London: England and Pakistan exchanged verbal blows in an acrimonious new corruption row which began before the start of play in the fourth one-day international at Lord`s.
Although it decided not to cancel the remainder of the tour, England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) threatened legal action against Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ijaz Butt for comments about Friday`s match at the Oval.
In a television interview on Sunday, Butt said "there is loud and clear talk in bookies` circles that some English players were paid enormous amounts of money to lose (Friday`s) match".
Pakistan officials had already expressed their outrage at the International Cricket Council`s (ICC) decision to investigate their team`s scoring pattern in the third game at the Oval on Friday. Pakistan won by 23 runs.
They had also promised to fight provisional suspensions imposed by the ICC on test captain Salman Butt and his team mates Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif.
The trio, who have maintained they are innocent, returned home early after an investigation into a newspaper report that they had arranged for no-balls to be bowled deliberately in the fourth test at Lord`s last month.
Although Butt had appeared to backtrack when he told BBC radio on Monday morning he had no evidence of wrongdoing but was merely relaying bookmakers` information, the ECB said his comments had been defamatory.
"Both the ECB and Team England view the comments made by Mr Butt as defamatory and not based in fact," a statement said.
"The ECB expresses its gratitude for the outstanding conduct of the England team this summer and will take all legal and disciplinary action which may result from Mr Butt`s comments."
Speaking on behalf of the team, captain Andrew Strauss said there had been "strong misgivings" about proceeding with the series.
"Under the circumstances we have strong misgivings about continuing to play the last two games of the current series and urge the Pakistani team and management to distance themselves from Mr Butt`s allegations," he said.
The decision to continue with the tour was welcomed by British Sports Minister Hugh Robinson.
"It is a pragmatic decision that is in the best interests of world cricket," he said.
Butt was unrepentant in an interview from Dubai with the Express news channel.
"If the ECB wants to take legal action against me they can do it. I am prepared for it and we have a strong case as well," he said.
"We have a strong case against the ECB and we are ready to give a strong reply to any legal action."
However, two former PCB chiefs said his comments were ill-advised.
"It`s ridiculous what he has said. If he had any proof or information about English players he should have gone with it to the ICC or Scotland Yard which is already investigating allegations against our players," Khalid Mehmood told Reuters.
Shaharyar Khan told Reuters that Butt`s statement would only isolate Pakistan further.
"If we had any information about English players we should have spoken to the ECB about it instead of going public," he said.
Cricket South Africa chief executive Gerald Majola told reporters in Durban that a three-test series against Pakistan scheduled for Abu Dhabi and Dubai next month would go ahead.
A British newspaper carried a report on Sunday quoting a South African player as saying that playing such a high profile series in the Middle East was "asking for trouble".