Playing by the bookmaker

Ed Hawkins established that India was the hub for bookies and punters, who routinely fixed players, matches and cricket officials. He specifically investigated the World Cup 2011 semi-final match between India and Pakistan at Mohali © Getty Images

By Alam Srinivas

Over the past two months, the Indian Premier League (IPL) was rocked by scandals of illegal betting, match-fixing, spot-fixing and conflicts of interest. IPL team owners, players, umpires and cricket administrators were accused of being involved with the betting syndicates. But what went unnoticed was that these issues had been highlighted last year in a book — Bookie, Gambler, Fixer, Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld — written by Ed Hawkins.

Hawkins, in fact, established that India was the hub for bookies and punters, who routinely fixed players, matches and cricket officials. More importantly, he categorically established that IPL was ‘tainted’, and most bookies felt that the league was manipulated. Shockingly, Hawkins came to the conclusion that international matches involving several teams were ‘fixed’. He specifically investigated the World Cup 2011 semi-final between India and Pakistan at Mohali.

At the end of the first 43 overs in the India-Pakistan semis, in which India batted first, and after Sachin Tendulkar was dropped four times and MS Dhoni once. Hawkins checked his Twitter account. An Indian bookie [Parthiv] who was in touch with him, had sent the latter a summarised script for the entire match. Hawkins’s jaw dropped, as he shouted across to his friend, Cherrene, who had come to watch the match on TV with him and had run down to the kitchen to make some tea. The script read:

“Bookie update… India will bat first and score over 260, 3 wickets fall within the first 15 overs, Pak will cruise to 100, then lose 2 quick wickets, at 150 they will be 5 down and crumble and lose by a margin of over 20 runs.”

This was extraordinary! If the script proved right, there could be no doubt that the match, which had the highest viewership in cricketing history, was billed as the most competitive game ever, which many thought was a matter of life and death for the players on both sides, was ‘fixed’. At the beginning of the last over (50th), India were 256 for seven wickets. The next six balls: dot ball-wicket-single-single-wicket-two; India end at 260 for nine. That was not strictly by the script, which said India would score ‘over 260’; further, as Parthiv predicted, India had not lost three wickets in the first 15 overs.

However, Hawkins and Cherrene were glued to the TV set as Parthiv had sent more details about the Pakistan innings. The Pakistan openers were off to a good start. In the 23rd over, the score was 100 for two wickets; Pakistan had indeed cruised to 100, as per the script, and needed 161 in 27 overs. Now was the real test — “then lose 2 quick wickets’. Indeed, two quick wickets by Yuvraj Singh, and Pakistan were 106 for four; Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan were back in the pavilion within a space of 11 balls.

Parthiv had said that “at 150, they will be 5 down”. Umar Akmal was the fifth batsman dismissed at 142. Hawkins wrote that “with the script accurate – Pakistan reach 150 (without losing another wicket) off the second ball of the 37th over — the ‘crumble’ begins immediately.” India won by 29 runs; Parthiv’s script was perfect that Pakistan would “lose by a margin of over 20 runs”. Cherrene told Hawkins, “You’ve stolen Christmas. I’m never watching a game with you again.”

Cricket experts and commentators found the Pakistan innings a bit intriguing. They could not figure out the lack of urgency among the senior Pakistan batsmen; the skipper, Misbah-ul-Haq scored 17 from the first 42 deliveries he faced, while Younis Khan scored 13 off 32 balls.

They were surprised that the captain delayed the batting power play (five overs of field restrictions) until the 45th over, and felt he should have taken it when the hard-hitting Shahid Afridi was at the crease.

Despite such mounting evidence, Hawkins was still plagued with doubt. What if Parthiv, and other bookies, had been plain lucky in their prediction? What if this was just a coincidence? So, Hawkins approached a cricket statistician, Jatin Thakkar, to figure out the odds of this. Thakkar looked at international One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and compared the progress of the teams in the second innings as per Parthiv’s script, i.e., the number of times a team had cruised to 100, lost two quick wickets, been 150 for five, and then crumbled to lose by over 20 runs, while chasing a score of 260 or so.

“Including the semi-final, it has happened six times in the 2,434 matches. As a percentage this is 0.24650780608052586. Translated into odds… it is a 405:1 against shot. To put this into context, a hat-trick is a 106:1 chance, a five-wicket haul is a 8:1 and a century 11:2. Not impossible, by any stretch of imagination, and not as unlikely as the ordered no-balls, but a long chance,” wrote Hawkins. Of course, this did not prove the match was fixed, but it was a case for a detailed investigation.

Later, doubts were raised about the World Cup 2011 final between India and Sri Lanka, which India won. In April 2011, Hashan Tilakaratne, the former Sri Lankan captain, raised suspicions about the final. In an interview with an Indian newspaper, he said, “I am not saying this match was fixed. But, anyway, match-fixing is something that has been in this country over a period of time. This has spread like a cancer today. Why were four [Sri Lankan] players changed for this match [the final]? These are questions that should be asked. We who have played cricket talk about this.”

In his several conversations with Indian bookies, Hawkins found that they openly talked about fixing in IPL games. Here is an excerpt from a conversation he had with another bookie, Vinay:

“What percentage of matches in the IPL is fixed?”

“I can’t say, but there is a big percentage. The owners are telling the players what to do.”

“Do you think owners are using their influence over teams and coaches to make money from betting?”

“Definitely. Definitely. If I own a team, you have all the information and we need information. You are in touch with all the other team owners. They are working for a single aim — to earn money. They can sell that information or they can back or lay on the basis of that information. If there is a match between Bangalore and Mumbai and they know Chris Gayle will not play today, it’ll cost. The value of Chris Gayle to a team is around 20 clicks to the price (so a team without Gayle might drift in price from 2.00 to 2.20). The value of Sachin Tendulkar is a round 30 clicks. If Sachin and Dhoni are not playing, it will be around 50 clicks. This is big information. All the players pass this information on… They are influenced by the bookies…”

Vinay’s charges have turned out to be true in the recent past. The police accused the team owners of Rajasthan Royals and a key official of Chennai Super Kings of using inside information to bet on IPL matches. Players were alleged to have routinely passed on information to the bookies, and indulged in some form of fixing. Bookies freely moved with the players, stayed in the same hotels as the IPL teams and, in some cases, were even the guests of the team owners.

Hawkins’s book came out last year. One would have assumed that it would have propelled the cricket boards in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to conduct serious investigation to ferret out the truth behind these allegations. That the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) would have initiated efforts to clean up IPL6. That the International Cricket Council (ICC) would have asked its anti-corruption unit to actively pursue these cases.

In reality, nothing happened.

The boards either ignored the problems, or brushed them under the carpet. The ICC said that the ODI World Cup of 2011 was among the cleanest tournament. If they had initiated action, both individually and collectively, the scandal that rocked IPL6 might have been avoided. Players, umpires, officials and team owners would have been careful and avoided contact with bookies. We don’t know whether it was overconfidence, arrogance or complacency, but cricket has been hit by several beamers.

(Alam Srinivas has written a book, IPL: Cricket and Commerce, and an updated version, IPL: Cricket and Corruption. The above article is reproduced with permission from Governance Now)