As England prepare for the First Test in India, an incendiary new book poses a question that will stun cricket… was the World Cup semi-final fixed
02:35 GMT, 10 November 2012
The India v Pakistan World Cup semi-final in Mohali on March 30, 2011 may just have been the most keenly anticipated game of cricket ever played.
As the Asian subcontinent came to a standstill, Ed Hawkins — a sports-betting journalist who had spent months investigating corruption in cricket — was following the game on TV at home in London with a friend. India batted first and were relieved that Pakistan’s fielders contrived to drop Sachin Tendulkar four times on his way to 85.
But as their innings came to an end, Hawkins received a tweet from an Indian bookmaker called Parthiv, a contact he had established during his investigations.
The tweet he sent would cast doubt on the probity of one of the most famous one-day games of all time. In an extract from his new book, Bookie, Gambler, Fixer, Spy, Hawkins takes up the story…
Celebration time : Harbhajan Singh is ecstatic after taking the wicket of Afridi in the 2011 World Cup semi-final, the match about which the allegations in a new book have been made
With the innings winding down and my friend Cherrene off making more tea, I check emails, news sites, Facebook and, finally, my Twitter account. Parthiv had sent a message:
‘Bookie update… India will bat first and score over 260, 3 wickets fall within the first 15 overs, pak will cruise to 100, then lose 2 quick wickets, at 150 they will be 5 down and crumble and lose by a margin of over 20 runs.’
‘Chezza,’ I called out. ‘I think you’d better have a look at this. A bookie has messaged me. He’s sent me a script of what is going to happen.’
‘Oh, this is extraordinary! Let me read it… oh good God! How many have India got’
India are approaching 260. At the start of the final over they are 256 for seven. Bowled by Wahab Riaz, it goes dot ball-wicket-single-single-wicket-two. India close on 260. Cherrene is beside herself. I urge calm. ‘Hang on a sec, he said more than 260. The proof will be when Pakistan bat.’
‘Oh, this is amazing!’
Indeed it was. Parthiv had been correct twice previously when he had messaged with information about a fix during a game. But he had not sent anything as detailed as this. I checked the scorecard. He was wrong about India losing three wickets in the first 15 overs and his prediction was out by a single run for a total of more than 260. This would be enough to exonerate India from wrongdoing.
Team-talk: Pakistani cricketers form a huddle during the ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan, the match about which the allegations have been made
The information for Pakistan’s innings was more thorough… ‘pak will cruise to 100, then lose 2 quick wickets, at 150 they will be 5 down and crumble and lose by a margin of over 20 runs’. Had this been received from anyone other than an Indian bookmaker it would be considered a wild guess.
I email two gambling associates, including Geoffrey Riddle, a journalist, sharing Parthiv’s script and telling them that I expect Pakistan’s innings to unfold exactly as he said. Parthiv had form, I write, for accuracy.
COULD IT BE A LUCKY GUESS
Ever since that message from Parthiv I have fretted over whether it could have been a lucky guess.
I asked Jatin Thakkar, a Mumbai-based statistician, to search his database, which stretched back to December 1992, to reveal the likelihood of predicting Pakistan’s innings to such detail.
His results proved that if Parthiv had made it up, then he was on the kind of lucky streak which demanded the purchase of a lottery scratchcard.
Such a sequence — ‘Pakistan cruise to 100, lose 2 quick wickets, at 150 they will be 5 down and crumble and lose by a margin of over 20 runs’ — is rare over the study period. Jatin explained his method: ‘I took matches in which a team was chasing 250 to 280 and then applied the match situations that Pakistan’s chase went through in the exact manner.’
It has happened six times in the 2,434 matches.
As a percentage, this is 0.24650780608052586. Translated into odds, it is a 405–1 against shot.
To put this into context, a hat-trick is a 106–1 chance, a five-wicket haul is 8–1 and a century 11–2.
This is not impossible, by any stretch of the imagination, but a long chance nonetheless.
The responses I receive are laden with expletives, expressing dismay that there could be any doubt about a World Cup semi-final between two such bitter rivals. Both of them, of course, tell me they have placed big wagers on India to go on to win the match.
Feelings of excitement at the start of the match have morphed into nerves, dread and bewilderment. Cherrene is tense, too. She sits forward on the sofa, knees together and holding a cushion to her chest. She says she hopes that Parthiv’s message proves to be wrong.
‘He has been right twice previously,’ I tell her. ‘He can’t keep getting it right. I’m sure his information must be wrong sometimes. Law of averages and all that.’
As Pakistan’s innings begins we are both gripped by a feeling of surreal fear. Not the usual fear that a fan holds in his heart when watching a sporting contest; the feeling of not knowing whether his team will succeed, fail horribly or acquit themselves with pride so he too can feel proud; the one which ties the stomach in knots and makes the heart beat faster, reverberating against the rib cage.
It is an anxiety of a totally different kind inspired by the feeling that what is being played out in front of our eyes is planned, while desperately hoping that it is not. The stomach turns; the heart sinks.
‘It could all be over very quickly, Chezza,’ I say reassuringly. ‘Pakistan could be two down for nothing and then they won’t be cruising to a hundred.’
‘Yes, there is that,’ she says.
Kamran Akmal, the Pakistan opening batsman, hits the first ball and the last ball of the first over of the reply for four. Cherrene and I exchange worried glances. The first of many I suspect. We are not put out of our misery early as, thanks to Akmal’s dashing blade, Pakistan start well. At the end of the eighth over they are 43 for no loss, scoring at a rate of 5.37 an over.
‘Well, they are certainly cruising at the moment,’ Cherrene says.
‘Do you think that would stand up in court’ I joke.
Akmal’s is the first wicket to fall. Attempting to crash a square drive through point, he is undone by a slower delivery from Zaheer Khan and he guides the ball into the fielder’s hands. The score is 44 for one.
Asad Shafiq joins Mohammad Hafeez at the crease. Their progress is serene and the clatter of wickets that we hope for does not materialise. Hafeez is out in the 16th over.
The Cricinfo commentary describes his wicket: ‘What was Hafeez thinking Again, yet again, a lovely 30 to 40 and he has combusted. He went for a paddle sweep, yeah a paddle sweep, to a full delivery outside off stump and edged it to Dhoni. Oh dear. Pressure Or overconfidence’
Winning feeling: India celebrate the game about which the allegations have been made
Pakistan steady the ship. A clich it may be, but one that has a double meaning in this context. With Shafiq and Younis Khan they are cruising. Shafiq turns the fifth ball of the 23rd over off his pads to take two runs and bring up Pakistan’s hundred.
Their run rate is 4.34. They require a further 161 runs from 27 overs. There is no doubt they are going well.
‘OK Chezza,’ I say, ‘They have got to a hundred pretty easily but this is where it gets interesting.’
'NO REASON TO INVESTIGATE'
Of allegations about corruption in this match, Haroon Lorgat, then the ICC chief executive, stated: ‘The ICC has no reason or evidence to require an investigation into this match. It is indeed sad for spurious claims to be made which only serve to cause doubt on the semi-final of one of the most successful ICC Cricket World Cups ever.’
‘Read the next bit of the script.’
‘It says: “Pakistan will cruise to 100, then lose two quick wickets.” Hold on to yourself. This is where we get an answer whether this thing is accurate or not. There can be no quibbling about “two quick wickets”.’
The next over is to be bowled by Yuvraj Singh. Younis takes a single from the first ball. Cherrene and I breathe a sigh of relief. So too after the second, third and fourth balls of the over, which are negotiated without alarm.
‘I reckon if they score 20 runs before a wicket falls we can forget about the script,’ I say.
‘Hope so,’ Cherrene replies as Yuvraj trundles in for the fifth ball. Our collective breath is held again as the ball is released.
Shafiq steps away from his stumps, trying to direct the ball towards third man. He misses and it knocks his middle stump out of the ground.
‘Bowled him! Yuvi! Yuvi! Yuvi!’ shouts commentator Mark Nicholas.
‘Another magical breakthrough,’ says Rameez Raja.
‘Uh oh,’ says Cherrene.
‘One more,’ I say, ‘And we might have a fix.’
Ten balls later it is Yuvraj again who, with more of a spring in his stride, jumps into his elegant, high left-arm action. The ball is full and tempting to drive. Younis Khan is tempted.
He throws his hands at the ball but as he does so his right leg, his back leg, flies from under him, as if tethered by a rope which someone has suddenly decided to tug sharply.
He is off balance, now reaching, trying to right himself in the shot. The ball hits high on the bat and is miscued horribly, up in the air, straight into the hands of mid-off. Pakistan are 106 for four. They have added six runs. They have lost two wickets in 10 balls. A swift demise. Rapid. Quick.
‘Well, that was depressingly predictable,’ I say.
‘This is just dreadful, dreadful, dreadful,’ Cherrene says.
An email from Geoffrey Riddle arrives. ‘Amazing info!’ Another contact telephones me. He says he can’t believe what he is seeing. ‘It’s like I’m watching a replay, knowing the fall of the wickets and the result.’
Howzat: Irfan Pathan appeals successfully for an LBW decision against Imran Nazir as non-striker Mohammad Hafeez watches on during the match about which the allegations were made
Cherrene has gone very quiet. It is a blessed relief that we have a relative hiatus until the next action, according to whoever the director of this game is, takes place. I try to reassure Cherrene that it still could all prove to be wrong.
Pakistan are only four wickets down and could comfortably recover to win the match and book a final spot in Mumbai. At the end of the 27th over they are 112 for four. Umar Akmal and Misbah-ul-Haq are the batsmen. The script tells us that we cannot expect more than two wickets until Pakistan have reached 150.
The tension has dissipated now. The dread that we felt earlier about this fearsome tale coming true has been replaced by a disheartening acceptance.
Cherrene and I sit glum-faced as we watch the pictures from Mohali, a doom-laden contrast with the supporters in the stadium who wave flags and leap and shout as a contest which is unique in its standing in the cricket world unfolds. Unique to us for a different reason.
It is in a daze, rather, that we watch the match continue, as if waiting to be awoken again by an alarm bell as Pakistan approach 150. Umar Akmal and Misbah-ul-Haq are rebuilding Pakistan’s innings and, with each over they survive, keeping the wickets column showing four and with each run they move closer to 150, we become more alert.
Eight runs away from 150 — ‘at 150 they will be five down’ — the fifth wicket falls. It is Umar Akmal who is out, getting himself into a most unedifying muddle against the spin bowling of Harbhajan Singh. The confusion is matched on my sofa.
‘I just don’t believe this is happening,’ Cherrene says.
With the script accurate — Pakistan reach 150 off the second ball of the 37th over — the ‘crumble’ begins immediately. Abdul Razzaq is the sixth Pakistan batsman out one ball later and the television commentators begin to dissect Pakistan’s performance.
Younis Khan and Misbah come in for particular criticism. Younis scored 13 off 32 balls, a strike rate of 40.62. Misbah scored 17 from the first 42 balls he faced, playing out 27 dots. During this period Pakistan’s required run rate jumped from 6.07 to 8.45. During the 74 balls in which Younis and Misbah were at the crease together, 30 runs were scored.
Shahid Afridi is the seventh wicket to fall, at 184. Pakistan are, indeed, crumbling to ‘lose by a margin over 20 runs’. When Afridi skies a catch to Virender Sehwag off Harbhajan Singh, Ravi Shastri, the former India captain-turned-commentator, says: ‘These are baffling tactics from Pakistan.’
Rather than referring to the shot which Afridi played, Shastri is wondering why Pakistan have not taken the final powerplay — five overs when fielding restrictions should allow batsmen like Afridi to score more freely. They take the powerplay in the 45th over with Misbah and Umar Gul, the bowler, at the crease. When Misbah hits a four in the 48th over, Mark Nicholas, the hyperbole in his voice reduced to a befuddled whine, says: ‘That’s the reason we can’t fathom why it (the powerplay) was not taken earlier.’
Misbah takes 14 off the over. ‘If he can produce these shots, why didn’t he produce it earlier on’ Rameez Raja says.
India win by 29 runs. Misbah’s is the last wicket to fall. We see a shot of the prime ministers of India and Pakistan. Sat together, they applaud politely, their emotions inscrutable.
Azhar Mahmood, the former Pakistan all-rounder working as an analyser for Sky Sports, says: ‘Two terrible innings from senior Pakistan players Younis and Misbah. There was no panic.’
Nick Knight, once an England one-day opening batsman, agrees: ‘I’m at a loss to explain those two innings.’
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.