Spot fixing in print

The last edition of the cricket sadist’s quarterly had a piece on spot fixing written by me. It’s now tragically out of date, but I think it’s worth a read.

About a year ago a cricketer contacted me to talk about fixing in cricket. He was positive it was happening again, at ICL, IPL and International level. He even specified games that he and others thought it had happened in. I checked into these games and came up with other reasons why things happened the way they did.

The player was very upset, but he didn’t see how coming forward would help out.

In the next few weeks I was contacted by other cricketers and officials who gave me similar stories. Some were major names in international cricket, and some lesser known. All of them hoped I could do something, but like them I could do little. They had no evidence, just strong hunches, none of them would speak publicly about this, and all I could do was write on my site in the vaguest possible terms.

Since then spot fixing has come to the attention of the mainstream media and seems as close to taking over cricket as it was at the end of the 90s.

Essex players have been arrested by police. Shakib Al Hasan has come out saying people have offered him money before. Lalit Modi accused Chris Cairns of being involved in fixing in the ICL. Pakistani government officials line up waiting to accuse Pakistan of fixing anytime they lose. And there were reports of 27 players in the IPL being under scrutiny (which was later refuted).

The players involved are from around the globe; this isn’t some dirty little Subbie problem. The betting might be based in India, but as we learnt in the late 90s, the players involved are from everywhere.

During the late 90s you could throw a stone in International cricket and hit someone who was doing something that was less than ethical with bookies. The majority of the players involved got off scot-free, but cynical fans still believe that almost everyone was involved. I once heard Peter Roebuck say that he put Sanath Jayasuriya on a pedestal, and one reason was that he was 100% sure he didn’t interact with bookies unethically, and there were few other players of that generation of whom he thought the same. There is no way to know if that is true now, but fixing in cricket is here. If the spirit of cricket actually existed (and wasn’t some construct by a gin sipping crusty old man) fixing games would surely not be allowed.

Few sports in history have been devised to allow betting on them more than cricket. Some scholars have stated that cricket was formed the way it was, because of the betting on the early matches. Allowing people to bet on each ball, over, wicket, boundary, wide, or batsmen is certainly going to get the attention of bookies. The more ways someone can bet on a sport, the more they are likely to.

The player who was supposed to keep wicket for England in the first ever test match, Ted Pooley, was instead in jail in New Zealand. Apparently Pooley had bet on the individual scores of each batsmen: he said they would all score ducks and would claim £1 for each duck. Depending on reports there were between 8 and 11 ducks (the team they were playing had 22 players), and Pooley had been umpire. When the local businessman who was supposed to pay out didn’t, Pooley beat him up, which is why he was in jail. This was in 1877.

That was a fairly obvious case of something, either match fixing, bad umpiring, or a bad bet by the local businessman. Now it is not so easy to spot. Unless phone calls, tax records, or witnesses come forward, how can you stop a bowler in a largely meaningless televised T20 game, like in the IPL, Big Bang or in English County Cricket, ensuring his over goes for more than ten. Or for a batsman to ensure that the 33rd over is a maiden in a one-day match.

It is almost impossible; there are so many ways a cricketer to spot-fix a game, so few ways we can detect it, and a truckload of largely unimportant games for the players to fix in.

Some people have talked about education; making sure the players know that taking money or even just talking to bookies can lead to loads of shit. But if cricket has showed us anything it is that even someone with the education of L Ron Stanford (sure he only went to College in Waco, Texas, but he still went there) can be moved by money over honour.

When talking to one of my moles, I was told about ICL games that were so dodgy that both teams were trying to lose key moments at the same time. Some players reported that the games were so farcical, it was like they were scripted. If that were true, it meant that in one game of cricket, two loads of dodgy men had put money on poor performances for either side. Think of the level of corruption required in the game for that to happen.

This year in England’s domestic T20 event they are bringing in the ICC’s anti-match fixing unit to watch the games much more closely. This was probably brought about by the arrest of Mervyn Westfield and Danish Kaneria after suspected match fixing in an Essex Pro40 game last year. People who have seen Westfield bowl before are at a loss for words at the thought of him getting paid by bookies to bowl expensive overs in limited overs cricket, as they thought that is what Essex did.

I wouldn’t want to be the person in charge of finding spot fixing. Look at any Pakistani cricket game. Saeed Ajmal dropped three catches in one T20 match, Kamran Akmal refused to glove a ball cleanly against Australia, Mohammad Yousuf captained like it was his first game of cricket in the same game, Shahifd Afridi’s whole batting career must raise red flags and that is just the really blatantly obvious ones. It could be that all of these are match fixing, or that none are. How the fuck could we know?

Think about this scenario. An aging seamer is on his way out of international cricket, he is playing a one day international, and someone offers him 10,000 clams to bowl two wides in his 3rd over. He will make more with those two wides than he will playing close to ten ODIs. His international career is virtually over, he is cashing in, and all he has to do is remember to bowl two wides in his third over.

Do you think you could spot the difference between a bowler bowling two wides in an over on purpose or by accident?

Therein lies the problem. Unless the bookies are really poor with their choices of who they go after, or with the phone and money details, how would we know? We can’t rely on players as they are only human, some less so, the ICC can’t do much right, chances are they won’t make this their one victory and individual boards are likely to protect players involved as Australia has already done in the past. I’m not sure where that leaves us.

As fans we can do little more than hope more players forget to match fix like Herschelle Gibbs did, or the players and bookies involved make mistakes like they did with the newly born again sainted Hansie. Only a proper international scandal will make the bookies crawl back into their gutters for a while.

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