London - The three Pakistan cricketers under scrutiny following allegations of fixing insisted they were innocent on Thursday but withdrew from the remainder of the tour of England because of the "mental torture" they have been through.
Bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir and Test captain Salman Butt - accused in a Sunday newspaper of being involved in a betting scam - proclaimed their innocence in a meeting with Pakistan High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan in London.
"The three players have said they are extremely disturbed with what has happened in the past one week, specially with regard to their alleged involvement in the scam," Hasan said in a statement on behalf of the players.
"They mention that they are entirely innocent in the whole episode and shall defend their innocence as such."
Pakistan team manager Yawar Saeed said earlier on Thursday the players had been omitted from the squad for the rest of the tour, which comprises two Twenty20 and five one-day international matches.
Hasan said the players had volunteered not to play.
"They further maintain that on account of the mental torture which has deeply affected them all, they are not in the right frame of mind to play the remaining matches," Hasan said.
Hasan, who said he believed in the players' innocence, insisted there had been no pressure from the England and Wales Cricket Board to drop them from the squad.
"They want to clear their names first," Hasan told reporters outside the high commission. "We wait for the result of the investigations. I am not in the habit of insinuating or involving anyone."
Hasan said Saeed was holding the players' passports.
Butt, Asif and Amir had to be given a police escort as they entered the high commission in Knightsbridge. About 10 police officers guided the trio into the building amid a throng of reporters and TV crews.
Around three hours later, the three players left the commission away from the gaze of the media, departing through the back entrance of an adjacent building.
British newspaper the News of the World alleged Sunday that Amir and Asif were paid to deliberately bowl no-balls in the opening day of the fourth test against England at Lord's last week.
Butt and wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal were also implicated in the story.
Asif, Amir and Butt had their mobile phones confiscated by police, who also searched hotel rooms and questioned players on Saturday as part of an investigation also involving the International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit.
Saeed, speaking prior to the start of Pakistan's warmup match against English county side Somerset in Taunton, said the three players had not been suspended by the PCB.
With no charges filed in the case, any official sanctions against the players would be considered premature. But ECB officials did not want the one-day matches to go ahead against a Pakistan team that included the implicated players.
The omission of the three players for the rest of the tour appeared to be a compromise between the ECB, PCB and ICC.
Saeed said 13 players would be available for the two T20 matches before three replacements arrive to bolster the squad for the one-day series.
"The T20 squad will remain what it is here this morning, i.e. 13 people," Saeed said. "When we play the one-day internationals, we will be asking for replacements to make the squad up to 16."
Saeed, who had earlier said the trio would continue playing unless police laid criminal charges against them, did not say who the replacements would be.
The ECB welcomed the decision by Pakistan not to include Asif, Amir and Butt in its limited-overs squads.
"We can assure cricket fans across the country that the matches will be played in the most competitive spirit long associated with contests between England and Pakistan," EBC chairman Giles Clarke said.
Shahid Afridi is leading the team in its limited-overs matches, starting with a game against Somerset.
"Obviously, if they have done something bad, you need to give them a punishment," Afridi said. "But I think we are still waiting for the results.
"It will be a really tough series and I think everyone is trying to focus on the cricket now. We are ready to play some good cricket."
The spot-fixing allegations are the latest blow to cricket in Pakistan, which has not hosted any international matches since the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team and match officials in March 2009.
Clarke, who is also chairman of the ICC's Pakistan Task Team, said he hoped the incident did not slow Pakistan's reintegration into world cricket.
"I look forward to working with Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the PCB, and everybody involved in Pakistan cricket in taking forward cricket in Pakistan so that a plan exists for the whole of Pakistan cricket, given all the many and varied issues which it's up against," Clarke added.
Clarke said last month that plans were being made for an ICC World XI to play a match in Pakistan.