In a soon to be published book, Sports betting columnist Ed Hawkins has alleged in no uncertain terms that the India-Pakistan 2011 World Cup semi-final at Mohali was fixed. Arunabha Sengupta looks at the available excerpts from the book and tries to see the veracity of the claims.
Betting in sports is big. Very big. And has its own self-sustaining mini-universe.
We know how many livelihoods revolve around outcomes of matches and the amount of money that changes hands during each hyped and not-so-hyped encounter. Fortunes are made and lost. Edge-of-the-seat excitement accompanies each game that is more at home beside the green baize tables of a casino rather than the pristine green expanses of a cricket field. The attractions are big enough to suck in players of the stature of Hansie Cronje into its crux of corruption.
It is an industry – and has defined its own occupations. Bookmakers – legal and illegal, punters and speculators, lawyers and policemen, middle-men and suppliers of vital information; the players who are third party in this set up, some of them not beyond becoming collaborators.
Besides sports-betting also has its own journalists, betting columnists and writers dedicated to this dubious field. One such is Ed Hawkins. His Twitter ID itself is @cricketbetting and who, according to his Twitter profile, is the “2011, 2010 SJA Betting Writer of the Year. Betting columnist for The Times and Betfair’s news website”
In a soon-to-be-published book called Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A journey to the corrupt heart of cricket betting, Hawkins has stirred up a lot of interest, mostly of the controversial variety, by recounting his experiences during the 2011 India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final match at Mohali. According to an excerpt made available in The Daily Mail, there is every reason to believe that the match was fixed.
The Mohali Match
The book, whose name cleverly mimics the John Le Carre thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, is set to hit the stands on November 15, the opening day of the first Test between India and England.
In the excerpt already available, and which has taken the cricket world by storm, Hawkins relates his experiences while the said semi-final match was under way.
Just as the Indian innings was coming to an end, Hawkins supposedly checked his Twitter account to find a tweeted message from one of his bookie acquaintances which ran, “‘Bookie update… India will bat first and score over 260, three wickets fall within the first 15 overs, Pak will cruise to 100, then lose two quick wickets, at 150 they will be five down and crumble and lose by a margin of over 20 runs.”
What followed was more or less to the script.
What did not quite happen as predicted was that India lost just one wicket in their first 15 overs.
Sachin Tendulkar dropped four times!
The match has for long been looked at with certain degree of suspicion, especially because Sachin Tendulkar was dropped four times on his way to a match-winning and Man-of-the-match winning 85.
The other events that raised eyebrows were Misbah-ul-Haq’s painstaking 76-ball 56 in the final stages of the match, when considerably more enterprise was required, which provoked comment even from Shahid Afridi’s young daughter. And finally there was the quirky decision by Pakistan to delay their Batting Powerplay till it was forced on them in the last five overs.
The chapter is written almost in the style of a novel. It makes one feel the tension as the Betting Columnist and his friend wait with bated breath as Pakistan’s innings play out, wondering all the while whether this bookie, Parthiv, will prove to be as accurate as he has been in the past.
One has to wait to go through the entire book to find out what other dirty secret the author unravels about the cricket world. But, there is already going to be a lot of controversy that will be picked up from the past, to allow the slime and dirt to flow from the hideous underbelly of the cricket world. One thing the excerpt published in The Daily Mail has effectively done is to heighten the interest in the release of the book.
Whether the match was really fixed or not is perhaps difficult to determine from the available excerpt. Pakistan spinner Saeed Ajmal has already rubbished it, publicly wondering why it took so long for the dirty details to emerge. One can argue that investigative journalism has its own lifecycle, but when sensation is the selling point, the turnaround time is known to be immediate. One just has to look at major recent events like Wikileaks, the death of Steve Jobs, the Credit Crisis or even Rahul Dravid’s retirement to witness how fast the best-sellers are churned out to ride the recency effect. From that point of view, the delay in publication can either mean some dubiousness in the facts that had to be tinkered with for long, or it can be a very accurate comprehensive study of scrupulous water-tight academic detail. Honestly, the writing style of the chapter that has been made available does not indicate the second, but it is too early to pronounce judgement.
As regards the prediction of the bookie, the details are intriguing, and the certain error factor about the first 15 overs of the Indian innings does lend a semblance of authenticity to it. Whereas the veracity of the exchange of tweets cannot be commented upon, one is nevertheless tempted to recall the fable of the three monkeys on typewriters. The theory is that if monkeys are allowed to fiddle with the keys on a typewriter long enough, sooner or later a line of Shakespeare will emerge plainly due to the effects of randomness.
Now, in the immenseness of cyberspace, and zillions of such predictions, a reasonably accurate one may have been a function of chance. One is reminded of a previous Indo-Pak World Cup encounter in Bangalore, 1996, when a fortune telling computer had forecast that Sachin Tendulkar would score 30, and it led to a lot of excitement when the master fell for 31 – but the rest of the predictions were way off the mark. Sometimes randomness clicks.
Or it may have been a genuine insider’s knowledge about match-fixing. As the author indicates, Parthiv had supplied him with precise information earlier as well. It is a known fact that the game is not immune to different varieties of fixing.
We need to wait for the publication to be available before reaching conclusions. Conspiracy theories have their irresistible charm, and are also blessed with own share of sceptics who rubbish them with promptness. An unbiased opinion can be formed after a thorough reading.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix