The Daily Mail
Cricket is once again facing up to the spectre of corruption with the recent one-day international series between the West Indies and Pakistan set to be investigated over allegations of wrongdoing.
Suspicious betting patterns were identified during the low-profile five-match series, which concluded on Thursday, while unusually slow run-rates during certain overs followed by bursts of high scoring have ‘set alarm bells ringing’, according to industry experts.
Concerns have been raised, in particular, around the tied third match of the series played in St Lucia a week ago on Friday, as well as the final game, which resulted in a last-ball win for Pakistan on Thursday.
The second ODI, which saw Pakistan fail to score a run off the bat in the first five overs after being set 233 to win, will also be looked at.
One betting website reported unusually large sums of money — said to run into several millions of pounds — being wagered between innings on a tied result during the third ODI after the West Indies were set 230 to win from 50 overs.
Pakistan appeared to be cruising to victory, with their opponents still requiring 45 off the last 21 balls and only three wickets left.
But with the tail-enders scoring at more than four times the rate of most of their team-mates, West Indies scraped the unlikeliest of ties.
Field placings for the final over, when No 11 Jason Holder and fellow tail-ender Kemar Roach crashed 14 off six balls from Wahab Riaz, will be scrutinised by officers of the ICC Anti-Corruption and Security Unit (ACSU), along with a failed run-out bid off the last delivery.
Television commentator Ian Bishop, the former West Indies fast bowler, said at the time: ‘There is no way, no way, that you can convince me, whatever happens to this last ball, that Wahab Riaz and Misbah ul Haq have had this field right to the length they have been trying to execute,” he said.
“There is no one who can convince me of that, totally wrong,’ he added.
The fifth ODI, which saw Pakistan win by four wickets off the final ball, is also to be scrutinized. ACSU officers will also analyze patterns on spread-betting sites around the first 18 balls of the West Indies innings when only one run was scored.
‘There were suspicious betting patterns on a betting exchange,’ said betting expert Ed Hawkins, the author of Bookie, Gambler, Fixer, Spy.
“A suspicious pattern, simply, is a flood of money wagered on an outcome just before it happens,” he said.
“There were some noticeable examples of this during the West Indies-Pakistan series,” he added.
“In the tied match, a weight of cash arrived on the tie market before Pakistan’s innings,” he said.
Another passage of play, between the 29th and 34th overs, when experienced West Indies batsmen Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels were at the crease, will also be analysed in an effort to understand why just two runs were scored from five overs before 16 were hit off the 35th over.
ACSU investigators, who have been criticised in the past for failing to root out deep-seated corruption in cricket, will analyse betting patterns around those overs amid concerns that anyone with prior knowledge could have made a certain profit in the market for run predictions, which are usually based on totals in five-over ‘brackets’.
The same process will occur for the second ODI.
‘If I was presented with this level of information, I would want this series investigated,’ said ECB information manager Chris Watts, who is responsible for anti-corruption in domestic cricket in England. ‘There are some classic signs [of wrong doing].’
In May 2008, Samuels was suspended for two years. The West Indies Board said he had ‘received money, benefit or other reward which could bring him or the game into disrepute’. They looked into charges that Samuels had passed on team information to a bookmaker during a one-day series in India in January 2007, which he denied.
Key to any investigation will be to establish a link between illegal bookmakers, normally working on behalf of billionaire businessmen in India or the Middle East, and the players.
The ACSU have the power to access a player’s bank records and analyse mobile phone data.
Deleted text messages can be accessed through improved data retrieval methods.
‘Players know we are on the look-out for wrongdoing, but they also know it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,’ said an ICC source.
The ICC and their constituent governing bodies have introduced education programmes in recent years to warn players of the dangers of getting involved with the murky underworld of black-market betting and reminding them of the potential punishments if they are caught.
The ECB have looked to identify so-called ‘court-siders’ at county games who have the opportunity to interact with players, potentially garnering information about pitch conditions and teams.
Strict limits on the processing of mobile data at county grounds have also been implemented in an effort to stop ‘court-siders’ passing real-time information on to bookies.
Last week, two individuals were ejected from the T20 game between Northants and Somerset at Wantage Road after being caught by ECB anti-corruption officials phoning live commentary to the sub-continent.
The nine-second time delay between live action and the TV broadcast in India is enough for ‘market manipulation’.
The ECB say there have been 17 incidents this season, with 14 individuals removed from 13 different county grounds and they are putting pressure on broadcasters to reduce the gap between real-time action and when it is broadcast ‘live’.
In May, six illegal bookmakers were arrested by Indian police for their alleged role in fixing matches during the lucrative Indian Premier League.
Since then, liquidity in the Betfair market, largely driven by money from cricket-obsessed India, has dropped ‘dramatically’, according to one industry insider.
ACSU investigators face a tough job to establish a link between on-field behaviour and insider trading.
Many markets are almost impossible to track, with trades carried out illegally in India and the Middle East.
The ICC are expected to request more detailed information from legitimate bookmakers to try to identify potential wrong-doing surrounding West Indies v Pakistan, though with many online firms registered offshore for tax purposes, they are not obliged to provide information on their customers’ activity.
A ‘memorandum of understanding’ exists between sites such as Betfair but they do not come under the remit of the Gambling Act, which requires high street bookmakers in the UK to notify the publically owned Gambling Commission as well as the respective governing body of any suspicious behaviour.
The ICC’s anti-corruption unit were approached for an official statement but replied: ‘It is our policy not to comment on any investigtion, ongoing or otherwise.’
Betfair declined to comment, while a Pakistan Cricket Board spokesman said: ‘We have no knowledge of an ICC investigation.’ The West Indies Board were unavailable for comment.
How fixers work:
- There are many ways for unscrupulous fixers to target cricket, with huge sums bet online for every televised match, much of it deriving from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
- Betting is illegal in India, so there is no paper or electronic trail for bets. This means bookies and fixers can launder money easily.
- The average amount bet on a one-day international is £15m, with legitimate online sites such as Betfair and Sporting Index offering markets on anything from the number of runs scored in a five-over ‘bracket’ to the number of wickets a player will take in the series.
- The five-over ‘brackets’ are especially vulnerable to manipulation, with prior knowledge of a player’s intentions potentially worth millions of pounds.
- Illegal gambling syndicates often have a network of ‘employees’ — with the majority of activity, but by no means all, emanating from the Middle East and India.
- Crucial to any syndicate intent on fixing matches is access to players. There are several ways of ‘grooming’ players, including lavishing gifts, offering them cash incentives or even, as has been the case in some cases in India, employing beautiful women to initiate contact between the player and the syndicate.
- Bookies will try to befriend players and, despite stringent ICC rules about player access, have even been known to book hotel rooms long in advance of a tour and paying corrupt hotel employees to ensure they stay on the same floor as the team.
- The captain of the team is seen as the most important when it comes to carrying out a fix. The captain is in charge of all on-field strategy such as field settings and bowling changes and influences the outcome of a game.
- So-called ‘court-siders’ have been targeted this season in an effort to identify possible fixers who are passing real-time information back to bookies from games, in order to manipulate markets before the nine-second time-delayed broadcasts show play ‘live’.
Indian Premier League
The tournament has been shrouded in controversy since its inception and, in May this year, its reputation hit a new low when three players — Sree Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan — were arrested on suspicion of spot-fixing. So far 11 bookmakers and other associates have been arrested.
One of those held in Mumbai was actor Virender ‘Vindoo’ Dara Singh. He led the police to Meiyappan Gurunath, a top official of Chennai Super Kings and son-in-law of Board of Cricket Control in India president N Srinivasan.
Bangladesh Premier League
Another lucrative Twenty20 event engulfed by controversy.
In May the ICC began investigating the tournament, and some English players and umpires who took part in the BPL have since been questioned, while Dhaka captain Mohammad Ashraful has admitted his part in fixing a game.
The Bangladesh Cricket Board hired the ICC’s anti-corruption team for an investigation in 2013 after Shariful Haque, a former international spinner, was found guilty of spot-fixing in the 2012 competition and was then banned indefinitely.
Mervyn Westfield’s conviction for spot-fixing in Essex’s CB40 game against Durham in 2010 brought the reality of corruption to the heart of English cricket. A 2011 game between Kent and Sussex remains the subject of a continuing investigation.
With more county cricket now being televised in India, and a rise of ‘mercenary’ players moving from one global tournament to another with little or no team loyalty, the threat of corruption has arguably never been greater.