Betting in Associate and T20 leagues: Under the radar, over the top

Pop quiz - Which of these three matches played on October 9 had the highest amount of money wagered on it on the Betfair online exchange?

A - Australia v Pakistan, 1st Test
B - South Africa v Zimbabwe, 1st T20I
C - Kabul Zwanan v Nangarhar Leopards, Afghanistan Premier League T20

The first two options are more high-profile games than the third, but in terms of gambling action the world's newest T20 franchise competition was the runaway winner. More than 23.5 million British pounds were wagered on the match between Kabul and Nangarhar, outstripping the T20I (GBP 13 million) and Betfair's whole pool for the first three days of the Dubai Test combined (GBP 22.5 million).

If you think that's an anomaly, think again. The APL match between Balkh Legends and Nangarhar Leopards on October 11 had GBP 29.3 million wagered, while the match between Paktia Panthers and Balkh Legends on October 10 had more than GBP 33 million in betting action on the Betfair exchange. That's about four times the amount wagered the same day on the first Sri Lanka-England ODI before that match was abandoned. And this is just one of many legal betting sites and doesn't tally any action in illegal markets.

The ICC's anti-corruption unit (ACU) has been monitoring the betting during APL matches, and its head Alex Marshall said that the betting companies have told him there is nothing untoward to prompt them to raise the red flag. "We spoke to the betting industry, and they, at the moment, are not seeing any particular anomalies with the betting on APL," Marshall told ESPNcricinfo. "And they have looked very, very closely at it. And that is across lots of different betting companies."

According to Marshall, what he has understood from the betting industry sources, is the "volumes" are around GBP 25-30 million per match. "[We are told] IPL, as a comparison, is 60-70 million pounds and the Big Bash is somewhere in the middle."

That said, the APL numbers are significant and provide insight into the betting interest - and the threat of fixing as a consequence - that is often hidden from discussion in the Associate cricket world. As shown by this week's news of three Hong Kong players charged under the ICC anti-corruption code, players from Associate countries are under great threat of being approached to fix for a multitude of reasons. And during the Asia Cup in the UAE in September, it emerged that Afghanistan wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad had reported an offer made to him to underperform in the APL.

TV = "Pitchsiders" looking to jump the broadcast feed

When Nizakat Khan drove Craig Young back over his head a little less than half an hour into play during Hong Kong's World T20 Qualifier against Ireland in July 2015, a spectator sitting alone on the northern grass bank at Malahide used all his lungs to shout out, "SIX! SIX! SIX!" Typically, such enthusiasm would not distinguish him from anyone else in the crowd at a T20 match.

But the next ball down leg side also got him bellowing, "WIDE! WIDE! WIDE!" in bizarre fashion. This was the first day of televised matches from Ireland in the tournament, and while almost all of the 200 people at the venue were sitting in the temporary bleachers, one man alone was on the hill.

This was 'pitch-siding' - the act of relaying information from the ground to a remote location to beat the 15-30 second delay in the TV feed beamed globally, to get an advantage while betting on passages in play before the live computerised odds shift.

Aside from his strange ball-by-ball commentary, the man wore jeans and sunglasses, and had a hoodie pulled up over his head combined with a sport coat to conceal a mobile phone he was shouting into - possibly to bettors half a world away - on a hot summer day when everyone else was in shorts and t-shirts. In his attempt to be disguised, he actually stuck out like a sore thumb. Before long, his peculiar behaviour drew the attention of an ICC ACU officer who confiscated his mobile phone and escorted him out of the ground.

The match result is rarely where the big payoff lies

One of the great misconceptions in what constitutes "underperforming" or "fixing" is that most fans believe players are offered money or other incentives to ensure his team loses. Not so.

In basketball in the USA, there are infamous examples of ostensibly amateur university players going to jail for "point-shaving" in scams with bookmakers who often have mafia ties. If a basketball team is heavily favoured to win by 20 points, most fans wouldn't find anything unusual about a missed free throw or errant pass with two minutes left on the clock that turns the result into a 17-point win. The player's team still wins so it may seem innocuous at the time.

In the first two matches mentioned in the allegations against the Hong Kong trio of Irfan Ahmed, Nadeem Ahmed and Haseeb Amjad, which took place at the 2014 World Cup Qualifier, Hong Kong beat Scotland by 17 runs and beat Canada by nine wickets. Irfan scored an unbeaten century off 85 balls while Haseeb took 3 for 42 in the Canada match. Irfan also top-scored with 75 against Scotland, while Haseeb and Nadeem combined for seven wickets in that win. Their performances might leave fans completely bewildered when reading the corruption charges against them.

Intentionally underperforming doesn't necessarily mean playing to lose. The charges laid against the Hong Kong players include accusations of "being party to an effort to fix or contrive or otherwise influence improperly, the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of the match". Simply put, there are ways to affect the match, and the betting market, without losing.

In cricket, one of the most popular betting types is referred to as a bracket, a segment of play in which the wager is placed on whether the batting side scores more or less than a certain number of runs. Betting on the Powerplay bracket in T20 cricket is simply a choice of whether or not the batting side will score more or less than a particular number in the first six overs, for example 55 runs.

With the possibility of in-play or live betting options online during the course of a match, a skilled bettor can successfully hedge or "trade" the over or under as the line moves following each delivery to minimize risk and maximize profits. If the Powerplay bracket was set at 55 before play began and the batting side is 40 for 0 in four overs, the in-play line might shift to a higher number.

In the October 9 APL match between Kabul and Nangarhar, less than GBP 300,000 was wagered before the toss. By the time the second innings was about to start, the number was GBP 14 million. To highlight the appeal of a Powerplay bracket bet, the total Betfair exchange pool had risen by GBP 4 million near the end of the fourth over of the Nangarhar chase - they were 72 for 0 chasing 189.

If the bracket line for the Powerplay was 55, a person who bet above that line could have achieved a winning bet by the 2.5 over mark, then kept parlaying their winnings on the live odds as the line kept shifting until the conclusion of the Powerplay, by the end of which they were 97 for 0. But just GBP 5.4 million was bet between the start of the fifth over of the chase and the end of the match.

A skilled bettor, or one with slightly advanced info thanks to pitch-siding, can also make a fortune by hedging or trading positions on the moneyline - odds for who will win based on the current state of the match - during in-play betting.

Low player earnings = high vulnerability to bookie payoffs

Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Ben Stokes, Rishabh Pant, Rohit Sharma and David Warner. Thanks to the money they - or almost any player in the top national teams - make from the IPL and other T20 leagues, plus central contracts from boards, they each earn more than the entire operating budget of national boards of Associate countries such as Hong Kong.

When Hong Kong held ODI status from 2014-2018, Cricket Hong Kong had an operating budget and revenue of approximately US $3 million. Their highest paid player only earned US$48,000 approximately in 2016 according to sources, but the majority of the team was making about US$28,000 a year.

That was after Hong Kong got ODI status. Before they got ODI status when they went to the World Cup Qualifier in 2014, an event in which at least two Hong Kong matches are alleged to be under investigation for corruption, their players may have been lucky to get a quarter of that per year.

It may be hard to coerce a seven-figure earning superstar into corruption. But a five-figure enticement is a lot for an Associate player. Once they have been roped in the first time, a bookie won't hesitate to keep tapping into them, something indicated by the Hong Kong matches implicated that stretch to the 2016 World T20.

Access without scrutiny

On the day Hong Kong was playing Ireland at Malahide in 2015, a match of far greater interest was happening at Lord's: the second day of the second Ashes Test.

With about 28,000 people at the venue and millions watching on TV and following the match online, if something nefarious were to take place, it would have to escape far greater scrutiny.

By comparison, there were just hundreds inside Malahide and perhaps hundreds of thousands more watching globally. If nefarious activity was to take place at Malahide, the public scrutiny would be miniscule.

There is little difference in betting interest between formats and levels of competition as long as the games are broadcast. TV coverage is all that matters when it comes to taking advantage of the betting market via pitch-siding.

With regards to on-field corruption, a TV feed allows players on field to communicate with bookies remotely by signaling that a passage of play such as a bracket is about to be influenced. According to Ed Hawkins' book on corruption in cricket Bookie, Gambler, Fixer, Spy, the signal for batsmen could be something as simple as calling for a change of bat, a change of gloves, taking a helmet off for readjustment, or remarking their guard. A bowler might initiate a signal by pulling out of a delivery at the crease ahead of the first ball of the over.

Naivety in education

Simply put, many Associate players don't realise they are targets because of their perceived low visibility. Players involved in corruption have long made a habit of touring weak enforcement zones such as the USA to play in unsanctioned events. Many local players freely associate with those known to be involved in corruption and excuse it by saying such trite things as, "Who would ever want to fix a match involving us?"

Players from Test nations are more acutely aware of fawning interest from sycophants, can see through it and brush it off in grooming venues such as hotel bars. Associate players are typically unaccustomed to people showering them with attention, whether it is something as innocuous as a selfie or something more pronounced like a free drink at a bar, then a dinner, a free bat. By the time a player realises they are being roped into a corruption scheme, it may be too late.

Full Member countries such as England provide mandatory education through bodies such as the Professional Cricketers Association. It gives players, well before they reach international level, skills to spot the signs, and the knowledge that if a domestic match is televised there's no doubt it will be bet on too.

At the moment, Associate teams attend a mandatory 30-minute anti-corruption Powerpoint presentation run by the ICC ACU before the start of ICC events such as World T20 Qualifier and World Cup Qualifier. Other than that, it is up to their home boards to provide supplementary education.

One Associate player whom ESPNcricinfo spoke to about anti-corruption education he received said the ACU sessions he participated in ahead of franchise T20 tournaments such as the IPL, CPL, PSL and T20 Blast were treated very seriously. The reason was that the majority of players in the teams are from Test nations and they are acutely aware of the threats of corruption.

However, when the same presentation had been given to his national team ahead of a major ICC tournament, the Associate player said most players "yawned and rolled their eyes." They did not seriously think they would ever be the target of a bookie approach, simply because they were an Associate team. For those players from Associate countries who might only play a handful of international matches a year, and whose boards are not staffed or resourced to provide such education, it's simply out of sight, out of mind.