Monday, 30 December 2013

Test Match Debacle or Far-Eastern Betting Syndicate?

A two-horse race between two well-matched runners producing such a one-sided debacle would result in the stewards becoming involved looking for nobbling. 

We know that betting is illegal in India and much of the far-east yet continues on a massive scale. The industry - for that is what it is - runs on a gigantic scale. The criminal masterminds behind the scams and spot-fixing do not get to be in charge without being either very nasty pieces of work or by employing others to do the vicious stuff on their behalf. As in Prohibition Era USA, the ‘crime’ of betting is not seen as being such a bad thing by many citizens. Blind eyes are turned, bribes paid, justice bought and sold and a complete infrastructure established to maximise profits. Legitimate banks of computers are devoted to speeding large sums of currency around the world.

In Britain our regulators have been found to be complacent and way behind the game. The Pakistani spot-fixing affair highlighted an area of betting unbeknownst to our administrators. The idea that a wide would be bowled at a given time or a no-ball sent down between the 6th and 10th overs of a match seems small beer. Until you know the amounts changing hands on just such an incident. There was a spell some years ago when football betting was still in its relative infancy that a popular bet would be the timing of the first throw-in. Hardened pros cottoned onto this in no time and before long the opening minutes of a match would feature an ‘ambitious’ pass from the kick-off just over the head of a winger on either flank. Kerching.

Where betting is legitimate it is somewhat easier to monitor how much is being wagered and on what aspect of the game. A sudden rush of money on an obscure semi-pro midweek game in the Midlands sets alarm bells ringing. This does not apply to the vast majority of the illegal betting industry.

The latest allegations involve a player being paid to get himself sent off. Apparently the ref did not see the first attempt to assault an unfortunate opponent so the poor sod had to be attacked again to achieve the red card. Others are reported to have been paid for yellow cards. Match fixing follows as night follows day. There was a remarkable story of a match in the Russian 2nd division between a side top of the league, hosting one from the bottom who had not won a match all season away from home. The Wednesday before the game a local investigative journalist discovered the plot. The top team would rest many of their best players. They would not attack all game and also they would try to give away free kicks on the edge of their area until one was converted into a goal. At this point the game would die as neither side would attack and the result would stand as a shock 1-0 win to the lowly opposition. Remember this all came out before the game. Most folks would think that having had the fix rumbled there would be a change of plan at the very least. Not a bit of it. The ‘game’ was played exactly to script. And before anyone mounts their white horse and harrumphs all over the place about greedy footballers, there was a far darker side to the story. 2nd Division Russian players are not well paid. The Russian mafia is a powerful organisation with its tentacles in many corridors of power. Players were paid very little to fix the score. They knew their families - their wives and children, mums and dads - were at risk of something horrible happening to them on their way to school, or the shops - if they did not follow the script. 

Corruption is all pervasive. Remember the shock when Hanse Cronje was discovered to be fixing matches? A more upright pillar of the cricketing establishment it would be hard to find.
If Cronje could fix matches, then who else could? And is?

There have been moments of genuine head-scratching in this latest series, none more so than the collapse from a position of strength to one of abject weakness in the last test at the MCG. One incident shines out among the gloom. Ian Bell walked out to bat with England in a bit of trouble having just lost 3 quick wickets. It is a situation he is familiar with. The shot he played for his first ball to an ordinary non-spinning slow bowler takes some believing. A defensive prod? A huge heave? An exaggerated leave-alone? None of these. He chose to gently push a benign delivery 30 yards into the hands of an Aussie fielder. First Ball. 

Others bear scrutiny. When discretion was needed and teamwork partnering Kevin Pietersen was called for we had slogs and appalling shot selection. The non-spinning spinner finished up with 5 wickets.

Now what price would that have commanded in the Indian markets? And what price would the Aussies have got for coming back from so far behind? Great odds.

It is a thought which seems to have left the great commentariat untroubled. 

The alternative? That the England players sheds have gone is also possible. But too much happened on that day three which was inexplicable ----unless the dark side is considered. It should be part of the Inquest.

Update 5/1/14
The shambles that was the second innings this morning confirmed that their sheds have indeed gone. No respectable bookie could risk engaging such an inept bunch of failures in any betting scam.

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