The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bookie Bittulal goes down, too
- Gamblers root for India but put their money on Australia

Guwahati, Feb. 16: In the sparsely furnished, smoke-filled room, Bittulal’s cell phone never stops ringing. Eyes glued to the portable television set in front of him, the heavy-set man with an addiction to pan masala takes bets on international cricket matches played across the globe.

However, yesterday was a bad day for Bittulal. He knew Australia would win but projected India as “favourites” by offering 50 paise for every rupee put on the team and 52 paise on the defending champions. What the city-based bookie had not bargained for was the majority of punters rooting for India but putting their money on the Australians.

By the end of the match at Centurion, Bittulal and his ilk were sulking just the way Sourav Ganguly did after tamely losing yet another match.

After the toss, the bookie had hoped that a good start by India would still convince punters to change their minds and bet on Sourav’s boys. Till the skipper got himself out, things were going according to plan. “It will be a good day,” predicted Bittulal as Sachin cover-drove Glenn McGrath for a four.

Snacks and tea were set on the table as Bittulal and his two accomplices contemplated the possibility of making big money on the strength of an unexpected Indian victory. From 50 paise to the rupee overnight, the rate offered on India winning the match was reduced to 45 paise.

Bittulal’s agents called to inform that more punters were now willing to put their money on the Indian team.

The Indian captain lost his wicket just when the tide seemed to be turning and along with it Bittulal’s strategy. In less than an hour, the Indians were hopelessly placed at 45 for the loss of four wickets.

However, Bittulal resolved not to crumble like the Indian batting order. Messages were sent to agents not to accept any bets on Australia. Instead, he asked them to offer 75 paise for every rupee bet on Tendulkar scoring a 50. The ploy, however, did not work. Nobody was willing to back the little master.

By then, India had lost Mohammed Kaif and were tottering at 50 for the loss of five wickets. The atmosphere in the room was tense. Bittulal changed his strategy once again.

Pucho India sau run karega ya nahin' (Take bets on whether India will reach three figures or not),” he instructed his agents.

But it was one of those days when nothing worked for the bookie. Nobody was willing to bet on India scoring less than 100. Bittulal’s last hope was Tendulkar. If the master batsman scored a fifty, his losses would be compensated for to some extent, the bookie thought.

However, it was not to be. Jason Gillespie trapped Tendulkar plumb in front of the wicket and it was all over for India and Bittulal.

With a lot of cricket yet to be played, Bittulal might still rake in crores of rupees. Whether Sourav and his boys can stay put in South Africa is, however, anybody’s guess.

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