A not-so Gentleman’s game

New Indian Express

New Indian Express

Author 2019-11-04 06:20:00

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BENGALURU: The recent two-year ban on Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for failing to report multiple corrupt approaches has brought to the fore the muck in the Gentleman’s Game. And back home in Karnataka, corruption in cricket has been hogging headlines recently sans the  biggies of the game.

Cricket is a religion in India, and bookies look upon players as their cow. The process of milking the cow takes time, through risky betting, illegal in the country. The bookies are known for their mischievous ways of approaching players, who have at times, fallen prey to their various forms of lure. The Indian Premier League (IPL) players have fallen victim and now domestic leagues, including the Karnataka Premier League (KPL), have been caught in the vicious trap.

Ali Asfak Thara, owner of KPL team Belagavi Panthers, and drummer Bhavesh Bafna were arrested in September for alleged betting in the T20 league. Later, the Central Crime Branch dug up more dirt by arresting Bengaluru Blasters bowling coach Vinu Prasad and batsman M Vishwanathan.

So some questions arise. How do these bookies get access to players? How do they select their target? Why are they interested in state cricket leagues too? It is not an overnight task. Sometimes, bookies zero in on a player months leading up to a tournament and track social media accounts, especially Facebook and Instagram, where their photos narrate a bigger picture — it gives them an idea about his lifestyle, likes and dislikes.

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With help from their sources, bookies get information about team hotels too and book rooms accordingly to stay on the same premises. They track the players’ movements and study the kind of people they mingle with in parties. After having gathered enough details, they exploit the players’ weakness. Besides gadgets and branded clothes, some players are inclined towards alcohol and women, the latter being exploited by bookies, who introduce their target to a woman, who becomes ‘friends’. From there on, things are discussed about what needs to be done on the field and the honey trap, at times, proves to be successful.  These bookies have multiple SIM cards and dispose them of quickly to avoid being tracked by police. Most of the communication is done via apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, which makes it difficult to record calls.

However, new players — from the districts like in the KPL — become soft targets. Bookies target players from poorer backgrounds. They often introduce themselves as cricket agents, who then make fake promises. Some of them include getting a bat sponsorship deal, TV interviews and advertisements. They also promise players to help them get into the state team and IPL teams’ trials — a massive attraction.

Gradually, bookies gain their confidence and lure them into making easy money. Most of the players are not even aware of what they are getting into, but the thought of making quick money brings greed into the picture.

“They target domestic leagues for a reason. Many of the players involved in these tournaments are neither involved in the national team nor in the IPL, which means they make less money. It becomes easier for bookies to lure them,” said a former Board of Control for Cricket in India’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) official.  “They also look at older players, who do not have much cricket in them ... they tell them how they can make easy money towards the end of their career.”  

With the ACU in board, players are urged to report such approaches from bookies to them and the failure to do so could mean players being punished as well. After the players report, an investigation can be carried out and that is how the KPL fixing cases have come out in the open, leading to arrests as well.

Can such leagues be scrapped? No

A number of domestic T20 leagues have mushroomed in the country, including KPL, Tamil Nadu Premier League and T20 Mumbai League. But there is a problem. The BCCI ACU officials cannot be there with all teams 24X7, which gives bookies an opportunity to study targets easily. “One also has to understand that it is difficult for the BCCI to police all the leagues,” said the former ACU official.

With the kind of talent that emerges from various districts of the respective states, banning such leagues cannot be a solution. These tournaments give youngsters an opportunity to shine and grab the attention  of selectors and IPL scouts, which in turn could help them gain name and fame.

“So many domestic leagues is a problem ... but then you cannot stop these leagues as there are players, who view cricket as a career, and want to represent the state and wear the blue jersey for the country. These leagues are here to stay and banning them is not a solution,” added the former official.

Is there any solution?

A number of cricketing countries like the U.K., Australia and South Africa have legalised sports betting. In India, only horse race betting is legal. However, there are calls from several quarters to make sports betting legal. Even the 276th report of the Law Commission of India last year suggested it to be made legal. But the final decision has to be taken by the lawmakers in Parliament. “Legalising sports betting is definitely a good thing ... but I do not think it will stop corruption in cricket,” added the former ACU official.

Making it legal will bring in clarity on those involved in betting, and result in revenue for the government as well.And, current BCCI ACU head Ajit Singh, more importantly, wants to have a law against sports corruption. “We have no law against corruption in sports. That is what is required. Once it is in place, directly or indirectly, there would be a need for betting to be regulated as well,” Singh said.

The pak trio
In 2010, Pakistan captain Salman Butt allegedly asked Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir to bowl pre-planned no-balls against England. After spot-fixing charges were proved, ICC banned Salman Butt for 10 years (five were suspended), Mohammad Asif for seven (two) and Mohammad Amir for five

IPL
IPL 2013 saw Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila of Rajasthan Royals being arrested on charges of betting and spot-fixing. Sreesanth’s ban was overturned earlier this year. Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals were banned for 2 years from the competition due to alleged betting activities of Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra in IPL 2013. Meiyappan, ex-CSK Team Principal and Kundra, Royals’ co-owner were suspended for life in 2015

Know the terms

Betting
Gambling money on the outcome of a match 

Fixing
Influencing the result of a match by paying players/ coaches

Spot fixing
Influencing any specific moment of a match (Example: An over, getting out)

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