LONDON - Pakistani cricket was plunged into crisis Sunday after newspaper allegations of fixing by several national team players broke on the penultimate day of the final Test match against England, which ended with a humiliating defeat for the tourists.
Police questioned Pakistan players Saturday night after the News of the World newspaper alleged that bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were paid to deliberately bowl no-balls during Thursday's opening day of the fourth Test that England went on to win by an innings and 225-runs.
Team manager Yawar Saeed will meet with Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ejaz Butt later Sunday to discuss the team's next step, but said he expects it to fulfil its remaining fixtures of two Twenty20 matches and five one-day internationals.
"Obviously, we are not delighted," Saeed said. "We are sad and it was very sober feelings in the dressing room. Allegations are only one thing. They are all serious, whether they are small or big. Let us see what happens."
With the first Twenty20 match a week away, thousands of tickets have been sold and the rest remained on sale Sunday through English county club websites.
"I honestly think the best thing is to let the dust settle," England captain Andrew Strauss said. "It is easy to get emotional about these things at the moment.
"There will be some very strong reasons for the series to go ahead. But they are also going to have to think about what the right thing to do is going forward and that's their decision."
Saeed said that Asif, Amir and captain Salman Butt had their mobile phones confiscated by police, who also searched hotel rooms as part of an investigation also involving the International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit.
Any player found guilty of involvement in match fixing faces a life ban from the sport.
The News of the World says it secretly filmed its undercover reporters, posing as front men for a Far East gambling cartel, in discussion with a man it identifies as London-based businessman Mazhar Majeed, who appears to accept 150,000 British pounds (US$232,000) in order to make sure no-balls are bowled at certain times during the match.
Majeed, who had initially been arrested by police during its investigation, was bailed without charge on Sunday. The bail obliges him to appear before police at a future date.
The newspaper said it has passed all its evidence to the police.
State run news agency Associated Press of Pakistan reported that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zaradari asked the PCB for a preliminary report into the allegations.
Pakistan prime minister Yousuf Raza Gillani added: "It (the allegations) has hurt us. Our heads are bowed in shame and I have asked the sports minister to inquire about it."
Strauss said that players had again begun to hear rumours of corruption after almost a decade of apparently cleaner competition that followed the ICC's creation of its Anti-Corruption and Security Unit in 2001.
The most prominent instance of corruption occurred in 2000, when South Africa captain Hanse Cronje was banned for life from coaching and playing after admitting to forecasting results and offering bribes to teammates in exchange for money from a London bookmaker.
Former ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed said he thinks a ban from cricket for the Pakistan team may be in order.
Speed, an Australian who headed the ICC from 2001-2008, says he is concerned by what "looks a fairly compelling case" of rigged betting.
"I think that's (suspension) an option. It's serious," Speed Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Former India captain Mohammed Azharuddin was exposed and banned for life when Cronje said it was he who had introduced him to bookmakers.
Australia's Mark Waugh and Shane Warne were fined in 1995 for taking money from a bookmaker in exchange for information on pitch and weather conditions.
That sort of corruption appeared to have been consigned to the past, but West Indies batsman Marlon Samuels was banned for two years in 2008 over allegations he passed team information to a bookmaker. Two players with English county side Essex, Danish Kaneria and Mervyn Westfield, were arrested this year in an investigation into betting irregularities.
"With these sorts of allegations, you start questioning things you shouldn't be questioning," Strauss said. "When you achieve something, you want it to be in the best possible circumstances.
"More recently there have been more whispers."
Former England captain Michael Vaughan said on Twitter that he anticipated action against the players involved.
"I don't see how they can get out of this one," Vaughan said.
Police said it acted upon information from the newspaper to arrest a 35-year-old man on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers.
The man was later confirmed to be Mazhar Majeed by his brother and business partner Azhar Majeed.
The News of the World quoted Majeed as saying up to seven players in the Pakistan team could be "bought" for cash.
"I've been doing it (match fixing) with them for about 2 1/2 years and we've made masses of money," Majeed said.
Video of the meeting between an undercover reporter and Majeed appeared to shows the businessman accepting money and insisting that three no-balls "have been organized" with the Pakistan team.
The ICC said it was aware of the situation and, along with the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Pakistan Cricket Board, was working with police.
Azhar Majeed told the AP he believed the allegations against his brother are "just rubbish."
"I found it not laughable, because you don't laugh at things like that, but I thought it was just rubbish," Azhar Majeed said. "I saw the video of Mazhar sitting there counting out money on the table. They are alleging it was for match fixing ... I have absolutely no idea about it whatsoever."
Azhar Majeed, who says he and his brother are player agents, admitted he had been asked to leave Pakistan's team hotel during the third test at The Oval, after the team's security manager told him he was top of the list of people banned from entering players' rooms.
"Security kept on hassling me, and I couldn't understand what it was for, the reason I was top of the list," Azhar Majeed said. "I couldn't understand why. I found it a bit ludicrous for him to be chucking me out of hotel. Politely I went, but I have absolutely nothing to hide."
Pakistan parliamentarian Iqbal Mohammad Ali, who also heads the lower house's standing committee on sports, called for the players in question to be sacked from the team ahead of the upcoming limited-overs games against England.
"Whosoever is involved should be banned for life," he said. "All those who are suspected should be sent back home."
AP Sports Writers Stuart Condie at Lord's in London, Rizwan Ali in Islamabad and Dennis Passa in Brisbane, Australia contributed to this report.