Match-fixing: more than what meets the eye

Published: August 31, 2010
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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.