take action against any guilty players.
The ICC had a "zero-tolerance approach to corruption in cricket", he said in a statement Monday.
"The integrity of the game is of paramount importance.
"Prompt and decisive action will be taken against those who seek to harm it.
"We will not tolerate corruption in this great game."
Lorgat said the game should not be brought to a standstill by the actions of a few players.
He told AFP: "We`ve got to keep things in perspective. It would be unfair if a couple of unsavoury individuals tarnished the reputation of the rest of the team and certainly Pakistan as a country."
Majeed, a 35-year-old agent for several Pakistan players, was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers in the wake of the newspaper`s transcripts and audiovisual footage, but was released on bail without charge on Sunday.
Detectives questioned Pakistan captain Salman Butt and wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal plus star strike bowlers Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif, who bowled the no-balls -- normally an accidental and unpredictable occurrence -- in question.
Butt, Asif and 18-year-old Aamer -- who was named Pakistan`s man of the series -- all had their mobile phones seized.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper said Tuesday it understood that the ICC had asked the PCB for the four players cited in the newspaper allegations to be dropped from the squad for forthcoming limited overs matches.
No official request has been made.
The ECB is privately adamant that the three players at the centre of the allegations should be omitted from the series, The Guardian said.
The newspaper, citing an ICC source, also said the players named in the scandal had been under investigation for months by their anti-corruption unit.
Ex-England captain Michael Vaughan has said any fixtures against the tourists would now have "no credibility" in the light of the allegations.
However, England spin bowler Graeme Swann insisted the one-day fixtures should be fulfilled.
"I`m keen for them to go ahead," he wrote in The Sun newspaper.
"With nothing proved, I will have no problem whatsoever about who I play against."
The scandal has hit hard in Pakistan, already suffering from widespread flooding. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the claims "have bowed our heads in shame" and has launched an investigation.
Cricket in Pakistan has been dogged by "fixing" allegations since the 1990s, as well as ball-tampering charges.
But Pakistan cricket great Imran Khan said this could be the worst scandal of all.
"If, God forbid, it turns out to be true then it will be the biggest setback for Pakistan cricket and, probably, end the careers of the two best bowlers in the world," Khan told AFP.
"To me Aamer is potentially the best young talent in the world and I feel sad for him."
Cricket fans in the eastern city of Lahore pelted tomatoes at donkeys labelled with the names of top national players embroiled in the allegations, while an effigy of Butt was publicly torched in Karachi.
BDST : 1403HRS, August 31, 2010