The whispers around the IPL final grew more audible as a thriller of a final went right down to the wire. The result saw Mumbai Indians edge out Chennai Super Kings by one run and win a record fourth title. MI players and management and Mumbai fans were ecstatic. But the ones laughing all the way to the bank were the bookmakers. They had a fantastic game with punters who kept switching sides in the betting throughout the game and ending up losers irrespective of the result.
“The match was fixed”, was the refrain of those who were either disappointed or lost money to the considerable cricket betting market that still exists in India but is legal, including online, in many other countries. Fans were bound to say such a close match was pre-determined. Many incidents in the final lent an air of mystery.
Why was Mahendra Singh Dhoni adjudged run out by a millimeter by the third umpire when there was plenty of doubt for the decision to go in favour of the batsman? Mumbai fans would counter that with “Why did the umpire ignore two clearly wide balls in Bravo’s last CSK over?” provoking Kieron Pollard into protesting and getting fined in the process.
Cricket is a series of incidents with an event happening in every delivery, which in T20 terms means enormous opportunities for pure chance to kick in. The wiser punters stay off T20 betting as a form of lottery with odds swinging every over and even after every ball. For the thrill-seeking cricket punter, there is no better form of gambling.
For the conspiracy theorist there was plenty of fodder, what with a Mumbaikar playing for Chennai and facing the last ball on which the entire result of the match was hanging. Whatever Shardul Thakur did would have become suspicious after the result. How many players would like to be in that situation?
Do they fix big games is a legitimate question because the suspicion is a lot of mini events are fixed even today, despite all the hue and cry over the 2013 IPL. Even if they predetermine results, how would fixers orchestrate it to the very last ball when what happens is an event governed only by chance?
Take Rohit Sharma’s choice of the last over bowler — Lasith Malinga. He had just 20 runs taken off him by Shane Watson to bring alive a game that seemed in MI’s pocket till then. Suddenly the defending champions were in the driver’s seat with an equation that was readily gettable. But nerves at the finish got even to such a seasoned T20 campaigner as Watson. Had he stayed, he would have taken CSK home.
Poor Thakur had to bear the brunt of it all as he missed a 112 kmh slower ball that came after five successive balls in the 140 kmph range and fell leg before. Any contact and a rushed single would have brought at least a tie and pushed the match into a Super Over. That would have broken the hearts of the bookies as all bets are off in case of a tie and betting would have to begin afresh in the Super Over. If the match was tied, thousands of crores would not be theirs, which is what they took off nervous punters in the one-run verdict.
Rohit Sharma explained the last ball saying he told Malinga to try and bowl a wicket-taking ball rather than just a containing fast Yorker. Mahendra Singh Dhoni made it sound logical enough by saying it seemed each team was trying to hand the trophy to the other in a final desperately oscillating fortunes. Nerves surely played a role in all this. Even the seniors were affected. Catches were put down, big strokes fluffed off full tosses and runs were stolen as fielders fumbled.
Even the four byes in the penultimate over could be considered mysterious. Quinton de Koch is a regular and reliable keeper and he let the Jasprit Bumrah ball through to leave CSK a seemingly gettable nine off the last over rather than a more difficult 13. It was CSK’s game as the batting team invariably meets these equations rather than fall just short. We saw that in most of this IPL as huge asking rates in the final overs were defied by the likes of Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant, MS Dhoni and so many others. Seeing a team fail by one run could also be considered very mysterious.
After all, are there not still suspicions that the semi-final and final of the 2011 World Cup were fixed. The Pakistanis dropped Sachin Tendulkar off unbelievably simple catches. Even the toss in the final proved mysterious as a second toss was made. Cricket has to answer for many of these queries because of its reputation as a game that is easily fixed....