Match-fixing: more than what meets the eye

Published: August 31, 2010

News of the World broke the story - but how true is it?

The match fixing saga has returned yet again. One decade after the ugly Hansie Cronje and Company incident it has been reported that up to seven Pakistan players are involved in match-fixing with pacers Mohammed Amir and Mohammed Asif at the forefront for bowling deliberate no-balls at pre-determined times. The whole controversy centres around the arrest of an alleged match-fixer Mazhar Majeed who has reportedly been arrested from the team hotel.

A story in the Sky with questions

The piece of news that has shaken the cricket world was broken by News of the World (NOTW). Their website claims it is an international exclusive while all other media is quoting NOTW in their reports. BBC, Sky Sports and Pakistani news channels flashed the news at about 2130 GMT. Interestingly, a Sky Sports reporter, seemed to have an inking of what was going on well before the news broke. While reporting at gor Sky Sports News’ News at 1900 GMT, he spoke about a lot of things relating to the day’s play and English cricket in general. The specific moment where things get interesting is when the reporter, speaking on England’s chances in the Ashes, goes on to say that:

 ’England will be more disciplined off the field unlike Pakistan who cannot even manage themselves in the hotel.’

The show’s host did not react to the statement on to Pakistan’s spectacular batting collapse on day three. Clearly the reporters statement made no sense to the audience and the host, instead of seeking an explanation, quickly moved in to interrupt and changed the topic. The point is, how did this piece of  information reach Sky Sports before 2130 GMT?

A news story with too many holes

NOTW breaks news with a bang all over the whole world simultaneously. Yet a Sky Sports’ reporter had an inkling at least 90 minutes prior to the news becoming public. The video released by NOTW shows £150,000 recovered from the middleman during a secretly taped video conversation with a NOTW reporter.

While some news channels reported that the money had been recovered from the players’ rooms, Sky Sports quickly stepped in to correct them saying that no money was found.  Was NOTW sharing its much-famed intelligence and reporting with Sky Sports?

According to the story the middleman was arrested from the team hotel. The match-fixer and/or the middleman must be really inexperienced to come to the hotel to make the payment. Simple logic says if parties are involved in a transaction with such an ulterior motive, they would try be secretive as possible.

And finally,  there seems to be confusion over the exact amount made by the fixer Majeed and the amount allegedly to be transferred to the players. Did Majeed make £150,000 or were the players supposed to be paid £150,000? If they recovered £150,000 from the middleman arrested from the hotel, it surely must be the money he came with to transfer to the players. But the NOTW headline says ‘Match-fixer pockets £150k as he rigs England test at Lord’s’. So that should mean the match-fixer made £150,000 by winning bets on the timing of no-balls (among other possible incidents if any). But if Majeed made £150,000, the transfer amount to the player(s) would surely be less than that. But take a look at the headline from the NOTW’s website.

CAUGHT: Fixer Majeed beckons to our man to begin the £150,000 handover

The headline suggests that Majeed has given the green signal to his middleman on when to to initiate the handover to players with an amount of £150,000. So that means the players were supposed to receive £150,000? The only possibility is that the two amounts (i.e. the sum made by Majeed and the total to be paid to players) can be the same is that Majeed was not working for profit or to make any money. Non-profit fixer?  There is an obviously direct conflict between the various parts of the reporting done by NOTW. 

The nomenclature of a top-story

News flashes everywhere mentions the word match-fixing umpteenth times. But if Majeed made £150,000 by betting on the timing of the no-balls, does this amount to match-fixing? No. This is actually spot fixing.

Spot fixing is about getting players/officials to act in a specified predefined manner at a particular time or during a particular session of a match, with or without adversely affecting the overall outcome of the game. It is also known as micro-fixing or fancy-fixing.

Obviously, those three no-balls would have no bearing on the outcome of the match. No wickets fell and the runs at this point did not matter. To call it match-fixing is outrageous. Match-fixing involves a deliberate effort to achieve a pre-determined result.

Did NOTW not know the difference? This is hard to believe as they specialise in uncovering sports scandals. Their website highlights ‘Sports Exclusives’ as their key strength. Moreover, the head NOTW reporter Mazher Mahmood specialises in unearthing sports scandals and is reportedly paid a whopping £120,000 per year. Why would he call the incident match-fixing and not spot-fixing?  

Why bother fixing a losing match?

For me, the most the confusing aspect of the story is the very premise. Why would anyone want to fix matches and pay Pakistan players for losing a when in all likelihood they were going to lose anyway? Let’s make no mistakes about it. In the six test matches this summer, Pakistan’s batting has been miserable and even the two test matches they have won have gone down to the wire courtesy of their mental weakness in chasing down low targets. So having seen Pakistan’s performance over the five test matches, you could be fairly sure that they are going to lose. Or even if you had your doubts following The Oval win, £150,000 for three no-balls to fix the match sounds illogical.

hassaan.yaqin

Shaikh Hassaan Ainul Yaqin

An undergrad marketing student with an eye on cricket, music, media, telecom and food industries. Yaqin manages a cricket-based website, blogs at cricketismylifeline.blogspot.com and also runs his university's web-radio station, Radio IBA.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Asif

    There were three very odd no-balls… someone got paid to deliver those no balls. Recommend

  • abc

    No Balls were Blatant as hell. Despite the inconsistency of this evidence which im also aware is probably not even admissable in court, is the lack of denial by the players. An innocent person screams of his innocence at every opportunity.Recommend

  • Sam

    Hassan, your rambling writing style and hackneyed take on facts is tedious, rather confusing and incorrect.

    Being in London, I know that Sky Sports regularly breaks news before their rivals. Reporters are paid to be in the know. Just because Sky exhibited knowledge of the news does not invalidate the case against the players.

    It doesn’t matter what the difference is between spot fixing and match fixing. Or whether NOTW knows the difference. Both are wrong and players indulging in either of these need to be punished, regardless of whether the final outcome of the match was influenced.

    In your final section, you seem to be confused as to how anyone would benefit from a losing match? Spot fixing is based on the result of micro-events during a match. Therefore, even if Pakistan was losing the match, bookies, gamblers and players can all profit from their minor actions.Recommend

  • http://www.tanzeel.wordpress.com Tanzeel

    To avoid possible embarrassment we are going to face in next few hours, it would be better if we limit our Kashif Abbasi style ‘investigations’ in unpublished form. Before investigating on the basis of secondary data let Scotland Yard deal with this matter first.

    Secondly you asked why they bothered match fixing when the match was almost lost, the no ball thing was to prove that this is what’s happening and how organized the ‘company’ is, ‘no balls’ were bowled to give assurance to the reporter for upcoming One day matches which will likely to be fixed.Recommend

  • Mahvesh

    Tanzeel gets it right in her second paragraph so I won’t bother correcting your last (very ill-informed) paragraph. In case you missed it because you were, I don’t know, coming up with your own investigations, this was a sort of confirmation that Majeed was in contact with the players and could get the undercover reporter what he wanted. Recommend

  • Salman

    Hassann, you’re trying too hard. Follow the money and in this case it leads directly to the no-balls. The deal was to bowl those no-balls and that is what happened. Spot fixing or Match fixing, as a paid cricketer with a contract you are still cheating and breaching the contract. As to how Sky News got early news, Scotland Yard had been investigating this story days before when NOTW first informed them. It is not unusual for the story to get to the press (for some outlets with the right sources a little earlier than others), specially when the news is about to be shared with the rest of the world. Recommend

  • http://www.qaisarrashid.com Dr Qaisar Rashid

    You have a logic in your argument. Well written and well argued! I agree with you. Recommend

  • Azeem

    Sky and News of the World are both owned by Fox. perhaps they gave their associated news organization an advantage by letting them know beforehandRecommend

  • Omair

    well there was another no ball Muhammad Amir bloweled which was much further than the ones in question. A fercious short ball to Trot on second day of the test. Was it also spot fixing? If it was also odd like the others why didnt Mazhar Majeed mention it? Lord is known to have rising and falling slopes on both ends, could it be a reason for an inexperienced enthaustic player to not adjust to that? Stuart Broad also had a big no ball in the previous test, should we put England team under the scanner? my only point being, before coming to a conclusion let the trial complete. Recommend

  • Afnan

    I’m surprised that people are hostile to an alternative viewpoint, regardless of the fact that its true or false. And the way they’re arguing, its as if they ‘definitely know’ that what NOTW alleged is right. I wonder why such confidence in a paper which enjoys the reputation of ‘gutter journalism’ and a history of false allegations and lost lawsuits. I’m not contending the authenticity of this arguement either but at the same time i’m surprised at the fact that the information fed by NOTW is taken ‘as is’.

    It’s easier to see one side of the argument and its wiser to see the other and then decide.Recommend

  • Tooba Akhtar

    Despite the differing opinions, there can be no doubt that the story was certainly not without loopholes. Certain alleged ‘facts’ just do not check out. I’m glad you wrote this piece because the most important thing it does is to take the story with a pinch of salt.

    Exaggeration, manipulation and fabrication are no strangers to the news industry, specially to the ones concerned with here.Recommend

  • http://cricketismylifeline.blogspot.com Hassaan Ainul Yaqin

    Just to clear out a few misconceptions:

    Sam, you are right that both spot fixing and match fixing are wrong and should be punished. But, lets not jump the gun here. Nothing has been proved yet. No official charges even have been laid against the players. The difference between spot fixing and match fixing matters when a self-declared media trial is launched.

    In the final section, the loophole being highlighted was the use of word match-fixing to describe the events. If it really was match-fixing, why would anyone in their right frame of mind pay players who are most likely to end up on the losing side? Therefore, once again, the case of spot-fixing and not match-fixing is reiterated.Recommend

  • http://cricketismylifeline.blogspot.com Hassaan Ainul Yaqin

    Also, I would like to take exception at the editing of this article done by the Tribune team. Before I started off with the apparent loopholes, I mentioned a disclaimer saying that I am not trying to defend the players or deny the facts presented in media – for that might ultimately come true – and that only the manner in which all this unfolded raises quite a few questions. That bit, also in my original post at my blog, has been removed by the Tribune team.Recommend

  • Riaz Alam Khan