Sunday, September 5, 2010

Can you Spot Match-fixing?

After raising some of the issues related to our student lives, this time I would focus on a topic that I would, honestly speaking , not have wanted any further discussion on. The topic is “match fixing”. Back in the early 1990’s when I devoted considerable time analyzing even remote things associated with cricket; I was really shocked when a series of well known cricketers were implicated in it. It was disturbing to say the least as I really loved the game and still continue to do so (though the time devoted has come down considerably)    
But it seems that greed is too humane a tendency to buckle down against feeling of patriotism, professionalism or ethics. The incidences over the years have thrown some interesting features about this phenomenon or should I say menace. Let us discuss a few of them.  

First is the variety of ways in which bets can be placed or different ways in which outcomes can be influenced. Those familiar with betting on soccer games especially during the recent FIFA world cup must be aware of odds being placed on more than just the final outcome of the match. It could be number of corners, red cards, yellow cards, goal difference etc. Similarly other sports also provide enough opportunities as well as ways to bet. I will discuss two types of fixing that normally take place in cricket and try to see if both of them finally converge at some point or substitute the other in different formats. 

The first method is “match-fixing”. In simple words, it is fixing or predetermining the final outcome of the match by the fixers or bookies. It is also known as game fixing, race fixing, or sports fixing. A fixed match will have a team throwing away a match i.e. playing badly or under performing. It should not be confused with “tanking” which means under-performing without gamblers involvement. A team might do it to avoid a tough draw or facing a tough opponent early in the knockout stage. One can safely say that in a team sports like cricket, match fixing will call for involvement of more than just one player i.e. “The more the merrier”. In cricket as the captain makes a lot of decisions so he is the prized catch for the bookies. But with heightened scrutiny, it is becoming increasingly tougher to fix matches.

So as smart innovators, the bookies have used other form of fixing which is generating a lot of heat nowadays. This is “spot fixing”. Spot fixing is fixing events within the match. This could be as simple as who will bowl the fourth over to something as complicated as a particular batsmen getting out caught in the slips before scoring fifteen. Some of the eye-popping no-balls in the recent England-Pakistan could very well be the examples of spot fixing. You can see that even a single player can deliver for you in spot-fixing. By the way, my emphasis on players by no means suggests that the match officials or referees can’t be involved in it. After all they too are human.
Now comes the convergence aspect of the two or interchangeability. The shorter the version, the more effectively spot fixing can replace match fixing. A bad over may not cost you a test match but it can influence a one-dayer and even worse can simply change the course of a T20 match. After all the margins of defeat or victory do progressively come down from Test matches to 50 over and is lowest for a T20. But the toughest part is that of detection. One can smell the rat if something unusual happens in the course of the match. The longer the version, the easier it is to detect. As keen followers of the game, we do remember even though vaguely a 20 runs-over that cost us a one-day international or a spinner opening the bowling say in the 1992 world cup. On the other hand in a fast paced T20 match, such unusual tricks and incidences may be quite commonplace and at the same time can turn the match on its head. Thus effectively spot fixing can effectively do in T20 what match fixing might hope in a 50-over affair.     

Some cricket lovers feel that as evil should be nipped in the bud so even “spot fixing” should be tackled with iron hands. They may be right but who knows that the bud is already a well-grown thorny cactus. The off-field events surrounding the IPL don’t exude much confidence either.    

To end on a lighter note, let me ask you a question. Why in most match fixing instances, we have Indian bookies and Pakistani cricketers? The answer; the Indian makes maximum money out of cricket but a Pakistani just hopes to make that much (he may actually make minimum as he hardly gets a chance to play).

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