In absence of cricketing action due to COVID-19 crisis, Vanuatu becomes hot bed for betting

  • Vedam Jaishankar
  • May 16th, 2020
  • 12:31:38 IST

Don’t be too stressed if you have never heard of Vanuatu cricket. In recent weeks it has attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of viewers worldwide. Of course, unless you are a bookie, punter or super clued-in it is quite possible that you, like millions of cricket fans would be blissfully unaware that Vanuatu is currently the centre of the world cricket stage.

Vanuatu, a volcanic archipelago of around 80 tiny islands in the south Pacific Ocean, is probably the only nation which has not been hit by COVID-19. Yet tourism, its main stay, has been severely crushed by world-wide travel restrictions.

Additionally, the islands were clobbered by Cyclone Harold early last month. It was in these distressful times that they hit upon the idea to telecast their cricket and capture eye-balls of a live-sport-starved audience and this stunning initiative might have jolted others into action. Naturally, when live sport is beamed on television or streamed online, betting, whether legal or otherwise, cannot be far behind.

The overwhelming success of Vanuatu’s matches was so encouraging that starting next week Betbarter, run by Sky Infotech Ltd, an ‘online gaming entertainment company across Sports Betting, Online and Live Casino’ incorporated in Curacao, is to sponsor a 10-match Men’s T10 tournament that will stretch from 21 May to 13 June.

The three-team tournament comprising teams exotically named as Mele Tafea Bulls, Mighty Efate Panthers and Ifira Sharks is interestingly scheduled to be played every Saturday at 7.30 am and 9.30 am IST after the inaugural set of matches this Thursday.

Shane Deitz, whom Cricket Australia’s website describes as a 44-year-old former South Australia left hand batsman is the CEO of the Vanuatu Cricket Association.

Armed with four cameramen who had never seen cricket or knew ‘where the ball was coming from’ he succeeded in covering the game for the first time ever on national television.

The islanders created the cricket ground with a pitch that was plastic-hybrid synthetic surface. What looked like tiny tuffs of grass on screen were actually pieces of plastic sticking out of the soil. The dug-outs looked like India’s way-side bus shelters. The ground did not have internet either and thus that too had to be arranged. Of course it had to have bandwidth capable of supporting live-streaming of matches.

Amazingly it drew close to half a million viewers, despite the men and women’s teams coming up with very poor quality cricket. It would be no exaggeration to say that the players were non-entities whom none would have been familiar with in India and the standard of play was lower than fifth division cricket in Mumbai or Bengaluru.

It was no wonder that Deitz said he did not understand that the event would be big in India. ‘I presume lots of gambling on it...,’ he was quoted in The Cricketer.

Actually, the timing of the ‘Betbarter Vanuatu Blast’ is perfect for cricket betting. The two matches stretching from around 7.30 am to 11.30 am IST on Saturday mornings will keep Indian punters fresh and sharp. Besides, with no sporting action in England, where the month of May is normally when their cricket season warms-up, their plethora of betting companies would be back in cricket betting business, thanks to Betbarter and Vanuatu. Naturally this would also help bookies and punters in Australia, New Zealand, Middle East, south Asia, etc.

Here, it must be pointed out that cricket betting is not illegal in many countries, though India, its supposed epicentre, is a glorious exception.

Tragically, the government which could have potentially grabbed an additional Rs 300,000 crores annually if betting was made legal (the tiny state of Kerala rakes in 11,800 crores revenue from lottery) now lets it slip into the hands of shadowy figures.

Indeed, the COVID-19 and the lack of live sports have seen interest in the most unlikely of events. Currently a LPGA event in South Korea which has just three golfers from the top 10 ranked players, is creating quite a buzz with its YouTube streaming.

Another event that will go up this Friday is the Vincy T10 Premier League hosted by the Caribbean island of St Vincent’s cricket association.

The president of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Cricket Association, Kishore Shallow who is also the vice-president of Cricket West Indies, said they had fashioned the league after being approached by an Indian fantasy league company.

There would be 30 matches between six franchises, from 22 to 31 May but at the ‘unusual time’ of 8.30 am (7 pm to 11.30 pm IST).

Obviously this timing would be to the delight of Indian viewers, as also punters from England, Middle East and south Asia.

Shallow himself said that they would sensitise players to ICC’s anti-corruption code.

The quality of Vincy T10 might be superior to Vanuatu’s cricket, but would still fall far short of premier professional T20 leagues.

The best known of Vincy’s bouquet of cricketers is West Indies fast-medium bowler Kesrick Williams, better known for the ‘Notebook Celebration’ involving Virat Kohli.

There is no denying that franchise-based cricket of the shorter and shortest format will be with us for some time to come. Already there is talk of a Europe Cricket League, Middle East league, etc in non-traditional locations.

It is undeniable that market-based franchise cricket is on the upswing and energetic organisations which are ambitious and adventurous will seize the opportunity to take advantage of big boards’ hands being tied by COVID-19. Thus shorter games, live streaming and matches in exotic locations might be with us for some time to come.

While some events may be deliberately targeted at punters, others who try to keep their game squeaky clean might find that bookies and punters have their own way of sneaking in. India’s punters who had feared that 2020 was a washout suddenly find plenty of action to plug into. Cricket is in for turbulent times. Who knew Vanuatu might be the cause!

Updated Date: May 16, 2020 12:31:38 IST

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