Friday, September 3, 2010

Cricket Down the Drain

Once again, cricket is plunged into scandal and controversy by a betting scheme. The game whose very name is a byword for fair play is once again maligned. Gideon Haigh as always is insightful in pointing out the endemic problems in the administration of the game and the social inequities that lead some teams to be more susceptible than others.

Now, I am not naive enough to think that cricket has never been sullied by poor behaviour or poor sportsmanship. A hundred years ago, W. G. Grace was quite a rotter in many respects; as money-hungry a specimen as any modern-day gouger. And I am sure that some of the poorly paid cricketers who gave up jobs to go on tour were tempted by the bookmakers' chequebooks.

What makes me wonder is the phenomenon of spot fixing. That this ball will be a no ball, or that player will come in earlier in the order in a 20-20 match. Obviously a game like cricket is ripe for this kind of side-betting, and quite often it seems that this kind of thing can be done without affecting the outcome of a game. It is apparent to me that so many other sports could be prone to this kind of thing, too.

In baseball, the third pitch of the second inning will go in the dirt, or be a change-up. The pitcher will try a pick-off at first 3 times in a row, not two. In snooker, instead of clearing the colours, a player will miss the blue. The green will be potted at least once in the top left corner. In American football, the offensive team "accidentally" lets the clock run out on a play.

It goes on and on. I can conjure up dozens of examples like this, and in places where people will bet on two flies crawling up a window, I am sure that this kind of thing goes on. Thus, how easy is it to convince a player to cooperate for a cut of the action? Now a major-league pitcher on millions a year would usually not be vulnerable. But how about a first-year rookie on minimum wage? "Come on, you aren't throwing the game. You are just going to do the following small thing, nobody will know, and you are in for 20%". And indeed, how do you detect things like this? Unless a participant gets stupid, or somebody talks, that wild pitch, that unusual call will sail on by, unremarked, while somewhere, someone gets swindled.

I suppose in a jurisdiction where spot betting is legal, so be it. People are free to throw their money away, and bet on whatever they want. But it seems to me that spot betting is so open to undetected manipulation, that an honest punter has an even chance that they will get done over as comprehensively as if the croupier had handed over a pair of loaded dice.

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