NEW DELHI – The sale of an imaginary T20 cricket league team to a South Africa-based business tycoon was central to the plot of a 2014 Bollywood thriller Raja Natwarlal.
But cops in India unearthed something even more bizarre recently – fake cricket matches staged by con men that were broadcast live on YouTube for an extensive betting operation in Russia.
These matches were held in the states of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh and police suspect such games were possibly also organised in Haryana.
In Gujarat, where cops arrested four accused in Molipur village on July 7, the hoax was ingenious and daring. Con men managed to pull off a sham Indian Premier League (IPL)-style cricket tournament three weeks after the official version of the tournament had ended in May.
A stretch of farmland was reportedly cleared in Molipur for a cricket pitch, complete with halogen lamps for night-time matches. Locals, including daily wage workers, were hired for as little as 400 rupees (S$7) as players.
They were given professional cricketing gear, along with team names such as Chennai Fighters and Maharashtra Rangers. A commentator who sounds like one of the sport’s most famous presenters was roped in as well to give the games a professional feel.
High-definition cameras beamed the matches online and cricket bets were placed through a Telegram channel managed by handlers in Russia.
And while these matches had no ground audience, sounds of cheering crowds from actual IPL games were played from speakers placed near the venue. The camera focused on the pitch, avoiding any shots of crowds.
Police in Gujarat said one of those arrested had worked in Russia and had links with individuals based there who are now also suspected to be behind the fake games held in Uttar Pradesh.
On July 12, the police in Uttar Pradesh’s Hapur district arrested two individuals accused of running such a scam operation for more than six months.
The matches, held on local cricket grounds, were streamed live on a YouTube channel called “Big bash Punjab t20” and bets were accepted through CricHeroes, an app that allows one to live-stream cricket matches.
The unusual nature of this scam has left cops bemused.
“This has really been a different scam,” said Mr Deepak Bhuker, Hapur district’s top police official. “We have seen betting on original matches but this is the first time we have come across people creating fake matches and then betting on it,” he told The Straits Times.
Local cricket players were hired and passed off as professionals online with names of state-level players and those competing in Ranji Trophy, a domestic first-class cricket championship.