Qatar-based news agency Al Jazeera has alleged following a sting operation that five international cricketers — three from England and two from Australia — were involved in spot-fixing in two Test matches against India. No Indian cricketer has been implicated in the sting, which has thrown the spotlight once again on spot-fixing.
Spot-fixing vs match-fixing
In spot-fixing, also called “session” betting, bookmakers place odds on possible outcomes in a session of play, such as the number of runs that will be scored or wickets that will be taken in that session of 10, 20 or 40 overs. In most cases, it’s a 10-over cluster on which odds are placed. Insider information from cricketers or pitch curators or umpires can affect betting trends.
The punter, the person who bets, can either buy or sell on the value/offer set by the bookmaker. He can buy (bet that there will be more runs than the opening value) or sell (bet on fewer runs). If the offer was, say, 30 runs in the 10-over session, and the punter sold it at Rs 1,000 and if the team scored 20 runs, the punter would get Rs 10,000, at Rs 1,000 for every fewer run. If they got more than 30, the punter would owe the bookie Rs 1,000 for each additional run.
Spot-fixing is easier for bookies to manage because betting on results needs the involvement of too many players. Also, short-phase betting suits the frenetic nature of T20, where a match typically swings from one side to another. This swinging is termed “colour” in Indian betting parlance. Punters might not get the exact details, but at times they are tipped off before the match starts that the game would have “colour”. The punters have to place the bet at the right time to make a bigger profit. Needless to say, insider information can help all parties concerned. When a team on top suddenly starts to slip, the odds on all immediately possible events start to fluctuate. Both bookmakers and punters prefer a “colour” game because of these numerous possibilities to bet on.
Tests in the sting
In the India-England Test in December 2016 in Chennai, Aneel Munawar, who the sting notes is part of a betting cartel run by Dawood Ibrahim’s D-Company, claims he has three players willing to do his bidding. He is seen telling the sting team to bet on a lower total than the number set by the bookmakers, and that the final over in that period would be manda (the sting explains it’s Indian betting parlance for an over in which no more than two runs are scored).
In the India-Australia Test in March 2017 in Ranchi, Munawar says he has two Australians on his rolls. In both episodes, the sting team says it went down exactly as predicted.
Chris Eaton, a veteran investigator who has worked with Interpol and FIFA, inspected the sting and match footage and told Al Jazeera: “It’s very compelling evidence. So compelling that it is almost inevitably true. Clearly, what he predicted took place exactly as he predicted… You can’t have so many coincidences in terms of what Munawar was predicting and what occurred.”
Although cricket betting is illegal in India, it is legal in many other countries where session bets can be placed on matches happening in India. The International Cricket Council (ICC) does not have the manpower or resources to curb this. One proposed solution, even suggested by the Justice Lodha Committee in its report to Supreme Court in the wake of the IPL spot-fixing scandal, is to legalise betting.