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Opinion: Wicket bad bet

The 1983 Cricket World Cup final match between India and West Indies on June 25, 1983, in London.
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Hulton Archive
The 1983 Cricket World Cup final match between India and West Indies on June 25, 1983, in London.

Build it, and they will come. At least, online.

Police in India have charged four people who set up a cricket pitch in the village of Molipur, with creases, wickets, and stadium lights.

Then they hired more than 20 unemployed local farm laborers and teenagers, for about 400 rupees each, or $5 a game, and put them in jerseys that looked a lot like those of Indian Premier League cricket teams, like the Chennai Super Kings and Gujarat Titans. They paid a few more people to pose as umpires. Then they put on a cricket tournament — kind of.

The umpire-pretenders called for certain pitches and plays. The imposter players followed their orders. The scam cricket matches they conjured were streamed over YouTube, sweetened with simulated crowd noise, sound effects, and game commentary by a man doing an impression of one of India's top cricket announcers, Harsha Bhogle.

Several Russian gamblers put down bets over Telegram, the messaging app. They lost their rubles. The tournament made it to the quarter-finals before the police broke it up.

Bhavesh Rathod, an officer investigating the case, told the BBC, "These guys just cleared a patch of land deep inside a village and began playing a match and beaming it on YouTube to make money through gambling."

Cricket is not well-known in Russia. Still, you might think people betting money on matches would know the REAL Indian Premier League had ended three weeks earlier. They might begin to wonder, "Hey! These guys don't LOOK like professional athletes ...."

But that may not be a gambler's frame of mind. I've been to horse tracks where my family members were among the few who stood along the rail for races. Much of the crowd were there to bet, not to watch. They hunched over cold screens inside, to play the ponies from the Meadowlands to Dubai, and ignored the actual sprinting, sweating, equine athletes that galloped by. Serious gamblers are often more interested in the wager than the contest.

It is difficult to feel sorry for hardened Russian gamblers who lose some money on a hoax. And hard not be a little charmed by a scam so cunning, it could wind up in a Hollywood — or Bollywood — heist movie.

And those laborers and teenagers who earned a few rupees for a few days can always say, "Do you know I once played cricket in the Premier League?"

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.