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Bookie Bribes Mar Cricket Tour


It's not just the floods that are grabbing headlines in Pakistan. The nation is in an uproar. This time it's not over ineffectual politicians; this scandal involves the national cricket team. Earlier this week, three members of the Pakistani team - currently playing a series of matches in England - were accused of accepting money from a man who was attempting to defraud bookmakers.

NPR's Philip Reeves joins us from our London bureau. And, Phil, what more do you know about the accusations?

PHILIP REEVES: Well, this is basically about a phenomenon called spot betting. That's gambling, not on the game's outcome but on certain incidents that can happen during a game - sometimes very small incidents. For example, you can bet on how many runs, or want of a better word - points - will be scored during a certain period of play.

Now, in this case, a British tabloid newspaper, the News of the World, handed over a huge amount of money - the equivalent of $230,000 - to a middleman. This was during a recent big game between Pakistan and England. And in return, the middleman told the newspaper exactly when during the game there would be what's called a no-ball. That's when the bowler, or in baseball the pitcher, steps out of his zone, rendering the delivery illegal.

Now, sure enough, the no-balls happened exactly on schedule. The deal was all captured on this video by the newspaper. The paper published its story; uproar followed. And it's alleged that two Pakistani players - both of them bowlers -and also the captain were implicated in this.

HANSEN: So, they didn't throw the game. They were just doing small actions that were resulting in big payoffs. You mentioned $230,000 - that's big money.

REEVES: You know, it's not throwing the game but it really is affecting the game. But, you know, spot betting on cricket has become really big business in the last few years, particularly in South Asia. There are believed to be enormous betting syndicates in operation there. It's illegal, but it's very hard to stop.

HANSEN: What are the consequences to these three members of the Pakistani team?

REEVES: Well, the police in London have been interviewing them. They've been provisionally suspended by cricket's governing body. If they're eventually found guilty - and itll probably be weeks before we find out - they could be banned from cricket for life.

HANSEN: The Pakistani ambassador in London met the players and said afterwards he did not think that they're guilty. Is that how the Pakistanis are viewing this? I mean, do they think their cricketers have somehow been set up?

REEVES: Well, the envoy to London did indeed suggest that they were actually set up. He said that quite categorically. It looks to me like those remarks were more of an attempt to sort of play to an anger to public back in Pakistan and to show that the Pakistanis that, you know, the government's willing to fight for these players.

I think in Pakistan there is great frustration and indignation over this. It's been a very tough time for the Pakistanis. They can't play international cricket at home, because last March the Sri Lankan team, which was visiting their country, was attacked in the city of Lahore, and so that brought an end to international sport there. And they've been mired in all sorts of scandals and controversies in the last year or so.

So, they're having a tough time and it's a huge sport in that country. People love it there.

HANSEN: You talk about a public that's angry. The Pakistani court has summoned seven players and the chief of the cricket board to face charges of treason. I mean, what does that say about the depth of feeling about this sport in Pakistan?

REEVES: Well, it is a sport which is almost a sort of parallel religion. It's a country which is going through a really terrible phase at the moment. We all know about that - the rise of Islamist militancy, the regular bombings there, the corruption of their own government and so on and so forth. It's a very unstable place.

Cricket has always been a huge love amongst the Pakistanis. At the moment, I think it's a particularly needed form of entertainment and escapism. And I think people find it very difficult to accept that even that is being spoiled by events.

HANSEN: NPR's Philip Reeves in London. Philip, thank you very much.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.