This image might look real — and it was certainly real enough to fool the Russians — but what you’re seeing is an elaborate and hilarious stunt.
For two weeks, a gang of conmen managed to convince Russian gamblers that a group of farm labourers and unemployed kids playing cricket on a dusty field were part of the Indian Premier League.
The elaborate scam was so simple it should never have worked. But it did.
On a remote farm at Molipur village of Mehsana district in the western state of Gujarat, as many as 21 everyday Indians pulled on colourful uniforms and strode out in front of cameras for a grift that involved halogen lamps, computer-generated graphics and crowd noise downloaded from the internet.
Wearing jerseys from the actual Indian Premier League clubs including Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Gujarat Titans, the men were paid $5 a game to do their best professional cricket impersonations.
Cameramen controlling as many as five HD cameras made sure to never show the entire ground. Instead, they focused on close-ups of the players and the umpire — a man dressed in a white coat and hat with grey pants.
A speaker with a knack for mimicking one of the IPL’s real Indian commentators — Harsha Bhogle — was used to make the tournament appear authentic.
Bhogle, having read the story in the news, tweeted: “Can’t stop laughing. Must hear this ‘commentator’.”
All of it was being controlled by a mastermind who managed to convince Russian punters who watched on a YouTube channel to bet on the matches on Telegram.
The Times of India reports that organisers accepted bets from punters in Russian cities of Tver, Vorone and Moscow.
They named Shoeb Davda the “chief organiser” and said he had just returned to the region “after working for eight months in a Russian pub famous for taking bets”.
Shoeb later took the bets from Russian gamblers himself, police said.
The betting scam reminiscent of the Oscar-winning 1973 movie The Sting played out until the quarterfinal stage of the tournament before police busted the racket.
According to local reports, the tournament began three weeks after the actual IPL concluded in May, but that proved no hindrance to the gang who police said leased a remote farm in Gujarat and hired umpires and farmers to complete the look.
Police inspector Bhavesh Rathod explained the set-up to stunned reporters.
“The accused had set up high resolution cameras on the ground and used computer generated graphics to display scores on a live streaming screen,” said, before adding that unemployed youths joined the farmers for 400 rupees a match.
Rathod added that during the match the supposed official “would signal the bowler and batsman to hit a six, four or get out”.
A “quarterfinal” match was being played “when we got a tip-off and we busted the racket,” he said.
It was, up until that point, somehow working. The accused had received a first instalment of more than 300,000 rupees (nearly $4,000) from the punters in Russia, police said.
But it couldn’t last. Police have arrested four people so far. The suspects have been charged with criminal conspiracy and gambling in a country where betting on sport is illegal.
On social media, the reaction was hilarious.
“These fake cricket games are hilariously absurd to anyone from a cricket playing country but good enough to fool Russians,” one user wrote.
“This is among the greatest things indians have ever accomplished,” another wrote.
Journalist Maya Sharma wrote: “All those elaborate heist films, those scams with detail and coordination and intense planning and disguises and fake identities and exotic locations and big stars — eat your heart out.”
— with AFP