The betting shop is in the basement of a highrise on Barakhamba Road in New Delhi. Once upon a time it was the office of a stock broker, later it sold lottery tickets, and after a ban on lottery, the owners turned it into a betting shop. It is run by a Dubai-based group, I thought, but later I have come to know the operations are managed from London.
I have come here for a specific purpose. Today is the final of the Akhil Bharatiya Gend-Balla Pratyogita or the National Cricket League, a championship that features top clubs of the country. Kerala Jumbos are playing Chandigarh Cobras.
I had often wondered why cricket teams are named after tigers, lions, cobras, elephants, dragons, vipers, kings... Why don't we have teams called Gandhi XI, Raja Harishchandra XI, Laxmibai XI, etc? Then I found a reason for that. The league is primarily about fixing, cricket is secondary. Now if you name teams after animals and non-existent kings, no one is going to take any serious offence. One owner wanted to name his team Idli-Sambhar but a restaurant owner filed a PIL. There is no one to file a PIL for the jumbos and cobras. So that's how we have a final between jumbos and cobras.
I am not a gambler. I am here on work. My client wants me to track down the brain behind the business, he wants to partner him. There is no business which assures profits like betting on the League - that is if you have tied up with the right people. The results are fixed and already known to the Company and all transactions are in cash, no questions asked. If you feel like paying some taxes, account it to some bogus firm like Changu Mangu Fried Chicken, no one is coming to check if you are selling chicken, fried or raw.
Today being the final, the Company has made elaborate arrangements. Many terminals have been arranged for betting. I deposit Rs 1 crore against my user ID and take a table in the corner. Many LCDs are placed to show the match live.
I have already collected the information I need after hours of wiretaps, surveillance and undercover research. Who will bowl when? Who will score what? Who will win? Who will lose? I know it all. I place my bets cautiously and smartly. If the results match my expectations, I will lose some Rs 60 lakh. That would be enough to get the attention of the Company. The bait is set.
"The Jumbos have won the toss and elected to field. It will be interesting to see what tactics are employed by the skipper. He has gone in with two pacers, two spinners and will hope to get 4 overs from his part-timers."
"Are you seeing what I am seeing?"
"If you are talking about the cheerleader, the third from right, yes, you are seeing what I am seeing."
"Unbelievable. Cobras have opened with their tailenders."
"Oh my God, you are right. Honey and Lovely are opening the batting for Chandigarh Cobras. Do they know how to hold the bat? And technically they can't be called the tailenders because they are openers now."
"I would say a very thoughtful move."
"As a batting team's captain, you don't want your best batsmen to face the best bowlers. Skipper Lucky will be hoping Honey and Lovely can see through the first three overs."
"Very smart indeed. Add to that, the surprise factor. Lucky has set the cat among the pigeons. Now Jumbos will be forced to change their plan. But do they have a Plan Z, because their Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, etc would have been made assuming Cobras send in their better batsmen first."
"Yes, Jumbos captain Vedikettu Velu must be in a fix. How do you set the field for these two tailender-openers?"
"Yeah, Honey and Lovely are no ordinary tailenders."
"I have never seen their cover drive go to the covers, they always land up in third man or point or even square leg."
"Coming to think of it, it's actually a master stroke by Lucky. How will Velu respond?"
"You have the answer."
"Thammanam Shashi will open the bowling for Jumbos."
"But does he bowl?"
"Velu is going by the same logic applied by Lucky. You don't want to waste your best bowler on the opponent's worst batsmen, you save them for the better batsmen who are bound to come at some point in time."
"But Velu could have opted for a part-time bowler, why go for someone who probably hasn't bowled a single delivery in his life."
"The element of surprise. With Shashi every delivery will be a surprise. Velu may set an offside field, but Shashi may bowl a leg stump line, the batsman will be caught by surprise."
"I sometimes think with the kind of brains our captains have, they should have been playing chess and not cricket."
I just lost a couple of lakhs. The plan is working. Around me there is panic all around. The entire room is stunned. All who placed bets have lost money. I can see a few crying. But the thing with us gamblers is we never give up. We lose money, we place bets again to recover the lost money.
"Honey takes guard. He is moving away from the wicket making room to hit his famous cover drive. Velu is smart, he has placed fielders everywhere but the covers. He must have done extensive research on his opponents."
"Shashi starts with a wide. And what a wide! Some two metres away from the offstump, and it goes for a four."
I have lost another 2 lakh rupees. I can't help laughing.
Cobras score 80 in 20 overs. The info I gathered said they would score less than 90. Needless to say I have lost a few more lakhs. I am being treated like a king. A barmaid brought a large Jack Daniels. I have read enough detective novels and watched enough detective serials on TV to know these are attempts to distract me from the task. They want me to be careless to make more false moves. What do they know? Jasoos Narayanan Kutty knows it all, the match, the winners, everything. I am out here to fix you.
"Vedikettu Velu is opening the batting with Idivettu Itti. So no surprises there."
"Lovely opens the bowling for the Cobras, no surprises here either."
First delivery: Six over covers
Second delivery: Six over square leg
Third delivery: Six over long on
Fourth delivery: Six over the sightscreen
Fifth delivery: Six over point
Sixth delivery: Six over point
Now this is a surprise. Big surprise. The script I have doesn't say all this. I take out the script from inside my briefcase. I have every detail of the match, but the second innings is not going as planned. The bowler was supposed to give 16 runs but he has given 20 more than what he should have. The match is as good as over.
I have gained some 40 lakh rupees. The heat is now on me. I can see Company agents taking a keen interest in me. Hunter becomes the hunted. I don't wait anymore, leave silently, knowing their people will be following me. That is not an issue, I can lose their trail whenever I want.
The trouble is the Company looks to be in trouble. Why should my client buy stake in the Company that can't even fix a match properly? There is another player in the game. Someone who has outwitted the Company - game, set, match. This NCL went to the new player. I will call them the Sixer Fixers.
My search for the Sixer Fixers has brought me to Tuvalu, an island in the Pacific, to a bungalow on the beach to be specific. Every room of the building has a view of the sea.
"Mr Kutty. Boss is waiting for you," said the armed watchman.
He takes me to the porch, where a maid is waiting. I am guided to a large, luxurious room. The owner is a man of expensive tastes. You may ask what kind of marbles are on the floor. Well I don't know, I can't tell Italian marbles from Rajasthani. Even Jasoos Narayan Kutty has his limitations.
"Welcome Mr Kutty. How did you track me?"
A large man in casuals approached. In front of him, I looked like a kutty, a child.
"Simple. There is a saying in 'Mahabharata': if the victim is Keechak, the killer must be Bheem. First I tracked down the Company head. A little bit of digging into the past then brought me to you."
"How much did you lose? My apologies you lost money because of me."
"On the contrary, I made quite a decent profit. But my intention wasn't that."
He poured me a glass of something. I didn't ask what, I didn't want to reveal my ignorance. I will pick the bottle when I leave.
"My client wants to invest in a betting ring. He had selected the Company, but after the final we are having a rethink."
"Business can wait, why don't you just enjoy your stay here? All expenses on me."
No time for niceties, I am not a James Bond, and Sherlock Holmes has nothing to offer on situations like these, cricket was a gentleman's game during his days.
"I am just curious to know how you fixed the final. Actually very curious."
"I did what they did. I have players on my roll. They are paid to do what I tell them."
"Still, the Company must have lost a hell lot of money. The result wasn't what they wanted. Jumbos won the match."
"Since you have a liking for sayings, here is one for you. Taali ek haath se nahi bajti. (It takes two hands to clap)."
"I didn't get you."
"In a team game it is very difficult to fix the result. Even if you have five players on the roll who will underperform, it only increases the probability of your success. It doesn't guarantee the result you want."
"So you bought an entire team!"
"No, I couldn't have. Many of them were already with the Company. Yes, I fixed as many players as I could. But that wouldn't guarantee the result. There are many players who wouldn't take the bait. They are a real pain in the ..."
"So, what did you do?"
"If the child doesn't obey you, you obey the child."
"Still I don't get you."
"I paid six players of the Jumbos to overperform. Rather play to their full potential at least."
I have learnt two things today:
1) I have met the Professor Moriarty of my day.
2) Honesty also pays.