His (Dilawar Chaudhry) first call was to Shahid Afridi, who had come to dine with team-mate Addul Razzaq at the restaurant earlier that summer. “Shahid, have you seen the news?’ he asked.
Afridi had just arrived at Karachi airport with Razzaq to catch a flight to London for the forthcoming one-day series with England. The fixing accusations were the only news on the TV screens at the terminal. “Yes,” he replied, “It was inevitable.”
A couple of hours before this book dropped through my letterbox, I was reading online that a couple of darts players had been suspended from the PDA (Professional Darts Association) after having “questions to answer” regarding dubious playing and betting during a couple of matches. Looking at their rankings I thought they couldn’t really get by on their earnings, but this is something I will touch on later.
It seemed fortuitous, then, that this book “The Thin White Line” by Nick Greenslade, which is about a similar scandal in the world of Cricket, should suddenly – and almost literally – land in my lap.
The book focuses on the Spot fixing scandal of 2010, during Pakistan’s tour of England, involving bookmaker Mazhar Majeed who also doubled up as a players’ agent to some of the Pakistani cricketers: Salman Butt, who was Captain of the Pakistani cricket team at the time, and two fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir.
News of The World journalist Mazher Mahmood, known at times as “the Fake Sheikh” and for this specific case as “Moshin Khan”, was central to a sting operation that involved meetings, phone calls, a massive collection of evidence and a lot of money. Ultimately, it lead to jail sentences – and playing bans – for the three cricketers, the agent/bookmaker and, in a twisted sense of irony, Mahmood was imprisoned but on charges unrelated to this affair.
The Thin White Line is a very extensive piece of work. The foreward gives a general list of contributors, and the list is so impressive that even the caterer gets involved. So, as you read, you can see the effort the author has put in – it’s like watching Geoffrey Boycott trying to get a century by standing on his wicket, and hitting singles.
It does read a bit like an expensive drama on ITV, probably with David Tennant and Toby Jones as the dogged investigators and with a guest appearance by Bill Nighy playing Giles Clark.
Being serious for a moment, though, it does cover the investigation in meticulous detail. From the initial meeting with the agent, contact with the players involved, the deals, the office meetings at the ‘Screws’ (as the News of the World was sometimes known), the game itself and the first contact with the Police and up to the court proceedings by the ICC and the Judicial system.
Interesting side note: Cressida Dick – now chief of Police – is a Pakistan Cricket supporter from her days at university. That’s just one detail among many mentioned in this book.
It is a wonderful piece of work, leaving no stone unturned, but also it is written in a way that you, as the reader, can follow it step-by-step without being bogged down in useless information.
What really comes across is that, compared to the Indian Cricket Players (M.S. Dhoni, for example, made up to the equivalent of £26 million on advertising alone), Pakistan players were on what Majeed referred to as “peanuts” – £22k per year. This was also touched upon by Nasser Hussain on Sky during the affair.
So was it ‘inevitable’ as Shahid Afidi thought? Well, yes possibly it was if other cricketers are being paid, in some cases, millions. So this is a casual reminder that in sports, not everyone is fabulously wealthy.
Also mentioned in the book is the Hansie Cronje match fixing affair in 2000, and incidents between international teams over the last thirty years: Mike Gatting/ Shakoor Rana, Ian Botham/Imran Khan anyone.
Also mentioned more than once is Croydon Athletic F.C. Now, I’m not sure if they will get many mentions in a sports book unless, somewhere out there, there is a book about Croydon Athletic F.C. In this case, they are mentioned because they were part owned by Majeed.
This 256 page read is a wonderful account of skullduggery uncovered. A step-by-step in the world of sports betting, the sting, the investigation and the impending doom it can create for those involved. There is a brilliant photo mid- book of Bill Nighy, I mean Giles Clark, having to give a Man of the Series award to Mohammad Amir. I imagine he really didn’t want to.
This is yet another gem of a book from Pitch Publishing. If I had a pound for all the books I’ve reviewed for them, and given great reviews to, I would be up a fiver!
This is really up there with my all time sport non-fiction favourites, alongside “The Dirtiest Race in History” by Richard Moore; Steve Bunce’s “Big Fat Short History of British Boxing”; Tony Adams’ “Addicted” and, of course, “How to be a successful Rugby League Coach” by The Cheeky Girls.
Title: The Thin White Line: The inside story of cricket’s greatest scandal
Author: Nick Greenslade
Published by Pitch Publishing, August 2020
Available now from Pitch Publishing Price: £19.99