By Daniel Beswick
In May 2018, Al-Jazeera’s beamed Cricket’s Match Fixers to the world, intending to uncover controversies crippling international cricket and the sport’s integrity.
The Doha-based network claimed that its investigation would expose some of cricket’s superstars, with sufficient evidence to prove unequivocally that matches at international level were riddled with under-performance for the sake of financial benefit. Former players and governing bodies were quick to call out the investigation, critical of its ambiguity, naivety and its failure to provide new information. In October, Al-Jazeera returned with a second part of their investigation, The Munawar Files, claiming to have uncovered more information on the spot-fixing techniques of Aneel Munawar, a middle-ranked operative in D-Company, a mafia syndicate.
As Al-Jazeera plays its hand producing both parts, the investigation, while it manages to crack open some issues, ultimately fails to land killer blows. Given that justice may have been served by Al-Jazeera handing their work over and launching a criminal investigation instead, one could even go further to ask if it is benefitting anyone from releasing this investigation to the public.
Al-Jazeera’s naivety appears from the beginning of their investigation, even if their aim was to provide context to those who are not students of the game. It begins with a sunshine-filled club game with a humble scattering of onlookers, highlighting that the British pastime has spread to over 100 countries across the globe. In this sequence they make a mistake of dropping the most clichéd sentence in the sport’s vernacular - that cricket is ‘the gentleman’s game’. Intending to juxtapose a supposed purity of club cricket to the game’s ‘sinister side’, it blinds itself to the fact that no sport with any bearing is free of pushing limits on gamesmanship. In addition, adding a historical context of cheating in cricket negates the image that the sport holds a clean record in recent times, even excluding the supposed evidence that has come across Al-Jazeera’s desk. It contradicts itself in the early stages.
This context put forward by Al-Jazeera lacks effort and looks to be used to pad the time out. Hansie Cronje’s role in the 1990s and Lou Vincent’s confession in 2014 are cited, before lazily launching at ‘accused’ Mohammad Azharuddin and Wasim Akram. There’s no mention of Chris Cairns allegations, and Mohammad Ashraful and Danish Kaneria’s names are brought forward as an afterthought later in the production. Al-Jazeera, an organisation reputed for its journalistic class, fails to properly contextualise its argument.
Al-Jazeera’s innocence at times trickles into its understanding of the fixing processes, and undoes a lot of groundwork in the exposé. The investigation’s reporter, David Harrison, goes undercover and uses an underworld intermediary to meet and build rapport with several key figures. He pushes enough buttons to evoke answers from the investigations subjects, though what he does squeeze out isn’t enough to shift the viewer’s opinion. Harrison, after bonding at length with Munawar, asks if has players from every international team in on the operation. Munawar simply throws a ‘yes’ back. As the investigation goes on, it is apparent that Munawar’s contacts stretch to only three countries. Strangely, as an Indian fixer, he has little contact with players from his country. Munawar also alludes to players splitting cash around the players, though the investigation fails to dive into this further.Harrison’s meetings with fixer Robin Morris and his contacts show a much wider web in bringing the game into disrepute though a number of techniques. He baits Tharindu Mendis (an ex-player) into telling him of doctored pitches in Galle, though his press is met with nervousness. Tharanga Indika, the assistant manager of Galle Stadium, leaves the room. Mendis and Morris come quick to Indika’s defence claiming that he doesn’t like meeting new people, though it makes sceptics wonder why he agreed to discuss things with a stranger like Harrison in a hotel room. Similarly, Munawar, upon finding out that Harrison is not who he claims to be, remains calm while exiting the room. Many would think that after being exposed, Munawar would be fidgety, sweating in nervousness before rushing out.
Al-Jazeera’s innocence is epitomised by the types of fixes explained to them, and how the organisation incorrectly misconstrues them to the audience. On no less than ten occasions, the documentary outlines the types of session betting that Munawar and D-Company use for their syndicate. A ‘session’, not to be confused with the three two-hour periods of play in Test cricket, is rather a period of six to ten overs. Munawar and those in the fix predict that the batting team in a ‘session’ score under a set line of runs, with the last over being a ‘manda’ - an over where two or less runs are scored.
To compound this, a number of the contrived plans do not seem to add up as realistic betting fixes, especially for Test match cricket. In the case of Munawar and D-Company’s session run lines, the run totals look unachievable to reach, even for some of the world’s brutish players. Even if the plan is to go under the unrealistic total, the odds would be incredibly short. Among the fixes shown in the investigation, 48 runs in six to ten overs is the smallest line, with 68 another mentioned line in part one. In part one, there is even a misunderstanding between Munawar and a client, where Munawar clarifies that there is a one in front of the total, therefore making the line between 166-168. The numbers fail to add up. Al-Jazeera could well have missed something here, thus failing to enlighten the viewer.
Gaps appear in fixing techniques when Harrison and Al-Jazeera turn their attention to Sri Lanka. Morris, Mendis and Indika are accompanied by Gaurav Rajkumar, a fixer based in UAE who pays groundsmen up to thirty thousand US Dollars to doctor pitches. First, pitches are inspected by members if the ICC during their preparation. With all this time to assess conditions, it gives legal bookmakers, and perhaps the corrupt ones in control of their markets, enough time to adjust their match odds.
There are two more factors that appear to affect the pitch preparation. First: Sri Lanka’s opponents. In the documentary, two Galle Test matches are shown to highlight the fixing techniques - one against Australia (2016) and one against India (2017). For the first, the groundsmen prepare a wicket conducive to spin, while they prepare a pitch good for batting in the second. In the India match, the line for first innings score is 280, with fixers, after the toss, throwing thousands on overs. Though again, it wouldn’t take an expert to predict a team batting first on a flat wicket to come through and cover. Any odds on that, whether it is through illegal bookies or the world’s biggest betting companies, cannot be long. Were they just preparing them just based on Sri Lanka being competitive against the best Test playing nation, and to undo Australia with spin? To claim that the pitches are being prepared purely for fixing purposes is plausible, but by no means conclusive.
The second to undo the fixers’ variable is the weather. While Galle is in the south-west of Sri Lanka, the north-east monsoon, which tends to sweep through from late September to November, can bring rainfall to the whole country. Lengthy delays would raise the chance of matches taking all five days, and wet weather has potential to hinder batting conditions. In theory, rain could have ruined both of Morris and Mendis’ fixes. This may have occurred just days ago had Sri Lanka batted two hours longer against England, in their recent Test match in Galle. Highlighted as the next potential fix in the investigation as a match where a result within five days would be achieved, rain threatened to bring down the operation. As a thunderstorm swept through the city on Saturday, England had already locked up the Test match by dismissing Sri Lanka on the Friday afternoon. A guaranteed fix would surely factor in the likelihood of inclement weather.
It would be unfair to omit the success Al-Jazeera enjoy when they nail on Robin Morris and Hasan Raza in their sting while in Qatar, where the pair outline to Harrison plans of fixing an entire Twenty20 tournament in UAE. The Ajman All-Stars, the tournament in question, plays out almost exactly how the pair intend, with damning footage of parts of the tournament by other news outlets being the only remnants of it available on the internet. Results have been swiped from cricket websites like ESPNCricinfo and Cricbuzz, and squad lists are non-existent. The ICC Anti-Corruption Unit opened an investigation, with the final nail in the coffin being a team bowled out for 46, riddled with stumping and run outs. As Twenty20 tournaments in Associate countries don’t carry status, stats are not counted. Players could fix all they want and their career numbers would not be touched. For Morris and Raza, it was still a failure. Their plan to take their T20 tournaments to other countries and corrupt them has not materialised.
Despite this success, Al-Jazeera somehow missed Hasan Raza coming out to the media soon after, claiming that players came to him in protection from fixers. As one of two men trying to fix the whole tournament, the story screams of Raza covering up his own work. While part two of the investigation is centred around Aneel Munawar’s fixing, it would have been wise to include a follow up on some of the other figures Al-Jazeera probed in part one to tie their operation up.
Just as Al-Jazeera fail to delve into the splitting of fixing money between players speaking to Munawar, the investigation also fails to delve into other claims of fixing across the two parts. Early in part one, Al-Jazeera make a throwaway comment that fixers rig overall results, and push Raza and Morris to claim that the UAE national team has up to five fixers with up to 25 thousand US Dollars offered to players willing to deliver fixes. The failure to push the pair with more information on this is another highlight of Al-Jazeera’s blunt attack. Compounded by a lack of a paper trail for transfers of money, Al-Jazeera’s lack of direction only leads to more questions.
This lack of a cutting edge is underlined when Al-Jazeera brings in its talent, Corruption Investigator Ed Hawkins, and Chris Eaton, formerly of INTERPOL. Hawkins in particular isn’t given the chance to go at players, instead needing the audience to buy in to what he is shown. Hawkins brings up valid points in regards to D-Company and its ‘powder keg’ situation in India/Pakistan relations (as an organisation that allegedly funds Pakistan’s military), but when it comes to confirming players of fixing that he has received intelligence on in the past, it comes down to how believable his word is to the audience. Sceptics will only be converted with evidence in front of them. It’s here where Al-Jazeera is trapped even after all their hard work. If Al-Jazeera were to pass on the evidence, a criminal investigation begins and the productions can’t be aired. For the production to be shown to the public, it almost needs to be an unfinished work.
Eaton’s presence lacks a conviction, again down to Al-Jazeera not giving him the tools to go and clearly prove his importance in the investigation. Strangely, an Australian, Eaton mispronounces Andy Bichel’s name (Bichel is photographed with Munawar, assuming Munawar to be a fan) and throws around clichés that fail to add to Al-Jazeera’s argument. While Eaton’s credentials are undoubted, he is almost forced to resort to claims that lack substance. He claims that Munawar’s accurate ‘predictions’ prove he is fixing, though this is established by Harrison’s undercover work. Eaton then continues to describe allegations as ‘shocking’, and outlines that sports claim fixing can occur in lower levels of sport, but go on to claim there is purity at the top. Eaton, of all people, should know that cricket has been laced with corruption. He ends his piece by playing on cricket’s sanctimony, stating “(cricket) used to be called the gentleman’s game, what Al-Jazeera has shown me, (it) looks to me like cricket is the rotten game.” Again, it is a nice sentence to conveniently tie everything together for the sake of the piece, but again fails to improve the understanding of goings on for those watching. INTERPOL and Eaton’s involvement may evolve, with Harrison telling Jonathan Agnew on Test Match Special that Al-Jazeera in the process of handing over their evidence.
Former Australian fast bowler and Coach Andy Bichel is one of many involved in high quality cricket to be pictured with Aneel Munawar during his escapades. Al-Jazeera, in the investigation, shows this to highlight how easy it can be for fixers to rub shoulders with high-profile players. In one instance, they show pictures of Umar Akmal looking into a bag allegedly full of money. Akmal denies taking the supposed bribe, and was surely wise to not partake in suspicious behaviour whilst wearing Pakistan training kit, which he was pictured in. While Akmal’s situation brings evidence to an attempted fix, other players pictured with Munawar would be well within their rights to fume at their inclusion in the documentary. Even if the investigation adds that the pictured players aren’t suspected of fixing activity, merely bringing their name and face into the documentary to make a point is unfair.
This unfairness is taken one step further while Ed Hawkins watches a supposed fix in England’s innings against India at Chennai, in 2016. Al-Jazeera show blurred footage of a passage of play, showing a left-handed player with English insignia on his pants and an SS bat knocking a ball to the leg side. It doesn’t take a detective that the player is Moeen Ali, and Moeen’s lawyer, like that of the player who is supposedly recorded in a phone conversation with Munawar, is no doubt weighing up several options.
As the ICC’s anti-corruption unit continues its brigade by lecturing players on what is not condoned, Hawkins opposes the ICC’s work suggesting that the players are naive, in that they suggest that spot-fixing is acceptable given that it doesn’t affect the outcome of the game. If that is correct, the problem rests on the shoulders of the ICC, if they are failing to convey things effectively. How can players at the elite level not think that under-performing at any stage is acceptable? This should be a barb at the ICC, like several of Al-Jazeera’s valid arguments are. With conflicting reports from the ICC on their knowledge of Munawar, Al-Jazeera’s attack may have been more effective if it was directed to the ICC and its negligence.
There is no doubt that fixing is rife within international cricket, though it would be foolish to think that Al-Jazeera’s work to bring operations undone is ground-breaking. Despite exposing the UAE Ajman-All Stars T20 League for example, it fails in proving that doctoring the pitches in Sri Lanka is specifically fixing for betting purposes. In the case of Aneel Munawar and D-Company, the scales are on the verge of tipping the case beyond reasonable doubt, though are prevented to do so without the supposed evidence. A part of the two episodes that almost epitomises Al-Jazeera’s lack of cutting edge information occurs when Hawkins challenges anyone who loves the game to ‘watch and not have a knot in their stomach.’ Unfortunately, there is no chance for people to judge for themselves. Knowledge withheld is knowledge wasted. Al-Jazeera hedged their bets and produced an incomplete work that former players and sceptics rightfully condemned.
By Daniel Beswick (@dgbeswick1)
Games that are supposedly fixed by Munawar
- 2011 England and Pakistan series in UAE (three matches)
- 2011 South Africa v Australia in Cape Town
- Australia v New Zealand - location and tour unknown (either 2011/12 or 2015/16)
- 2016 India v England Test in Chennai
2011 Cricket World Cup
- Australia vs Kenya
- England vs Netherlands
- Australia v Zimbabwe
- Australia v England
- England v South Africa
- England v Bangladesh
2012 World T20
- Sri Lanka v Zimbabwe
- England v Afghanistan
- South Africa v Pakistan
Australians who played the Test match against South Africa at Cape Town and played at the 2011 World Cup. Interestingly there are no World T20 fixes for Australia, which may suggest that the players in question weren't at the tournament.
English players who were in the winning 2010/2011 Ashes squad, and played at the 2011 Cricket World Cup. One 2012 World T20 match.
To Robin Morris
Any international players at Ajman-All Stars T20 Tournament.