Gambling and cricket have been together forever. From Tennyson’s ‘tenner’ to the Headingley 1981 odds, Ben Gardner and Phil Walker list down some of the most epic gamblers’ tales.
First published in 2017
10. All Betts are on
According to the Daily Telegraph Chronicle of Cricket, the first recorded cricket match, in 1646 at Coxheath in Kent, had betting involved, and in the 18th century, gambling-inspired violence was standard at cricket matches. Play even had to be suspended during a 1756 fixture at the Artillery Ground between Surrey and Dartford, and it wasn’t long before a section entitled ‘Betts’ was written into the official rules of the game to try, in vain, to limit the rampant practice.
Fast forward a few centuries to the gambler’s dream that is the IPL. Thrills, spills, bellyaches, a million markets running at once and an incessant schedule to forlornly chase those ravaging losses. And hell, if you’re on a particularly poor run, why not stump up your own wife on a match? In 2016, Ravinder Singh of Kanpur, in the midst of a bad trot – house, car, heirlooms etc, nothing he couldn’t manage – came over all Mayor of Casterbridge to stake his missus, Jasmeet, on a game. When the result went against him, Ravi legged it, and according to the Hindustan Times is still at large. Jasmeet, meanwhile, went to the police. Which on balance seems entirely reasonable.
8. Zero tolerance
OK, we all know that some cricketers aren’t entirely scrupulous when it comes to cricket matches and money. But it’s hard not to feel a tad sorry for some of those lesser mortals who feel the full strength of the law for minor indiscretions, such as WBBL players Hayley Jensen and Corrinne Hall, who both received six-month bans in 2016 for betting on the results of an Australia-New Zealand Test match and the men’s domestic one-day competition. “We take a proactive, zero-tolerance approach to maintaining the integrity of our sport and this includes any form of betting on cricket globally,” Cricket Australia’s head of integrity Iain Roy intoned. That a governing body needs a ‘head of integrity’ says it all.
7. Tennyson’s tenner
This one’s for the ages. Hampshire, led by noted jowly sophisto Lord Tennyson, had mustered 15 [FIFTEEN] in reply to Warwickshire’s 223 in their 1922 Championship fixture. Warwickshire skipper The Hon. Freddie Calthorpe – a title was a pre-requisite for any county captain back then – predicted a two-day finish, and cheekily suggested the third be set aside for golf. Tennyson took umbrage at the insult, laid down £10 at huge odds on a Hampshire win, and watched his team pile up 521 before claiming a 155-run victory on the final day.
6. Lump on Lumpy
The Glenn McGrath of his day, ‘Lumpy’ Stevens was as accurate as they come. Indeed, it is because of him that we have a middle stump, installed after he ‘bowled’ the great Hambledon batsman John Small three times through the then-gaping gap between off and leg stumps in a single-wicket game in 1775. Lumpy, generally considered to be cricket’s first great bowler, later put his accuracy to profitable use, winning £100 for his employer Lord Tankerville – upon whose estate in Walton-on-Thames Lumpy worked as a gardener – by landing the ball on a feather placed on the pitch.
5. A Shaw bet
Considering the fact that England were following on in their 1800 fixture against Victoria, that no team had ever followed on and won, and that some of England’s players, led by George Ulyett and John Selby, were deliberately dropping catches for their own monetary gains, the odds of 30/1 offered to England captain Alfred Shaw seemed remarkably short. But he kept faith in his team, laid a pound on England winning, and managed to lead his side to victory. He was even aided by one hapless player who managed to lodge the ball in his sleeve in attempting to miss a catch.
“I have never had any qualms over the matter and I have never lost a moment’s sleep because of it.” Dennis Lillee there, in a column for the West Australian, unrepentant about the tenner he instructed a lackey to put on England to win the Headingley Test in 1981 at 500/1. “Ludicrous odds” they may have been, but with England 135-7, still 92 short of making Australia bat again, Lillee and partner-in-crime Rod Marsh must have felt they were on pretty safe ground. Twenty-four Beefy hours later and those digits had entered cricket folklore, along with 99.94, 903-7, 365 and the rest. “I naturally would have swapped the money for a win but, being a small-time punter, I had been unable to resist the juicy 500-1. It was as simple as that.” Ah, innocent times. Sort of.
3. Spearman speaks out
The grim truth is that cricket dressing rooms the world-over have always been hotbeds of dodgy punts, big blinds and iffy studs, and not everyone escapes unscathed. When the former New Zealand and Gloucestershire opener Craig Spearman told the Telegraph in 2013 that “gambling was a part of my life from my early years and became a problem sometime in my twenties” he was drawing attention not just to his own “destructive” problems and the “huge heartache” they had caused, but those of many cricketers before him. Spearman has since been working with the PCA to draw attention to the potential problems around gambling.
2. Yes he did
Everyone’s favourite German-Scouse cricket-loving midfielder became obsessed with the game via the nocturnal horrors of spread betting on Australia. He recounts in The Didi Man how, with his marriage collapsed, on one such night he lost £288,400 in a single bet: “I bought Australia for £2,800 at 340 runs. That meant for every run [they score] over 340, you win £2,800, but for every run under, you lose the same amount. Every wicket felt like a stab in the heart. The next day when I looked at the mess that was me in the mirror I said, ‘Didi, things have got to change’.” Thankfully, they did, and Hamann is now clean.
1. The Horseshoe
Herbie ‘Horseshoe’ Collins was a scrawny titan of Australian cricket who made four centuries in 19 Tests from 1920-1926, and as captain, developed a reputation not just for never losing the toss, but rarely losing at the racetrack. A ferocious gambler, there was nothing, according to his New South Wales teammate Hal Hooker, that Horseshoe wouldn’t bet on: “Waiting on a railway line he would bet on how many trains would pass through the opposite platform. How many carriages would be on the next one, how many carriage windows would be open.” He became a bookmaker, winning and losing two fortunes on the track, but for all his legendary instincts, and his tendency to play poker all night before a match, there is no suggestion that Herb ever put any money down on a game of cricket in which he was involved. There are limits.
First published in 2017