A few weeks ago, I read the book “Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy” (I’ll call it BGFS) which was written by journalist, Ed Hawkins. With the current fixing scandal embroiling cricket and IPL, I thought I would share a few thoughts. Not really a review but hopefully I can provide some interest and insights in relaying Ed’s work, especially given the latest fixing scandal in IPL. I apologise to Ed Hawkins if I over simplify or get some detail wrong.
BGFS is about corruption in cricket, specifically relating to gambling and match fixing (as the book’s title does suggest). It was with great trepidation that I decided to read. I was concerned that I would never be able to take another game of cricket seriously if I read proof that all matches are fixed, as some say. Fortunately, that did not happen and I feel that my endless pursuit of the truth was rewarded. And in fact, in the end, I felt a little more comfortable with Warnie, Junior and “John the bookmaker” (more on that later).
Hawkins is a sports journalist, specialising in gambling. Can you believe that? I didn’t know such a job existed. I admit I lead a sheltered life. The premise of the book is that he created a Twitter account name that indicated he was into gambling and provided some free to the public information and tips. All above board. Over a period of time, he was contacted by illegal bookies in India and other places, and without letting on he was a journalist, nurtured relationships with these guys (by giving them scraps of information) that resulted in him going under cover in India to see how it all works.
The book stemmed from the infamous “spot fixing” case of Pakistan players, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt where they were charged and sentenced to prison for being paid to bowl no-balls at pre-arranged times during a Test match with England, at Lord’s in 2010.
One of the many interesting aspects of BGFS is that it explores and explains the betting markets in India. That is, what you can bet on. The options are limited. You can bet on who will win, who will lead on the first innings and how many runs (or what range of runs) will be scored in a bracket (e.g. overs one to ten). There is absolutely no market for betting on specific events, at a certain time. There is no market for betting on a no ball being bowled at a particular time. The Pakistanis were stung by a fabricated and unreal scenario arising from a newspaper wanting to have a story about corruption in cricket.
One of the main types of match fixing is rigging matches so that the fortunes of the favourite appear to fluctuate. This applies only to live betting. That is betting where you can place bets on a match during play. The odds change as the state of play changes. It does not apply to betting that closes before the start of play. If a bookie or gambler can influence the balance of a match to change, the odds will change and this can be used to advantage. For example, if a bookie has taken a lot of bets for the favourite to win, he will lose a lot of money if the favourite does win. However, if the favourite has some set backs during the match (say, a couple of quick wickets and slowing run tate), the odds will lengthen. The Indian market is so powerful that is affects markets in London almost immediately. The bookie then places bets on the favourite, at better (longer) odds than the bets against himself and can still make money.
With bracket betting, which only applies to limited overs formats, a no ball is a significant event. It adds runs, balls to be facaed and more importantly, a free hit. There could be some benefit in having the influence over players to get them to bowl on demand no balls. But this would not apply to Test cricket. With such a long match, a no ball is usually of little consequence to Test match.
This is what happened: An under cover newspaper man contacted a Pakistani bookmaker – Mazhar Majeed. Majeed was probably a bit green or he would have been suspicious – what would be the point of bowling a pre-arranged no ball in a Test match? Perhaps the premise was to prove Majeed had control of the players by getting them to bowl no balls on command. According to Hawkins, anyone who knew anything, including the players, should have known that there was no market or benefit to a fixed no ball or two. But in the end, the worrying thing is that the players were prepared to do it!
One of focal points of the book was the semi final between Pakistan and Indian in the 2011 World Cup. Theories around that match go from match fixing to conspiracy at the highest level! Remember that the match was played in Mumbai and Mumbai had been bombed not long before by Pakistani terrorists. Needless to say this was a powder keg and it is not inconceivable that the match was fixed at government level – imagine if Pakistan has have won. One of Hawkins’ prime exhibits in BFGS is that before the match he received a script for the match from one of his sources, including details of when wickets would fall, what scores would be made and the final margin. And the match followed that script quite closely.
It is certain that there is match fixing and it occurs at all levels of first class cricket and T20. Areas of greatest concern are those out of the spot light (such as County cricket) and where the players are less well paid and susceptible to earning a little extra income. Reverend James Pycroft wrote a book called “The Cricket Field” in 1851. Pycroft did a similar thing to Hawkins more than 150 years ago. He went under cover at the local pub (they didn’t have Twitter then) and laid bare the match fixing in the local cricket world. Where there is gambling, there is corruption. And where corruption is rife in general, why would it not extend to cricket?
Something I wasn’t looking for in the book was an exoneration of Mark Waugh and Shane Warne and their dealings with a certain Indian bookmaker. They have always maintained that all they did was provide weather and pitch information for some pocket money (it would be unAustralian to turn down easy cash, right?). I have always found it hard to believe that they could be paid so much money for such a trivial task but now I’m not so sure.
Hawkins does not address that case directly but does clearly state that Indian bookies want information, any inside information that can give them the edge in setting the odds and they are prepared to pay for it. Weather, pitch and team information are all important. Because he was English, Hawkins’ contact asked him to go to the England team hotel and find out something. Hawkins struck up a conversation with Ian Bell, who had just flown in found out that Bell would not be playing. Bell just answered a simple question but the bookie thought that was valuable information – England would have been shorter favourites if Bell was playing. Whatever Warne and Waugh did was irresponsible in my opinion but I am now inclined to believe their stories.
I don’t know how much corruption there is in cricket but it is certainly there and has been for a very long time. I guess I am prepared to (and it has to be said, want to) believe that Test cricket is less affected than some other forms, notwithstanding matches like the infamous SCG Test between Pakistan and Australia. And New Zealand’s routing at Lord’s this week. All out for 68? Australia had better hope that was a fix or they are in big trouble.