Karachi:Pakistan cricket great Imran Khan on Monday said the sport was headed for crisis with the careers of top players in jeopardy over their alleged involvement in a gambling scam.
Seven members of the Pakistan team are facing a police investigation over claims they colluded with a middleman in a the scam during their England tour, in a sting by a British Sunday tabloid.
The scandal has cast a pall over the national sport, which has been dogged by "fixing" allegations since the 1990s as well as charges of ball-tampering.
The News of the World said it paid fixer Mazhar Majeed 150,000 pounds (USD 230,000) for advance details of three no-balls by bowlers Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif in the fourth and final Test between Pakistan and England.
"I hope that it's not true," Khan told AFP. "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," he said.
"To me Aamer is potentially the best young talent in the world and I feel sad for him."
Pakistan's government has launched an investigation into the claims while British detectives have questioned the Pakistani players and released on bail the alleged middleman, 35-year-old bookmaker Majeed.
But the allegations alone have hit morale hard in Pakistan, which is reeling from devastating floods that have affected 17 million Pakistanis over the past month.
"I think demoralisation has reached the point of extreme in the last two days. The general feeling is that it's one thing after another," said Khan, a former captain of Pakistan and swashbuckling all-rounder.
"First we were called a terrorist country because a dictator pulled us into someone else's war," said cricketer-turned-politician Khan, referring to former leader General Pervez Musharraf and the US-led war in Afghanistan.
"Then there were the floods which have left millions of people homeless... and suddenly this cricket controversy comes up. This has shattered everyone in Pakistan."
Khan said the lack of good role models for the country's youth was a problem, but said he felt sorry for accused captain Salman Butt.
"Butt obviously looked like a bright captain, and if he is ousted then it will create another captaincy crisis for the team," said Khan, following the removal of previous skipper Younis Khan.
The scandal follows an investigation by the International Cricket Council into Pakistan's loss in Sydney earlier this year, when wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal dropped four catches.
"(Fans) will always be in two minds whether a defeat is genuine or not... so this will put players under huge mental pressure," said Khan.