Acting on a tip-off, police in the Mehsana district of Gujarat last week arrested four men for staging the tournament and accepting bets through the social media app Telegram from punters from three cities in Russia.
Bhavesh Rathod, the officer investigating the case, said one of the four men had worked in a pub in Russia and “had some contacts there, and had got them interested in betting in cricket”.
India hosts the Indian Premier League (IPL), the world’s richest cricket competition. Some states such as Tamil Nadu have also launched their franchise-model local leagues modeled on the lines of IPL.
While Indian laws do not allow sports betting (except for horse racing), police say there is often a lot of illegal gambling in cricket.
Joy Bhattacharjya, a sports producer and a former director of an IPL team, said fake leagues such as the one in Mehsana were purely run for illegal gambling. “Organizers live-stream these fixed games, where the umpires openly give instructions to players. They are completely staged,” he said.
The Mehsana “tournament” was busted after more than nine games were played in a remote location in Molipur village, the police said. They seized cricket kits, cameras, and even speakers which would amplify the running commentary to “basically set the mood”.
The league – which was called Century Hitters T20 – had half-a-dozen “teams” named after different Indian states, nearly two dozen locals who were paid to turn out for all the teams, two umpires, and two organizers, the police said. One of the organizers doubled up as a commentator and mimicked a well-known cricket Indian pundit.
Two high-definition cameras beamed the matches on a YouTube channel with a paltry 255 subscribers and cricket bets were placed through a Telegram channel set up by the organizers.
Most of the betters were based in Moscow, Voronezh, and Tver, police said. To give the games a more authentic feel, a running commentary spiked with crowd sounds downloaded from the internet was blasted through speakers placed near the ground.
Umpires would use walkie-talkies to communicate with the organizers, who would connect with the punters through Telegram. The umpires would also give instructions to the players and influence the outcome of the game.
The “players” – who were paid 400 rupees ($5; £4.22) for a game – have already agreed to cooperate with the police in the case, according to Mr. Rathod.
“I have never seen a scam like this. 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,” Mr. Rathod said.
And what about the audiences?
“There were no audiences!”