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Rediff.com  » Cricket » 'Match-fixing is on the decline; spot-fixing is easier'

'Match-fixing is on the decline; spot-fixing is easier'

November 28, 2012 08:29 IST

Cricket was scarred for life after the match-fixing episode in the late 1990s. It was only after the Delhi police came up with evidence against disgraced, late former South Africa captain Hansie Cronje, who was later banned for life in 2000, that the nexus between bookies and cricketers was exposed.

Since then, a lot of players received varying sentences for their roles in alleged match-fixing activities, the main among them being former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin, former Pakistan batsman Salim Malik and Manoj Prabhakar.

- Coverage: Match-fixing Episode-II

Recently, three Pakistani players were sentenced to jail for spot-fixing during a Test match in England in 2010.

British journalist Ed Hawkins recently created a storm with claims in his new book, Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A journey to the corrupt heart of cricket's underworld, that the India-Pakistan World Cup semi-final last year was fixed.

Hawkins worked as the betting correspondent for the Times, London, and also served as chief cricket tipster for betting website Betfair.com.

In an e-mail interview with Harish Kotian, he speaks about his experience with Indian bookies he met while writing the book, and why he believes India should legalise betting to wipe out the evil.

The title of your book is Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A journey to the corrupt heart of cricket's underworld. Can you tell us in brief what the book is all about?

The message, if you like, behind the book is to try to understand better how corruption in cricket works. The anatomy of match or spot-fixing. Then, analysing ways to help reduce it and what is being done right or wrong to reduce it.

You seemed to have taken a lot of risks en route to getting close to the bookies and underworld to gather material for the book. Some people advised you against it. Why did you risk your life for this book?

Well, I'd never thought of it like that. I suppose there was a risk. I didn't know the people I was meeting and there are many stories about the mafia in this business. Perhaps, it was just as well I didn't dwell on the risk. Perhaps, that was extremely foolish. However, the people I met were charming, and were decent people, trying to make a living and look after their families.

- Spot-fixing: how it works

There were three Indian bookies you were in touch with; they provided you a lot of insight as far match-fixing is concerned. How did you come in contact with them?

Bizarrely, they got in contact via Twitter. I wanted to meet bookies to better understand the illegal market. They told me how it all worked. In return, I sent them statistics for matches, links to weather radar, explanations of the D-L methods. Over time we became pen pals and the conversation was free and easy.

When your contacts realised you were coming out with a book, did they try and stop you or threaten you in any way?

Well, they didn't know. I felt that would impinge on what I was being told if they knew. But there have been no threats.

- Cricket's Hall of Shame

During your research into match-fixing, how many cricket matches have you come across that you believe were fixed?

Sadly, because of my experience I have doubts over all matches. That is because a spot-fix can be so subtle, so irrelevant; as simple as a batsmen playing out a maiden over. So I cannot watch the game in the same way again. I have concerns over the matches in the World Cup, particularly some of the group matches. I would also like to see an investigation into the World Cup semi-final.

The ICC and BCCI have already rejected your theory of that match being fixed. What is your reaction?

Not surprised, at all!

The ICC has a separate Anti-Corruption Unit. Do you believe enough is done by the authorities to keep the sport clean?

The ACSU guys work hard. But they are policemen, they need more betting expertise. They also need more staff. It is not right that there is one ACSU rep for every two teams at the international level. It seems crazy that the same guy is responsible for England West Indies, another guy for Australia and New Zealand. I could go on...

- The Paul Condon report on corruption in cricket

Does most of the match-fixing in cricket involve the Pakistan cricket team? Does match-fixing still exist?

No. This is a world problem. No-one is picking on Pakistan. Every country in the world is vulnerable, although, I think, match-fixing is on the decline. Spot-fixing is easier. Anyway, I don't think we should have two terms, because spot-fixing is viewed as less of a crime; it is just as bad. We should just call it match-fixing.

Have you reported extensively on sports betting? Do you think cricket is the easiest sport to fix matches or spot-fix?

Yes, it is easy because of the huge, illegal market in India and the huge interest in the game. The subtleties of the match make it easy to fix, too. But, I think, football has a problem bigger than cricket, I would say. There is a huge illegal market at work there in Asia and almost every league in Europe has been affected.

Do you believe cricket can ever be clean? What's needed to clean up the sport?

Not 100 per cent. For that to happen, human nature would have to change. There is always greed. You could have 21 players on the pitch and all would be highly moral. You only need one who is not. To help reduce it India could make fixing illegal and they could legalise the betting market. Legalising the market would help stamp out rogue punters who get their hooks into players. They would not be able to place their bets as there would be a paper trail, a suspect betting pattern. That is why fixes do not happen on legal markets.