Shahid Afridi apologises for spot-fixing controversy

The Pakistan limited overs captain says sorry to cricket lovers around the world, while Imran Khan says it is right to suspend the accused players.

Pakistan's Twenty20 captain Shahid Afridi today apologised for the controversy surrounding the spot-fixing allegations. Test captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer have been charged with "various offences" under Article 2 of the International Cricket Council's (ICC) anti-corruption code relating to alleged irregular behaviour during and in relation to the fourth Test between England and Pakistan. And Afridi today said: "It's very bad news. On behalf of the players I want to say sorry to cricket lovers in all the cricketing nations." He added: "It's a big challenge for me as captain but we're all ready. The coach and I are not talking about the issue - we are here to play cricket. "I've told the boys 'don't read the newspapers'. I know they are very upset."

Asked if he had spoken to the players about being cautious who they mix with, Afridi said: "Not really." However, when asked if he believed the Twenty20 and one-day series of matches will go ahead, he added: "Definitely." Meanwhile Pakistan's former cricket captain Imran Khan said today the (ICC) was right to suspend the three players accused of taking part in a betting scam. But he said if the players were found to be involved in betting on the timing of no balls rather than match-fixing they should face a huge fine and suspension rather than a lifetime ban.

The ICC has already charged them under their anti-corruption code and provisionally banned them from playing in any match and Khan said the suspension was the "correct move" for two reasons. He told the BBC: "Whenever someone comes under a huge allegation like that, a devastating allegation like that, I think it's only right they should pull out until their name is cleared." He also said it would have been impossible for the players to play under the "huge pressure" in front of a crowd including the British Pakistani community who were "extremely humiliated and angry". But Khan said while match-fixing should receive an immediate life-ban, bowling no-balls to order was a lesser crime.

He said: "In my opinion one crime is much bigger than the other. One crime where you actually betray your country by throwing a match is a life ban. "For sport fixing it could be a punishment where you give the signal that crime does not pay, a huge financial loss to the player and then a limited time ban." Khan said he felt sorry for the 18-year-old fast bowler Aamer but there could be no exceptions in terms of a punishment. He said: "An 18-year-old still knows what is right and what is wrong. "In this case my heart goes out for this young cricketer because purely in cricketing terms he is the most exciting young cricketer the cricketing world has seen for a long time.

"I'm afraid if someone is implicated (in such crimes) you have to give them exemplary punishments to stop this from happening again." He said corruption in cricket reflected a wider corruption in Pakistani society. And he said, with the problem of terrorism in Pakistan and the floods, the betting scandal was "almost the last straw" for the people, adding: "I've never seen people so demoralised." The comments came as the legal adviser of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said the three players had confirmed the businessman at the centre of the allegations, Mazhar Majeed, was their agent. Legal adviser Tafazzul Rizvi also told private television channels in Pakistan that Butt, Asif and Aamer would have to fight their cases on their own if they appealed against their provisional suspension by the ICC. The three players have maintained their innocence amid claims Majeed accepted £150,000 (Dh530,028) to arrange for Pakistan players to deliberately bowl no-balls during last week's fourth Test against England at Lord's. The Metropolitan Police said it could not confirm whether the players had acknowledged their relationship with Majeed, while an ICC spokesman said it was a matter for the PCB and there was no comment. * Press Association