Reviews ReviewsRSS FeedFeeds

Review: Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy

The ugliness beneath cricket's skin

A clear-eyed, well-researched account of the ecosystem of gambling, betting, and "approaching" that operates alongside professional cricket

Sharda Ugra

July 21, 2013

Comments: 5 | Text size: A | A

Cover image of Ed Hawkins' <i>Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy</I>
Enlarge
Related Links
Teams: India

At the start of the last chapter of Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy, Ed Hawkins writes, "with every step… on the long trip to cricket's corrupt core, my confidence in the sport eroded… It has now ceased to be." He signs off with a final paragraph that begins, "The pessimist that I have become will never truly believe the game is pure. It cannot be."

It is a deadening and soul-numbing conclusion, but at the end of the book's 200-odd pages, no other can be arrived it. Only those suffering from delusions could possibly toss the book aside and hang on to the notion that cricket lives and operates in an exalted realm of "purity of spirit".

Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy names no names, though Hawkins says as many as 45 international and domestic cricketers "have been mentioned to me as being up to no good". In some parts of the book, certain names are XXXX-ed out, protecting Hawkins from being libellous, but at the end of it, the disguised identities somehow do not matter. This is not a book about selective naming and shaming. It is more a clear-eyed account about an entire ecosystem of gambling, betting, and "approaching" that operates alongside and beneath professional cricket. And about why it cannot be stopped.

Hawkins, whose twitter handle is @cricketbetting, is an award-winning journalist specialising in the sports-betting business. His research for this book has been exhaustive and impressive: he spent months interacting with an entire cast of characters - "first-tier" bookies, syndicate bosses, punters, cricket officials, ICC anti-corruption officers, and men from an Indian government agency who carried out investigations into match-fixing in 2000.

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."

The match that sparked Hawkins' interest in getting to the heart of "cricket's underworld" was a knockout in the 2011 ICC World Cup. During the game, he received - as it must be said did dozens of people - a text from an Indian bookie known to him, who "predicted" the course of the game. The ICC called the claim spurious, and every time Hawkins tried to find out more about the game through his bookie contacts, even those who had shared much about their trade, he was met with a dead bat; the topic was always changed. The ominous enforcer of the silence was understood to be the organised D-company, or the Dawood Ibrahim gang. At one stage a bookie says, "D-Company has given bookmakers a bad name… We are the fair people. It is wrong to say bookmakers make the threats." It would be comic if it didn't sound so sincere; Bookie, Gambler, Fixer, Spy is full of the most bizarre but completely believable conversations that do happen around cricket.

Even when trying to confirm a genuine fix, Hawkins retains a healthy dose of scepticism when it comes to the biggest gamblers boasting about what they control. The News of The World "no-ball" fix was merely Mazhar Majeed trying to display his influence, it turns out - no bookmaker, even in India's illegal industry, takes bets on no-balls.

Hawkins proves that cricket's corruption need not touch every single player, but that it does permeate many layers. Fixes exists, more in domestic games like county cricket and the IPL - too many matches, too many players. They mark a key step in the tug of war for inside information, and the advent of pre-scripted passages of play that move match odds in either the bookie's or the punter's favour, rather than only dictating the result of a game.

Every cricket fan should read Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy to get a grasp of reality. Cricket is a game of much beauty but we must accept that it co-exists with what looks like an indestructible ugliness.

Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket's Underworld
by Ed Hawkins
Bloomsbury 2012
232 pages. £8.99

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

RSS Feeds: Sharda Ugra

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by ooper_cut on (July 22, 2013, 11:42 GMT)

I believe enough and more importance is to be given to corruption in the game, but I also believe us fans cannot feel like how the author feels about cricket. There are more genuine people around than there are corrupt ones, so let the show go on.

Posted by SillyPoint2009 on (July 22, 2013, 11:22 GMT)

I have read this book and it was with a heavy heart that I put it down. Apart from the India-Pak semifinal in the WC, the book also talks about a Cardiff test between SL and Eng where after four days mostly lost to rain, Sri Lanka was 90 runs behind and got bowled out for 80-odd. And the board had not paid the players for months. The amount of money a county pro of no reknown can make by just bowling two bad balls in an over in a Friends 40 over match is staggering. The surprise is not that these players and matches are fixed but that it does not happen more often. Read it with open eyes, and never close them again.

Posted by mikeindex on (July 21, 2013, 15:20 GMT)

I will read this and judge for myself how convincing it is, but my initial reaction is, if he names no names how can he possibly be said to prove anything?

Posted by rustom_deboo on (July 21, 2013, 5:11 GMT)

The author has viewed the India-Pakistan WC 2011 semifinal with suspicion in this book and he has given facts which are very likely to bother true fans of the game.The disturbing part is, in spite of the eerily similar 'predictions', no authority has even initiated a probe into such incidents. We will perhaps never know the truth.

Comments have now been closed for this article

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Sharda UgraClose

    Top dog of the underdogs

My Favourite Cricketer: Jack Russell brought a neatness to the keeper's art that was matched by his meticulous scruffiness in other regards. By Scott Oliver

    Rewarding times for Hashim Amla

Numbers Game: The rate at which he has accumulated ODI hundreds and MoM awards is among the fastest in history

'Ponting was an instinctive, aggressive player'

Modern Masters: Rahul Dravid and Sanjay Manjrekar discuss Ricky Ponting's technique

    MacLeod spells hope for Scotland

Allrounder Calum MacLeod's return from a faulty action is key to Scotland's World Cup hopes. By Tim Wigmore

How boring is boring cricket?

Probably not as much as boring periods in the likes of rugby, football and tennis, Russell Jackson thinks

News | Features Last 7 days

Manic one-day chases, and daddy partnerships

Also, most brothers in a Test XI, and the fastest to 20 ODI centuries

Has international cricket begun to break up?

The gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing wider, and the disenchantment is forcing a devaluation of Test cricket among weaker teams

Well worth the wait

Zulfiqar Babar missed five seasons between his first two first-class matches, and was 34 when he finally made his Test debut, but he is quickly making up for all the lost time with his artful left-arm spin

Younis Khan and the art of scoring hundreds

Out of 70 batsmen who've scored 15 or more Test hundreds only five are from Pakistan, but Younis Khan's appetite for hundreds matches that of some of the top contemporary batsmen

Australia outdone in every way

Surviving into the final session of the last day cannot disguise the fact that Australia's continued inability to play spin contributed to an all-round thrashing

News | Features Last 7 days

    Has international cricket begun to break up? (83)

    The gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing wider, and the disenchantment is forcing a devaluation of Test cricket among weaker teams

    Lyon low after high of 2013 (51)

    The offspinner was Australia's highest wicket-taker in 2013, but his form has dipped sharply this year

    Australia outdone in every way (51)

    Surviving into the final session of the last day cannot disguise the fact that Australia's continued inability to play spin contributed to an all-round thrashing

    Rewarding times for Hashim Amla (49)

    The rate at which Amla has accumulated ODI hundreds and MoM awards is among the fastest in history. And his runs-per-innings figure is easily the best of the lot

    Well worth the wait (36)

    Zulfiqar Babar missed five seasons between his first two first-class matches, and was 34 when he finally made his Test debut, but he is quickly making up for all the lost time with his artful left-arm spin