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Cricket in Cyberspace

I have often thought about the concept of cricket in cyberspace.  That is, the internet allows me to follow cricket in so many ways that were previously unavailable.  In the old days, we were reliant television, radio and newspaper.  But that limited a person to cricket involving their native land, and in more recent times, required one to have pay TV as less and less cricket was made available on free-to-air radio and TV.  As I said, I have been aware of the bounty on offer on the world wide web for quite some time but due to a certain event, have only recently started to make use of it.

That event was I became sick of my household using our monthly download allowance before the end of the month.  I called my provider and selected a plan offering a capacity that I could never hope to use in one month.   For now.  This presented the challenge of trying to get value for money and using as much of the allowance as possible.

My first endeavours in this area were to watch streamed, live coverage of the Australia versus India Test series in India.  Please don’t tell anyone because I am sure that I consumed an illegal product, but I watched a lot of that series and enjoyed it immensely.  But then that was over.

I have never been a big Youtube user but it occurred to me that every bit of TV ever screened has been uploaded by some enthusiast or other.  This theory held true for cricket.  More than I could have hoped for.

I started by thinking of events that I had never seen, that I have wanted to see.  For example, I decided to watch Michael Clarke take 6-9 on his first, rollicking tour of India.  Naturally, I held true to the new age of instant gratification and only watched that.  I didn’t bother to watch the ensuing collapse as Australia failed to score the 106 runs required for victory in that same match.

Then I watched highlights of the 1999 world cup semi final between South Africa and Australia.  The tie.  I watched only highlights of the second innings and what a match.  Surely the best one day match ever.  I did actually watch that one live but the match was so exciting that I got tense all over again, watching it on Youtube, 14 years later.

Aside from getting side tracked by all of those suggested videos down the right hand side (e.g. 8 impossible short leg catches, Malinga 4 wickets in 4 balls, the 10 best catches ever etc), I decided to watch some close finishes that I had never seen.  In my living memory, I could recall Australia having lost by one wicket on three occasions and on all of those occasions, they had chances to win – but I had never seen those missed chances, nor the final stages of those matches.

The first I looked at was Australia versus India in Mohali, October 2010.  India won by one wicket on the back of a big eight wicket partnership.  While on the subject of technology, I remember following the final stage of that match, walking home from the station with my daughter and we were following the Cricinfo ball-by-ball commentary on her phone!  Anyway, it got to nine wickets down with a handful of runs to go.  Wouldn’t you know it, there was a big appeal for lbw which even the Cricinfo scribe thought was out and Billy Bowden gave it not out.  I wanted to see that.

With the wonders of Youtube, I did see it.  And there it was.  Billy denied Ponting what would have been his only Test win in India and as it turned out, his last away win as captain.  Hawkeye showed that the ball would have hit middle, half way up.  It was stone cold out.  But at least we found out why Billy gave it not out.  In the confusion and excitement of the moment, the batsman (Ojha) came down the pitch.  Steve Smith swooped in, collected and threw at the stumps.  Had he hit, Ojha would have been run out.  But he didn’t and it went for four overthrows, which were given to Ojha.  Billy ruled that the batsman had hit the ball but replays showed he didn’t.  To my mind, Billy Bowden has been a notorious non-giver of lbws and for that reason alone, I supported the direct referral system (DRS).

I also watched the conclusion of the Pakistan versus Australia Test at Karachi in September 1994. That was Tubby Taylor’s first Test as captain.  He made a pair but nonetheless, Australia was in a good position to win.  But Pakistan managed an unbeaten 57 run partnership for the final wicket.  In a true climax, Warne bowled to Inzamam-ul-Haq.  Inzi came down the pitch and was comprehensively beaten.  As was Healy who missed the stumping as the ball grazed the stumps.  The ball went for four byes and the match was over!  I heard that Healy was distraught at losing the match for Australia, but on finally seeing that dramatic moment, it was a very difficult chance and quite forgivable.

And finally, West Indies versus Australia in the third Test in 1999.  Lara scored an unbeaten 153 to lead his side to victory by one wicket.   However, with the West Indies almost at their target, and still two wickets in hand, Lara edged to Healy, who dropped a sharp chance in front of first slip.  The ninth wicket did fall in the next over and had Healy taken the chance from Lara, Australia most likely would have won.  I was glad to see all of that and much more from “the vault”, as we might call it.

And finally, surfing in Cyberspace has the potential to educate egocentric perspectives.  For the many Australians who have dined on a diet of parochial local commentary, and until recently, enjoyed a lengthy period of domination for their team, they might be excused for thinking that the world of cricket was Australia’s oyster.   It has been eye opening to see that Australian cricketers are much maligned.  Videos abound that are titled things such as “Cheating Aussies”, “Ponting caught cheating again” and “Sunil Gavaskar serves it up to cheating Aussies”.  You can’t inadvertently claim a catch from a bump ball and go unnoticed!

And in the same vein but on a more civilized note, I watched highlights of the 2005 Ashes series.  These were excellent and were prepared for British TV.  They say that the victors write history!  It was ironic to see the anchor man for the Australian cricket channel, Mark Nicholas, showing his true colours for the British channel.  As I said, the highlights package was excellent, even allowing for the abrasive Simon Hughes and it was comforting to see the Brits are every but as parochial as the Aussies.  It was great to hear things from the English perspective.  Australia may have ultimately lost by just two runs at Edgbaston but it was amusing to hear desperate Pommies recounting the ordeal as Australia inexplicably closed in on the target.  I’m off now to watch some more footage from the Youtube archives.

Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy

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.

Ashes Mind Games Begin

Surrey has done its bit for England by giving Chris Rogers a double century in the recently concluded County match against Middlesex, at Lord’s.  And the ploy appears to be working.  Australian head selector, John Inverarity is in raptures.  Mickey Arthur is excitedly texting Rogers not to use up all his runs.  Rogers is on the right track to get out of the “One Test Wonder Club” and several incumbents in the Australian top order should be concerned.

I have to admit that I was rather surprised when Chris Rogers made the Ashes squad.  It is true that Australia is poor in Test batting assets.  And possibly the selectors were trying to bring some experience into the squad.  But bringing in an old guy for its own sake isn’t the answer.  Rogers will have his 36th birthday six days after the end of the 5th Test.  He has played just one Test and that was more than five years ago.

So is Rogers just an old guy who will add some experience to the team?  I had to have a look at the Sheffield Shield stats to get some idea.  Firstly, on stats, Rogers deserves selection.  He was easily one of the best performed in 2012-13.  He was 3rd highest run scorer and had the fourth highest average of batsmen with more than 400 runs for the season.  But to put that in perspective, Ricky Ponting who had struggled for his place in the team was the lead run scorer and had the best average – by miles on both counts.

What it does highlight, is just how bare the cupboard is.  Aside from the handful around the 50 mark, the averages for most of the top run scorers were mid-twenties to high thirties.  Gone are the days when aside from the Test batsmen, the Sheffield Shield had evergreens such as Martin Love, Greg Blewitt, Jamie Cox, Stuart Law, Michael Bevan and Brad Hodge churning out the runs and averaging over fifty. I have heard it said that on the whole, pitches for the Shield this year were bowler friendly.  But how friendly?

At any rate, Chris Rogers may well be rewarded for skipping IPL (and maybe he didn’t get any invitations) and going to England for County cricket.

Minnows enmeshed in series deadlock

The first year of IPL was good.  Interesting.  Exciting.  Especially as Warnie guided his Royals to the inaugural trophy on a sea of euphoria.  The second season was also good as Gilly lead Deccan to win the trophy, as the IPL was held in exile, inSouth Africa.  Six years later, I am over it.  I don’t even know what happened last year.  And certainly not the year before.

This year, I did notice Chris Gayle scored 175 from 66 balls or something.  And every fourth ball he received went over the fence.  That is a little stunning.  I suppose we should be expecting him to make 400 in a 50 over match some time soon.  And Michael Hussey and Shane Watson keep piling on the runs, but I suspect neither will helpAustralia’s cause inEngland, come July.

In such a drought of first class cricket, it was welcome whenBangladeshwent to play a two Test series inZimbabwe.  I was expecting that we would find out who was the weakest Test nation but I really wasn’t sure who it would be.  As it turns out, we didn’t even find that out butBangladeshwon their fourth Test ever. Zimbabwewon the 1st Test by over 300 runs, with Brendan Taylor scoring a century in each innings andBangladeshbeing routed for less than 150 in both innings.  In fact,Taylorfailed by just eight runs to beatBangladeshoff his own bat.

In a fine effort, Bangladesh bounced back and won the 2ndTest by 143 runs.  It was a good team effort and in somewhat of an oddity, Bangladesh batsmen numbers 5, 6 and 7 scored half centuries in both innings while no others managed it in either.  All-in-all  it wasn’t a bad series.  In more good news, New Zealand will soon arrive in England for some Test cricket.

The first year of IPL was good.  Interesting.  Exciting.  Especially as Warnie guided his Royals to the inaugural trophy on a sea of euphoria.  The second season was also good as Gilly lead Deccan to win the trophy, as the IPL was held in exile, inSouth Africa.  Six years later, I am over it.  I don’t even know what happened last year.  And certainly not the year before.

This year, I did notice Chris Gayle scored 175 from 66 balls or something.  And every fourth ball he received went over the fence.  That is a little stunning.  I suppose we should be expecting him to make 400 in a 50 over match some time soon.  And Michael Hussey and Shane Watson keep piling on the runs, but I suspect neither will helpAustralia’s cause inEngland, come July.

In such a drought of first class cricket, it was welcome whenBangladeshwent to play a two Test series inZimbabwe.  I was expecting that we would find out who was the weakest Test nation but I really wasn’t sure who it would be.  As it turns out, we didn’t even find that out butBangladeshwon their fourth Test ever. Zimbabwewon the 1st Test by over 300 runs, with Brendan Taylor scoring a century in each innings andBangladeshbeing routed for less than 150 in both innings.  In fact,Taylorfailed by just eight runs to beatBangladeshoff his own bat.

In a fine effort, Bangladesh bounced back and won the 2nd Test by 143 runs.  It was a good team effort and in somewhat of an oddity, Bangladesh batsmen numbers 5, 6 and 7 scored half centuries in both innings while no others managed it in either.  All-in-all  it wasn’t a bad series.  In more good news, New Zealand will soon arrive in England for some Test cricket.