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Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy—A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld:Bloomsbury,232 pages, ₹ 345.
Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy—A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld:
232 pages, 345.

Quick Lit | Game changers

A British journalist examines the cricket betting industry in India

Too often, when a controversial topic is raised in cricket, or indeed any non-fiction book, the standard reaction is that it is the author’s or publisher’s ploy to garner sales. When Adam Gilchrist, in his biography True Colours, suggested that Sachin Tendulkar may have lied to protect Harbhajan Singh in the infamous “Monkeygate" scandal of 2008, angry reactions in India claimed it was a marketing gimmick.

So it is no surprise that when Ed Hawkins writes that the India-Pakistan semi-final of the 2011 World Cup was fixed, these allegations were met with similar reactions. This is not the only juicy bit in Hawkins’ book. It is strewn with examples of other matches being fixed, like the England-Sri Lanka Test in Cardiff, UK, in 2011. It features an extensive interview with former Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi, who says he faced attempts on his life thrice, and best of all, a description of how the betting industry works in India.

The central event around which Hawkins pieces together his narrative is the World Cup semi-final. India won the match after scoring 260 runs, aided by five or so dropped catches by Pakistan. Hawkins says he received a text message before the match stating more or less how the match was going to unfold. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has brushed off these allegations, and Hawkins is unable to prove or find out who fixed the match. While the evidence may be termed circumstantial, he gets a statistician to calculate the odds on someone predicting the match in such detail. The chances are 405-1.

Admittedly, reporting on the Indian betting industry is a bit thin, what with Hawkins basing most of his statements on two bookies he met over Twitter. But to be fair to him, it’s not as if people are queuing to be interviewed on this subject, which is illegal in India. One also gets the sense that cricket officialdom doesn’t want to talk much about it even though the ICC has an anti-corruption squad which is trying to plug loopholes.

What I found most interesting were details on how the Indian bookmaking system is organized around syndicates, and how it can manipulate the odds of a match. Hawkins suggests that there is no market for spot fixing—made famous by a News of the World sting on how Pakistani bowlers took money for bowling no balls against England in 2010—since the odds on such small events are astronomical. According to Hawkins, such fixes are aligned towards changing the odds in four main betting markers: The result, runs made in an inning, runs made in a 10 or 15-over session, and the midway favourite after the first innings in a One Day International.

Overall, the book makes for a fascinating read since so little has been written on the subject in so much depth.

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