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International cricket is going thru one of its biggest challenges right now with the menage-a-trois of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the England and Wales cricket board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA) on the verge of screwing over (for good) the other cricket-playing nations. With the attention of journalists and fans on backroom dealings and cricket administrators, curious events in the recently concluded Pakistan vs. Sri Lanka test in Sharjah escaped many a skeptical set of eyes.

Image courtesy the Creative Commons license and ESPNCRICINFO

Strange events that transpired on day five of the test tell me that the question on whether the game was fixed or not is a legitimate one and one that should be asked. While I have no smoking gun, I strongly suspect this test was fixed.

Here are the reasons why –

1) Human incentive to lose voluntarily is high when the loss doesn’t cost much. In this case, the Sri Lankan team knew they would not lose the series. In this case the Sri Lankan team knew they were getting a new coach anyways with Graham Ford returning to Surrey. With respectability already sealed and the series unloseable, who is to say a loss and some cash were not the best outcomes for Sri Lanka’s players? This is after all a cricket team playing for a constantly cash-strapped cricket board (1,2).

2) This is the pitch map of Pakistan’s second innings on the final day at Sharjah. If Sri Lanka were serious about winning, wouldn’t they have bowled more than 20% of the deliveries with the negative line and length associated with pitching the ball on or around the leg stump and at a fullish length? I did not see every ball of this game live but watching the highlights and looking thru the raw data on Cricinfo, it does not seem like Sri Lanka tried particularly hard on day 5 to contain Pakistan.

3) The series had seen scoring rates between 2.4 and 3.1 runs per over. Pakistan had not averaged more than 3.1 runs per over in any of their innings prior. The pitches especially the one at Sharjah were slow. Suddenly faced with a must-win situation, Pakistan accelerated to T-20 rates to score over 300 runs in just over 50 overs. Azhar Ali (career strike rate of 39) and Misbah Ul Haq (career strike rate of 42) suddenly turned in to Virender Sehwag circa 2005 to play chanceless knocks that won their team a test. You can choose to believe in the spirit of humanity under adversity or you can choose to be skeptical of protagonists from troubled cricket boards and nations and I choose the latter.

4) The exceptional Andy Zaltsman who normally sees the forest for the trees like a wide-eyed visionary lumberjack outlined a bunch of curious statistics from the test in his article on Cricinfo. He points out how using Cricinfo’s behemoth statistical tools, he has encountered only one other test match where the # of dot balls was fewer than the # of singles conceded. And all of this was against the second slowest scoring team of the last four years. Zaltsman adds,”To concede 160 singles in 57.3 overs was a frankly superhuman effort, a landmark in anti-pressurisation of batsmen. There is much talk of “bowling dry”, to restrict the batsmen’s flow of runs. Sri Lanka bowled damp. They avoided being drenched by a deluge, but instead ended up slowly saturated, sogging themselves into submission with a steady seepage of singles, their tactics as effective as an umbrella made of bread.”

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If you were working on Ocean’s Eleven type of plot to fix and intentionally lose a cricket match, wouldn’t your recipe be – Wait for a Monday in December when the series cannot be lost, allow plenty of singles, tell everyone you had the right idea to win and then lose with a whimper and have the game be forgotten.

If I had any connections to players or officials involved or if I had any power to sniff around, I would dig deep into this test match. There are plenty of unique and idiosyncratic occurrences that can just as easily be attributed to malice and intention-to-fix as they can be to the human spirit and luck.

I think the Sharjah test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka was fixed. Someone should look into it.

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