It’s a humid July 7 afternoon with overcast conditions in Vadnagar, Mehsana, as two teams – “Chennai Fighters’” and “Gandhinagar Challengers” – face off in a T20 cricket match.
Batting first, Chennai Fighters are 99/3 in 14.3 overs, having just lost a wicket. “Hasan Ali”, a right-handed batsman, hits a powerful straight drive as a shaky camera shows the umpire signalling a boundary. Interestingly, the cameras never show the ball actually reaching the boundary rope.
It is the exact moment when curtains fall on this “fake cricket tournament” as a special operations group (SOG) of Mehsana Police raids the ground. A repeat of the live telecast of the T20 match on YouTube shows the umpire moving anxiously as a police team approaches him from the boundary. Moments later, the umpire hands over his walkie-talkie to one of the players and runs for his life. The match is called off unexpectedly as the shaky camera goes blank during the live broadcast.
According to Mehsana Police, a gang was running an elaborate show in the form of a fake “cricket tournament” in order to dupe bettors in Russia. The players were hired for a measly Rs 400 per day, the cricket ground was actually a farmland in Molipur of Vadnagar, there were speaker systems blaring fake crowd noise, a commentator was hired to imitate broadcaster Harsha Bhogle, and the umpire was receiving instructions on his walkie-talkie and passing them on to players regarding the betting prospects on every delivery.
Everything about the proceedings – the match, the setting, the players, umpires, the audience – was fixed.
Mehsana Police arrested four persons – Soeb Davda, Mahmad Saqib Saifi, Mahmad Abu Bakar Kolu and Sadiq Davda, all residents of Molipur in Vadnagar, for running this elaborate scam wherein “a lot of money was made through bets.” They have been taken in police remand till Tuesday under Sections 120B of the Indian Penal Code for criminal conspiracy, sections of the IT Act and the Prevention of Gambling Act.
“After a police team raided the spot, we found that a piece of farmland has been converted into a cricket ground where a white coloured mat has been laid down as the pitch. A single camera has been installed on a small cabin constructed 90 degrees to the pitch whereas on the west side of the ground, two men were stationed with two LED TV Screens.
“One of the screens displayed the score as Chennai Fighters 103/3 while the other screen displayed a Telegram messenger chat box where betting rates were being projected. We stopped the match and questioned the captains of both Chennai Fighters (Sanjay Thakor) and Gandhinagar Challengers (Sukhaji Thakor). Both were residents of Vadnagar and told us that they were paid Rs 400 daily to pretend to play cricket. The players were provided cricket jerseys, kits and other equipment and asked to follow the instructions of the two umpires who dictated to them how to play every ball,” said VN Rathod, police sub-inspector, Mehsana SOG, in his official complaint.
According to police, it was Soeb Davda who allegedly rounded up local cricket-playing boys from Vadnagar taluka to join his charade.
“It was Soeb who offered Rs 400 per day to the local boys and also rented the farmland of one Ghulambhai Masi to organise this tournament. Similarly, two umpires Mahmad Kolu and Sadiq Davda were receiving instructions on walkie-talkie from Soeb.
“Soeb has informed us that he was in touch on the Telegram app with one Asif Mahmad from Russia, who used to organise betting over there on the tournament. The fourth accused, Mahmad Saqib Saifi was coordinating with Asif Mahmad of Russia, who gave him the live betting rates,” added Rathod.
According to Achal Tyagi, superintendent of police, Mehsana, it was Asif Mahmad sitting in Russia who was the mastermind of the elaborate cricket scam. Asif has also been booked under the same sections. Preliminary investigations have found that the gang received bets from Tver and Moscow in Russia.
“It was Asif who paid Rs 3-4 lakh to the accused gang, asking them to look for a ground and hire players, equipment and other stuff. The four accused were not making any money initially but were promised that if all goes well, they will be handsomely rewarded with Rs 70,000 per month.
“A total of 24 players were hired by this gang from Vadnagar and divided into five teams by shuffling them. Different jerseys were also made for these five teams. The fake cricket tournament had been going on for the past 15 days,” said Tyagi.