EXCLUSIVE: The truth behind the amazing story that exposed cricket's dirty secrets
23:57 GMT, 11 November 2012
The sentencing in November 2011 of three Pakistani cricketers and their agent for their involvement in the Lord’s spot-fixing scandal a year earlier apparently brought to an end one of the most shocking episodes in the history of cricket corruption.
Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir and Mazhar Majeed were all shown to be corruptible by their roles in the deliberate no-balls that had marred the third Test against England – and paid the price with jail terms. But could their actions, as the judge said, have actually defrauded bookmakers Is it possible to place a bet on the precise timing of a no-ball
In the second exclusive extract of his new book about corruption in cricket, Ed Hawkins re-examines the crucial details of the News of the World (NotW) sting, and explodes some of the myths behind the story that rocked the game…
Scandal: The News of the World published their allegations against three Pakistani players in August 2010
The story of Pakistan’s tour of England in the summer of 2010 would have made good reading as a thriller. Intrigue, infamy, cash in suitcases, back-stabbing, even sex, thanks to Veena Malik, the former girlfriend of Asif having her say, and, finally, courtroom drama.
Butt, the Pakistan captain, Asif and Amir, the two fast bowlers, and Mazhar Majeed, the fixer, were each sentenced to prison for their part in bowling no-balls to order in the fourth Test at Lord’s in August of that year. The four men, who all blamed one another for the crime, had been charged with conspiracy to accept corrupt payments and conspiracy to cheat at gambling.
It was considered a disastrous day for cricket. It was, however, considered a great day for investigative journalism.
Hidden cameras showed Majeed talking to undercover journalist Mazher Mahmood, perhaps best known as the ‘Fake Sheik’.
Majeed was seen to propose three no-balls during the Lord’s Test, two to be bowled by Amir and one by Asif. For this information he was paid 150,000.
‘Caught!’ screamed the NotW headline under a ‘world exclusive’ banner. ‘Match-fixer pockets 150k as he rigs the England Test at Lord’s’. And ‘We expose betting scandal that will rock cricket’.
Butt received two years and six months, Asif one year, Amir six months and Majeed two years and eight months. The story that had everything was a bestseller. But did it really have everything The answer is, unquestionably, no.
Sentenced: Amir (left), Butt (centre) and Asif (right)
In the backstreets of every Indian city, in outbuildings or bedrooms of crumbling apartments, never did a bookmaker cry ‘souda fok!’ – ‘all bets are off, it’s a fix’. In other words, there was no betting scam. There was no spot-fix.
It is the great irony of this tale. A story purported to be the latest in a litany of match-fixing scandals in the sport was far removed from the illegal Indian market where the ‘fix’ supposedly had its roots.
‘It seemed clear to me they that had been scammed,’ an Indian bookmaking contact told me. Recordings by the newspaper showing Majeed, a Croydon-based businessman, predicting when the no-balls were to be bowled would appear proof of match-fixing or spot-fixing to the layman.
But to anyone with a semblance of betting knowledge it was anything but. The NotW spent 150,000 and failed to get a bet on. The money paid was for Majeed to prove that he could control the Pakistan players.
Amid the media storm, not once was the question asked: if the newspaper had wanted to make money betting on the Indian market on those no-balls, could it have done so
Everyone in the Indian book-making world I have spoken to has confirmed it is not possible to bet on the timing of a no-ball.
Yet it was convenient for the media to ignore this point. It would have spoiled the story. The illegal Indian market is a monster. It is vast. It is unregulated. But it is structured and it is certainly not complacent.
No-ball: Amir oversteps at Lord's with Butt watching on
‘Do you think we’re fools’ one Indian bookie told me. ‘If someone says they want this no-ball bet for big monies and I’m Ladbrokes, I tell them to go away. No bookmaker in the world takes this bet.’
The reason would be that they suspected you had inside information. And it is no different in India.
You could argue that in the case of the Pakistan ‘spot-fixing’, it is irrelevant that one would not have been able to bet on a no-ball. The three Pakistan players were shown to be guilty of corrupt practices. They were cheating the game, their team-mates and the spectators.
And you would be absolutely right, but only if the court they were being tried in and the judge who would sentence them were aware that a no-ball is not a betting opportunity in India.
The court was not aware. The judge was not aware. This much is clear from the erroneous sentencing remarks by the Hon Mr Justice Cooke: ‘Bets could be placed on these no-balls in unlawful markets, mostly abroad, based on inside advance knowledge of what was going to happen…
Individuals in India were making 40,000–50,000 on each identified no-ball. On three no-balls, therefore, the bookmakers stood to lose 150,000 on each bet by a cheating punter.’
Butt, Asif, Amir and Majeed went to prison for charges that included ‘conspiracy to cheat at gambling’. If there was no bet placed, if there was no opportunity to even place that bet and therefore no one was defrauded, can anyone be guilty of such a charge
Mr Justice Cook said the NotW had ‘got what they bargained for’. Yet without their money, those no-balls would not have been bowled.
Media scrum: Amir arrives in court for the case
Nor would the no-balls have been bowled if Majeed was the fixing kingpin, as he was portrayed. The sting would surely have been drawn from the News of the World if Majeed was indeed the experienced fixer that he claimed to be.
In sales chatter to impress the undercover journalist, Majeed boasted of his knowledge and expertise in the field: ‘I’ve been doing this with the Pakistani team now for about two-and-a-half years, and we’ve made masses and masses of money. You can make absolute millions.’
Majeed said it would cost 400,000 to fix the result of a Twenty20 match, 450,000 for a one-day international and 1million to fix a Test match. There was no mention of how much a no-ball would cost because Majeed, correctly, did not believe one could bet on such an outcome.
Yet when the News of the World reporter was talking about placing bets on no-balls, Majeed, instead of hearing alarm bells ringing in his head, heard the ringing of the cash register.
Had money not been on his mind, he might have recognised he was being set up. Instead, he was focused on providing the no-balls that had been demanded, believing that if he could prove that Pakistan players were under his control, there would be more money to come: ‘I’m going to give you three no-balls, OK … right’
Majeed was true to his word. On the first day of the Lord’s Test, Amir bowled a no-ball from the first ball of the third over and Asif overstepped on the sixth ball of the 10th over. The third was not delivered because poor weather cut play short.
Outraged: England players react as Amir comes out to bat the day after the allegations
Keen to reassure his ‘sponsor’ that a third no-ball would still be delivered, Majeed rang the journalist that evening.
He told him that Amir would bowl a no-ball off the third ball of his third full over as he still had three balls to bowl the next morning following the disruption. Majeed confirmed this with Amir via text message.
However, for an unknown reason, Majeed attempted to get the ‘fix’ called off. He phoned the journalist, telling him that there ‘was no point doing the third now’. It is this volte-face that is crucial in exposing Majeed’s inexperience.
Alarmed at the prospect of his scoop losing some lustre, the journalist thinks quickly and tells Majeed that he must go through with the third no-ball because his ‘syndicate’ has already placed the bets.
This is important.
The ‘syndicate’ is claiming to have placed wagers on the timing of no-balls before the match had started. ‘So you can place money on the no-balls then’ Majeed asks. The journalist says yes. ‘What sort of monies’ says a surprised Majeed. This is the partially-sighted leading the blind.
If Majeed had been the shrewd, shady operator that he claimed to be – and the NotW had been only too willing to enhance this ‘reputation’ – then he would have immediately recognised that the journalist was lying.
Indeed, Majeed’s ignorance is stupefying. For a start he should have known that it was not possible for the syndicate to place these bets on a market that did not exist.
Secondly, a fixer well-connected to the Indian industry would have known that, even if such a market did exist, it would have been out of the question to have already placed such a wager before the Test match had started, as the reporter said his punters had done.
Someone asking for odds for a no-ball from a bowler’s third ball off his third full over on the second day would have been laughed at by any bookmaker in India – or anywhere else on the planet.
Adapted from BOOKIE GAMBLER FIXER SPY: A JOURNEY TO THE CORRUPT HEART OF CRICKET’S UNDERWORLD by Ed Hawkins, to be published by Bloomsbury on November 15 @ 16.99. Copyright 2012 Ed Hawkins To order a copy for 14.49 (incl p&p), call 0843 382 0000.