New Delhi: English journalist and betting expert Ed Hawkins' Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket's Underworld ruffled feathers the moment extracts of his book were published. The book, an investigative foray into the world of betting and fixing, particularly in India, drew attention after Hawkins brought the 2011 World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan under a cloud.
But Hawkins – who has worked as The Times' betting correspondent and Betfair.com's lead cricket tipster – has spent nearly three years investigating corruption in cricket and tells Cricketnext that his intention was more to explain the nature of betting and fixing in detail, rather than provide shock value.
There have been other exposes on betting and fixing, noticeably by Sports Illustrated last year. But nothing happened of it. Neither the ICC nor BCCI took it seriously. What have been the reactions to your book?
Similar. This is the sport's greatest problem. It refuses to take anyone seriously - journalist, cricketer (past or present), administrator, bookmaker - when a match-fixing story comes out. Often they are met with ridicule. Journalists are okay with that. But what of players? Remember Zulqarnain Haider or Hashan Tillakaratne? It does not create a comfortable environment for those with information to speak out. I'm not saying that every time a story breaks cricket should plunge itself into crisis, but perhaps they should be slower to condemn. 'Should we look at this more closely?'
You have documented the cases of several whistleblowers. What about the players? Why are they portrayed as the victims?
I have no idea. If cricket is to clean itself up, the players need to take responsibility. They are too quick to blame the ACSU but the ACSU need their help. It's time players broke with dressing room code and shopped blokes for the good of the game. They know when someone is meeting with suspicious people, and in particular they know when that player is doing odd things on the field. It is they who have to police the game.
The book is a meticulous account of events, individuals – your correspondence and meeting with a spy in Karachi entailed 44 emails and 900 conversation threads - and patterns in India. You've put forward a rational analysis which uses statistics and betting patterns, yet the book is being dismissed as sensationalism. The criticism is that one dodgy match doesn't mean the game is rife with fixing. Are people missing the bigger picture?
I think so. But you expect people to focus on the more sensational element. I have said in interviews throughout that this is an analytical book, rather than revelatory in terms of 'this game was fixed, so was this one'. If a reader is expecting something ravishing, they will be disappointed. When writing it I was conscious that it had to be as rational as possible. I wanted to get under the fingernails of the issues, explode myths. And I hope I have gone some way to achieving that, particularly in terms of revealing that there are only four main markets to bet on India. There is no such thing as all these fancy markets to bet on - bowler to open from a particular end, fielding positions, etc. The book goes into detail about the confusion which surrounds these mythical markets.
People have reacted somewhat alarming to how easily the bookies accepted you and showed you the way they operate, even over toasted vegetable sandwiches. Conspiracy theories abound in India. In small-time bookie centres in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh you often hear people claiming of fixes and having knowledge of fixing. But to have the system explained in detail to an
outsider has been met with a degree of surprise. Your take?
Anyone who has been to India knows that society works on a quid pro quo basis. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. When I started to get to know Vinay, a big bookie from Bhopal, we traded information. He agreed to tell me how the industry worked, I provided him with statistics, trends, links to meteorological websites and Duckworth-Lewis Method calculators. As the relationship developed we became more comfortable talking to each other and a bond of trust was formed. But that didn't mean that when I was waiting in my hotel room in Bhopal to meet him for the first time, I was perturbed. I couldn't be 100 per cent sure he was not a bad egg.
What are your thoughts on legalising betting? Is it a solution towards curbing fixing? As you mention in the book, even though the bookmaker syndicates could still manipulate the odds, the chances of insiders passing on knowledge would be eradicated…
If India legalised betting it would cut fixes by maybe 50 per cent. When you have a legal market, the punter cannot make friends with players, ask him to do him a favour on-field and then place hundreds of wagers. Why? Because a legal market has a paper trail, a suspicious betting pattern. It is why Hill or Ladbrokes know immediately when something is fishy. You have to be a moron to attempt to fix a legal market. The coppers are at your door the next day.
How much of the problem has to do with the ACSU's lack of knowledge about betting?
It is an issue, certainly. I think they work hard but they are ex-policemen, not betting experts. And for the lay man the betting industries of the world can be a confusing place. The ACSU have become confused, I believe, about how spot fixing works. They think because they hear info about a captain moving a gully fielder or a batsman batting out a maiden over, then betting markets exist for bets to be placed on those outcomes. It is more subtle than that. A gully fielder will be moved so the brackets/session market (runs in the first 10 overs of an ODI or T20), to be manipulated and likewise with a maiden over. Both these ploys impact on the number of runs scored and the corruptors are able to make money just like insider traders do on the stock market because the odds move with each run scored.
You spoke to Lalit Modi who has said on record that his life was under threat because he had tried to clamp down on fixing in the IPL. Do you believe the IPL and ICL are hotbeds of fixing?
Yes. The ICL was particularly bad, to almost a laughable extent. The problem with the IPL and ICL has that it has globalised fixing. Players have parachuted into franchises to whom they have no loyalty or sense of belonging and that has created a perfect environment for players to be tempted to go on the take. And once a player has done it once, he could go back to his county or Test team and be tempted again.
What about the timing of the book's release? Pakistan are due to tour India in December after the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Do you think the book will put additional scrutiny on the series and the players and the BCCI?
I don't think so.
Clearly the credibility of the game is in danger. Has your confidence in cricket eroded?
Yes, sadly. When you have got as close to it as I have it is impossible not to watch a match and think 'is that a signal a fix is on?' 'That looks moody to me'.