Corruption in cricket: an eye-opening journey into the game's heart of darkness

Given the substantial number of cricket books published each year, it would be unusual if none emerged as a candidate for William Hill Sports Book of the Year. For the 2013 award, the shortlist quite rightly includes the fine piece of investigative journalism that revealed the true nature of corruption in cricket, or at least took the reader closer to the truth than anything hitherto undertaken.

Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy (Bloomsbury) is written by Ed Hawkins, who has made his name for his knowledge of betting rather than batting or bowling, collecting awards year after year for his insightful analysis on the Betfair website.  His motivation in delving into the underworld of illegal bookmaking in India was not so much about uncovering corrupt cricketers as understanding how and why fixes happen.

His findings were startling, not least because they questioned whether the fix famously exposed by the News of the World that resulted in three Pakistan cricketers -- Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir -- going to jail, along with their paymaster, Mazher Majeed, was really a fix at all.

The following are extracts from a couple of reviews, first from John Crace in The Guardian.  In his role as Wisden's book reviewer, Crace made Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy his Wisden Cricket Book of the Year for 2013.

"After this tipoff [about the 2011 World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan], Hawkins embarked on a one-man, heart-of-darkness exercise in investigative gonzo journalism to see what else he could uncover. He headed off to India and met a host of spivs, runners, fixers and Mr Bigs, who are referred to by their first names only. The evidence he actually discovered was damning on a circumstantial level, rather than conclusive proof. But that was neither here nor there, for the immense advantage Hawkins has over other writers who have tried to get to the bottom of match-fixing is that he understands the mathematical nuances of betting.

The big match-fixing scams, such as the Cronje affair and, allegedly, the 2011 World Cup semi-final, may be the easiest for the lay person to grasp. But what Hawkins shows is that, due to the phenomenal amount of money wagered at any one time on even the most insignificant televised match, a very small amount of information can nudge the odds firmly in the bookmakers' favour. It's all about probability. A bookie with the right algorithms can make a fortune in marginal, high-volume bets from information as simple as knowing who is going to win the toss, or player selection. Throw in the knowledge of a bent, bought player, and it's a licence to print money.

In the process, Hawkins also exposes the 2010 Pakistan spot-fixing scandal – for which the cricket authorities were quick to claim the moral high ground – as something of a show trial. The whole purpose of the no-ball scam was not to influence the betting, but merely to prove that Salman Butt, Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif could be got at. Bookmakers follow betting patterns on a second-by-second basis: if anyone tried to place a bet on something as specific as a no-ball, it would be rejected as abnormal. Whatever else bookies may be, as Hawkins points out, they are not stupid. But others appear to be. The real importance of this book lies in its existence. Over the past 15 years, the cricket authorities have spent millions of pounds on various match-fixing investigations and have uncovered very little. Armed with what was almost certainly an extremely modest advance, Hawkins on his own has uncovered substantially more, in less time."

Read the full review

Reviewing for the ESPN Cricinfo website, Sharda Ugra wrote:

"Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy explains in clear terms, particularly for the non-punting type, the illegal betting mafia, its methods, its cast of characters and the force and weight of its finances. Indian cricket's financial strength is not merely centred around broadcasting deals and a cash-rich board. There is another rolling, surging revenue stream that oils the moving parts of the game's betting industry, both legal and illegal, and it is driven by Indian bookies and punters.

Full of incident and detail, the book shows us that far from being a shady cloak-and-dagger business, cricket betting in India is run by a well-organised network of around 100,000 bookies who operate on cash transactions through trust. Bets can be placed on four "markets" essentially: overall match odds; the lambi (the innings-runs market, where punters are given a spread of innings runs that they can bet under or over); brackets (or sessions betting around the scoring of runs over ten-over chunks); and the "lunch favourite", which are Test match lunch scores or innings-breaks scores in ODIs. The punter and the bookie are constantly in a tussle with each other over any extra piece of information pertaining to weather, injury, and team composition.

Perhaps the most fascinating detail in the book is the manner in which Indian bookie can exert influence by "moving" or manipulating the odds, even on legitimate betting websites. A single text message from a bookie to his customers has the market load itself with Indian gambling money, and can turn the odds the way the bookie wants. Hawkins writes, 'At the click of [his] fingers, the Indian bookmaker dictates to the rest of the world. It is not a delicate alchemy. It is not done through smoke and mirrors. It is sheer weight of money. A controlled landslide.' "

Read the full review

Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket's Underworld (Bloomsbury), by Ed Hawkins is among six titles shortlisted for the 2013 William Hill Sports Book of the Year prize.  The others are:

I Am Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Penguin), the autobiography of the Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong (Simon & Schuster), by Sunday Times journalist David Walsh.

Doped: The Real Life Story of the 1960s Racehorse Doping Gang (Racing Post Books), by Jamie Reid .

The Boys in the Boat (Macmillan), by American author Daniel James Brown.

The Sports Gene: What Makes the Perfect Athlete (Yellow Jersey Press), by David Epstein.

The William Hill Sports Book of the Year -- this year to be awarded for the 25th time -- is the world's longest established and most valuable literary sports-writing award, carrying a £25,000 cash prize for the winning author.

The judging panel consists of broadcaster and writer John Inverdale; broadcaster Danny Kelly; award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney; and columnist and author, Alyson Rudd. Chairman of the judging panel is John Gaustad, co-creator of the award and founder of the Sportspages bookshop.

The winner will be announced live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, at an evening reception at The Hospital Club in central London, on Wednesday 27th November.

William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2013: The Longlist

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's bid to make history

The 1960s racehorse doping gang: a true-life thriller



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