Cricket ‘By Chance’

Astonishing amount of money was involved in the third season of the IPL. Betting was much easier this time, thanks to basic mobile phones which were turned into dedicated betting lines
Sandeep Kumar Delhi

Experts say outcome in a fair game of cricket depends upon uncertainties or the 'chance factor' to quite an extent. This 'chance factor', however, loses innocence when seasoned cricketers start dropping obvious catches, fielders start flinging the ball in the wrong direction, fast bowlers start throwing a flurry of full-tosses, wide or no balls and batsmen begin exhibiting an eagerness for early retirement from the field, without any of these players putting up a solid fight against the opponent. 

For instance, the third season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) was marked by so many apparently rigged matches, especially if you ask the devout cricket fans and game analysts. The entire IPL 3 seems to have been stung by a vulgar and massive betting market. Going by rough estimates, there was betting worth Rs 5,000 crores in India itself and for another Rs 13.5 crore through bookmakers in the UK. 

It appears that several shopkeepers, employees and even college students took part in betting this time in India. There was much gossip about the 'rates' and favourite players doing the rounds. Words like khaya (to take bribe) and lagaya (to bet) entered common parlance in markets, parks, offices, colleges and multiplexes more than ever. 

Gone are those days when betting took place clandestinely in small, shady rooms or godowns. With mobile technology reaching a peak with introduction of third generation phones, a basic CDMA phone would suffice to connect to a bookie, where running commentary and betting slots could be easily heard by paying a paltry sum of Rs 3,000 to any punter or fixer. Following is a list of some of the matches that created an element of doubt of match-fixing during this season:

Match No. 31: Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) had to meet a mammoth target of 181 set by Kings XI Punjab at the PCA stadium, Mohali. RCB needed 48 runs in last four overs to win the match. Robin Uthappa's willow was raining sixes and Kevin Pietersen was batting well on the other end. Suddenly, not only two catches were dropped on consecutive balls, Kumara Sangakkara tumbled down and kicked the ball past the boundary line gifting crucial runs to RCB. The Kings lost the match.

Match 37: Mumbai Indians (MI) were playing against Chennai Super Kings (CSK) on their home turf. Till the ninth over, MI were the hot favourites. The strategic time-out was taken at the end of the ninth over. The MI were sitting pretty at 62 runs for the loss of one wicket. At this point the betting rates took a u-turn and CSK became the new hot favourites. 

Interestingly, Sachin Tendulkar, who was batting comfortably earlier, did not come out to bat citing dehydration as the reason. Sachin, otherwise, has a record of standing on the wicket for full fifty overs in the longer format of the game. Within a matter of just three overs, MI lost six more wickets and CSK won the match comfortably by 24 runs. They later went on to win the IPL season 3. 

Match 46: Even before the clash between RCB and Deccan Chargers (DC) began, the betting meters seemed to be swaying in favour of DC. Chasing 151 runs, RCB were sitting comfortably at 93 for the loss of two wickets at the end of 13 overs. They needed another 58 runs to win from 42 balls with eight players yet to hit the pitch. The batsmen needlessly went aerial and gifted their wickets to waiting fielders. RCB were bowled out for 138 runs and yet again, the punters had the last laugh. 

Furthermore, the man in charge of this whole business - Lalit Modi - seemed to know the results well in advance. At least if what he tweeted is to be trusted. His lucky guesses were always bang on target. Expressing surprise, predicting winners, he fashioned himself as the perfect soothsayer. However, the controversial tweets have now been deleted from his account.

Kings XI Punjab, a franchisee allegedly owned by Bollywood starlet Preity Zinta, is a strong team with the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Kumara Sangakkara, Shaun Marsh and Brett Lee. But the team performed miserably this season, losing four and winning one match in the first half of the tournament. However, the team from Punjab was back in reckoning by defeating some big teams like the MI, Delhi Daredevils and Kolkata Knight Riders towards the end of the tournament. 

Even the performance of DC, who lost five-six straight games and then went on to win six consecutive matches, raises suspicion. Sources told Hardnews that this was deliberately done to keep the suspense and excitement alive. As Modi tweeted, "IPL seems to be the most competitive tournament in the world."

What also can't go unnoticed is the way some bombs were found at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru, which led the semi-final clash to be shifted to Navi Mumbai. The Karnataka government blamed the underworld for the incident, claiming that it was the betting mafia that wanted the change of venue. A petition was also filed in the Karnataka high court.  

Additionally, a website owned by IPL's official, digital-media partner - Global Cricket Ventures - reportedly offered money for predicting the outcome of the semi-final and the final clash. Lalit Modi's step son-in-law Gaurav Burman has a stake in the company. The match between the MI and the RCB during semi-finals and the final match between MI and CSK had crores at stake in the betting market, if sources are to be believed. 

The minimum betting amount seems to have shot up from Rs 1,000 to Rs 25,000! Large amount of money was at stake regarding availability of Sachin Tendulkar for the final match, with rates fluctuating every passing hour. Sachin injured his right hand during the semi-final match against RCB and raised doubts about his participation in the final game. 

Meanwhile, some news reports have suggested that certain players were themselves involved in match-fixing and could have altered the course of the game. Betting and match-fixing are not a new phenomenon in Indian cricket. With crores at stake, some players are bound to fall prey to the lucrative trade that cricket has transformed into. Only an extensive investigation by the government or concerned agencies will prove whether there exists a nexus between the players and the punters.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2010

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