Friday, 16 December 2016

Illegal gambling in Indian cricket using modern technology to stay one step ahead in fight against corruption


Mumbai used to be the epicentre of illegal betting in cricket, the place where the major syndicates ruled and fixed. It is a different game that is now being played - one less overtly threatening to the sport’s integrity, but still insidious.

It is no longer a question of who you know - that is, which cricketer has been entrapped by money or sex into fixing results or minor events during the match. It is a question of how many seconds you can be ahead of a game - like the fifth Test between India and England - by using the latest technology.

The two major syndicates that used to dominate cricket were, firstly, the one run by Dawood Ibrahim and his ‘D Company’ in Mumbai, which culminated in him being named India’s public enemy No 1. He now lives a quieter life in Karachi.

The second main syndicate was run by Chota Rajan, who had been Dawood’s No 2 until he broke away and set up his rival organisation in India. Rajan is now behind bars, leaving a vacuum which has been filled by the second generation of syndicates. These are not confined to Mumbai, but are spread around India, and not confined to India either, as they include syndicates in the south Asian communities of South Africa and the UK.

In the same way the syndicates have evolved, so have their methods. The traditional way to gamble was to visit a bookie operating at the back of a shop in an Indian city, until cellphones took off in the late 1990s. Now the punter has no idea who his bookie is: he is just a mobile number, and no money changes hands until the end of a World Cup or Indian Premier League tournament.

The number of scandals in international cricket has diminished since the heyday of the Qayyum Report into Pakistan’s cricket and the Central Bureau of Investigation into India’s around 2000. But sources close to Mumbai’s underworld say there is no reason to think there has been a downturn in the amount of illegal betting, because there are always compulsive gamblers out there, and India’s government has shown no intention of legalising the practice beyond on-course horse-racing.

Demonetization by the Indian government last month has had an impact on illegal betting on cricket, according to these sources. Cash is still in short supply after the withdrawal of 1000 and 500 rupee notes, so a moratorium has been declared and all the payments due after the 2016 IPL will not be paid until early next year.

But the changes which most affect the sport stem from technology. There is no longer a need to entrap a player and force him to under-perform, although it is useful to have some coaches on your books to tell you about team selection and batting orders - preferably those who themselves played in the 1990s, especially in Sharjah, when there were no rules against giving information to bookies and punters, or against match-fixing.

Bookies and punters now stay ahead of the game through pitch-siders - cricket’s equivalent of court-siders in tennis - who use their mobile phones at the ground to tell their client what has happened on the field several seconds before the event is broadcast on television. Exploiting this delay is the name of this game.

There is no technological reason why the delay between an event on the field and its appearance on a screen should be longer than five or six seconds, even if the picture has to go via satellite. Broadcasters may make that into seven seconds so they can pull the plug if a commentator swears or a player is overheard by the microphone inside the stumps, but even this “profanity law” does not require a delay of more than seven seconds.

In India now, a delay of 11 or 12 seconds is common. In 2015, The Hindustan Times reported a delay of 12 seconds in the IPL of that year. During the fourth Test between India and England in Mumbai, The Telegraph timed the delay between an event on the field and its appearance on television screens around the ground at 11-and-a-half seconds.

High-frequency antennae are also being developed, according to The Hindustan Times. A syndicate, bookie or punter that buys one can tap into the live-feed and find out what has happened several seconds before anyone watching on television.

The main role of the ICC’s security officers now is to eject spectators acting as pitch-siders, but it is not a battle they are going to win if the delay remains so lengthy.

Many bets are laid on the score at the end of a bracket of five or six overs (the powerplay) in a T20 internationals, or 10 overs in one-day internationals. If the pitch-sider can see the last ball of an over disappear for six and cash in on the delay - perhaps with legal as well as illegal bookies - he can exploit cricket without ever corrupting a cricketer.



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