A gang of conmen set up an elaborate fake Indian Premier League tournament, using farm labourers to pose as cricketers and dupe Russian gamblers, according to police.
The hustlers received thousands of pounds from the unwitting Russian punters, who believed they were watching real matches streamed online.
Yet the counterfeit matches were played not in India’s mega stadiums, but on a remote farm in Molipur village of Gujarat’s Mehsana district.
Gang members had become acquainted with Russian betting circles while working in the country and installed a cricket pitch, complete with “boundary lines and halogen lamps”, police inspector Bhavesh Rathod told reporters.
“Besides this, the accused had set up high-resolution cameras on the ground and used computer-generated graphics to display scores on a live-streaming screen,” he added. Crowd noise effects were downloaded from the internet.
Labourers and unemployed youths were hired for 400 rupees (£4.20) per match and the contests were broadcast live over a YouTube channel called “IPL”.
To maintain the illusion, the cameraman made sure no wide shots were ever broadcast. A fake commentator from Meerut with a knack for mimicking Harsha Bhogle, one of IPL’s real commentators, was used to make the tournament appear authentic.
Players took turns to wear jerseys of the Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Gujarat Titans, police said, acting on the instructions of the plot’s mastermind, who was based in Russia.
The tournament began three weeks after the actual IPL concluded in May, according to police, but that proved no hindrance to the gang. The bogus league reached the quarter-final stage before their gang was broken up by Indian police.
Russian gamblers were lured into betting on a Telegram channel set up by the gang. The masterminds were in touch with the umpire via walkie-talkie to manipulate the play. The supposed official “would signal the bowler and batsman to hit a six, four or get out”, Rathod added.
Russian punters in cities including Tver, Voronezh and Moscow had paid more than 300,000 rupees (nearly £3,200) before the gang was rumbled, he said. Four people have been arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy and gambling. Police said they were also probing a money transfer network that had been used to keep the con running.
The fake stadium was alleged to have been put together by a “chief organiser” called Shoeb Davda, who returned to Molipur after working for several months in a pub in Russia which was well known for sports betting.
‘Can’t stop laughing’
While working there, he met a man called Asif Mohammed, who is accused of masterminding the con and who introduced the Russian punters to the thrills and spills of Indian cricket, the Times of India reported.
Betting on cricket is illegal in India, but the country has a huge underground market, and vast amounts are wagered on matches. The huge sums involved mean the sport has been repeatedly rocked by both match-fixing and spot-fixing scandals.
The real Mr Bhogle appeared to see the funny side when news of the ruse broke and it emerged he had been impersonated.
“Can't stop laughing,” he wrote on Twitter. “Must hear this commentator.”
The Board of Control for Cricket in India did not immediately comment on the fake tournament.