47 for 1 at lunch on day two and South Africa are sitting pretty. Archrival Australia has been bowled out for 284, a 100 more than they should have got, but then that’s cricket. At this stage if you had bet on South Africa being bowled out for under a 100, you would have got odds of 20 to 1 or better. Well, they were bowled out for 96 and had you bet a 1,000 quid, you would have been richer by 20,000. Now Australia lead by 188 and go out to bat a second time. What would be the odds on Australia getting out for below 50? It is a highly improbable event and it happened.
Cricket is a game of improbabilities and that’s what makes it so fascinating. In any one over, a range of outcomes can happen; wickets can fall in a number of ways, and runs can be scored in a number of ways. Which is why punters have always been attracted to this game; the sums of money that are now being bet on the game are very large indeed, by some estimates as much as a tens of billions of dollars every year. The question that may occur to money savvy people is that with so much money at stake, can things really be left to chance? They aren’t, or so the cynics would have us cricket lovers believe.
It seems fixing is as old as sport itself. Athletes in ancient Greek were known to throw contests for money. Before the 1934 football world cup final, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini held court with the referee and it may have had something to do with the result (Italy won). FIFA’s head of security claimed at a parliamentary hearing that fixing generates millions for criminals. Bradman’s father, no less, was said to be suspicious after Australia lost the first two tests in the 1936/37 series, but went on to win 3-2. Boxing has always been clouded by rumors of mafia involvement, as this article in the Independent points out.
My good friend Ramaswamy, who is all-things-savvy and is exceptionally adept at higher math, had this to say, “When the distribution of improbable events cannot be easily explained by power laws, one has to invoke a higher power”. Now what did he mean by that?