Cricket Bets, Bats and Gambling

This entry was posted on Monday, May 25th, 2009

PEOPLE have gone to prison or been fined huge amounts for insider share dealing – the ultimate white collar crime.

But as far as I know, neither Dennis Lillee nor Rodney Marsh served any time at all for backing England to beat Australia in the match that has been dubbed ‘Botham’s Test’ at Headingley back in 1981.

Lillee and Marsh, two of the stars of the Australia side which was already one-up in the five-Test Ashes series, reckoned they were getting good value, taking the 500-1 on offer by Ladbrokes; odds offered, incidentally, by Ladbrokes’ cricketing guru, Godfrey Evans, the be-whiskered former England and Kent wicket-keeper.

After all, England were on 105-5 in their second innings, still 126 runs in arrears and facing almost inevitable defeat, probably by an innings. Evans must have slept easily that night.

The two Aussies, both inveterate gamblers, knew it was a two-horse race and had ruled out the remote possibility of a tie. As Aussie captain Kim Hughes said afterwards: “They (Lillee and Marsh) thought the odds were too good to miss”.

In truth, 500-1 was probably not a great price, looking at the match situation. I’m sure Betfair’s fearless betting exchange punters would have offered the ceiling price of 1,000 (999-1) or more if that were permitted.

Over the next two days a rollicking century from Ian Botham, who finished on 149 not out and 8-43 from Bob Willis, turned the match on its head.

In retrospect, Lillee and Marsh didn’t ‘throw’ the match although South Africa captain Hansie Cronje – later to die in an air crash at the age of 32 – was found to have lost games for cash and provided bookmakers with ‘inside information’ about injuries and pitch conditions.

And any number of Indian and Pakistani players have been implicated in betting scandals with several ‘warned off’.

But that hasn’t stopped cricket betting growing at an enormous rate, fuelled by the growth of both the exchanges and the phenomenon that is Twenty20.

The latter form of the sport is cricket’s nearest equivalent to a football match-style event. It all happens at breakneck speed with the action on the pitch taking a maximum of two hours 40 minutes punctuated by a twenty minute break between innings and a short drinks break after ten overs of each innings.

Not surprisingly, in the game’s shortest format, the matches tend to swing wildly.

I was ‘trading’ an Indian Premier League game the other day, having backed one side at 1.98 ( a shade of odds-on) only to see them travel all the way out to 3 (2-1) before they hit back with three quick wickets and I was able to trade out for a decent profit. Holding one’s nerve is key in these scenarios.

There are plenty of people out there in exchange land who, over the last few weeks, have been sitting in front of a computer screen with a TV screen alongside it, watching Setanta’s excellent coverage of the games.

By the time the final came around there had been 59 games in a relatively short space of time – that’s 59 betting opportunities by my reckoning.

I’m not sure how long the Twenty20 revolution will last before it inevitably scales down a little, but for the time being you’d be silly to miss out.

STERLING BROOKES is the author of ‘Poor Johnny’, the tragic story of an Edwardian cricketer, available from the Association of Cricket Historians and Statisticians, priced £10. The ACS can be contacted at sales@acscricket.com or on 01529 306 272.

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