Several Indian farmers from Gujarat streamed made-up professional cricket matches to Russian bettors for two weeks. These farmers managed to convince the Russian players to place their bets in what they thought was the Indian Premier League (IPL). The real IPL ended in May this year.
How it went down
The farmers livestreamed the made-up tournament on YouTube and also created a channel on Telegram to provide updates on the matches. The Telegram channel was where they took bets from the Russian gamblers. Most of the bettors came from Moscow, Voronezh, and Tver.
To create the fake matches, 21 farm labourers and teenagers posed as professional cricketers from renowned Indian teams. Each actor received Rs 400 (approximately US$ 5) per match for their performances. This event took place at a remote farm in Molipur village of Mehsana district.
The field had five high-definition cameras and halogen lamps surrounding it. To make everything more believable, the farmers even added sound effects that resembled the sound of a real crowd.
Players continuously changed their jerseys. They played several famous teams including Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings, and Gujarat Titans. A fake referee also walked around the perimeter while carrying a walkie-talkie.
Someone posed as a well-known cricket commentator, Harsha Bhogle, during the matches. Bhogle had read about the news and shared his amusement on Twitter, saying that he “can't stop laughing”.
The masterminds controlled the matches to steer the game in their favour. Shoeb Davda, one of the farmers behind this fraud, gave instructions to the umpire based on the live bets that happened on the Telegram channel. The umpire then gave signals to bowlers and batsmen on the court to change their play.
Mehsana police soon caught up with this scam and busted the fraud during the “quarter-finals” of the tournament. The police made four arrests in that operation, including Davda. At that point, the scammers had gathered Rs 300,000 (about US$ 3,775) from their victims. The Hawala channel used to conduct the scam is also under investigation and the authority confiscated some items including cricket kits and cameras.
Bhavesh Rathod, a Mehsana police official, said that this was the first time he and surrounding villagers saw an elaborate effort to trick people by running a fake cricket tournament.
"I have never seen a scam like this," Mr Rathod said. "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. Even the local villagers were not aware of this. We know very little about the Russians who were putting bets on this game."
Joy Bhattacharjya, a former director of an IPL team, said illegal schemes such as the one in Mehsana were solely created for illegal gambling. "Organisers live-stream these fixed games, where the umpires openly give instructions to players. They are completely staged," he said.
The con idea started when Davda was working at a Russian pub that was known as a betting hotspot. He met Asif Mohammed who later became his partner for this grand con. Mohammed introduced cricket to Russian gamblers in the pub to gain their interest in the sport. These gamblers linked the team to others in Russia.
Davda executed his plan once he got back to Molipur. He recruited Sadiq Davda and Mohammed Kolu among others into his team. The team created a YouTube account for the streaming and began the tournament three weeks after the real IPL had ended.
Sports betting (except for horse racing) is illegal in the country. However, cricket betting is popular among locals due to the popularity of this sport.