Vizzy: The modus operandi of India's first spot-fixer

Maharajakumar of Vizianagaram… The father of spot-fixing, a corrupt man who went on to become the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India © Getty Images

Spot-fixing is not that new. Arunabha Sengupta recounts the tales of the Maharajakumar of Vizianagaram, who bribed bowlers to bowl according to his whims, and was both knighted and honoured with Padma Bhushan.

As outrage over the Indian Premier League (IPL) betting scandal reached fever pitch, and the deafening chorus lamented about the gentleman’s game being brought into disrepute in this evil commercial modern age, we had tried to present historical facts demonstrating that fixing and throwing matches are as old as the game.

Yes, as the article indicated, the first cricketer at the First-Class level to be banned for betting and throwing matches was the Surrey wicketkeeper Ted Pooley — as far back as 1873.

Actually match-fixing in sports predates cricket by a couple of thousand years. In 388 BC, Eupolus of Thessaly bribed three boxers to throw fights against him in the 98th version of the ancient Greek Olympics. The evil has been associated with every sport since time immemorial, and since its inception cricket has proved to be no exception.

Now, let us turn specifically to the phenomenon of spot-fixing. Of cricketers being showered with lavish gifts — from expensive cars to large sums of money to Bollywood starlets — to ensure that a particular delivery is a no ball or a wide, or a specific over produces more than a fixed number of runs. A whopping majority will perhaps be of the opinion that while throwing matches may be ancient practice; spot-fixing is a comparatively recent innovation of the bookies.

Let us find out whether it is really so. What exactly is spot-fixing?

According to Wikipedia, “‘Spot-fixing’ refers to illegal activity in a sport where a specific part of a game is fixed.” Macmillan dictionary is slightly more detailed as it defines the term as “the dishonest activity of arranging a specific part of a game so that the result is what someone wants.”
So, have such dubious activities taken place earlier in the history of cricket? We actually find a historic example very close to home. 

The Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram [Vizzy], was perhaps the most undeserving of all Indian cricketers. And in the days of supposed pristine past when cricket was played not for money but pleasure and glory, this man, with a First-Class batting average of 18.60, led India on the tour of England in 1936. Nothing surprising in that. As the West Indian greats of the day, like George Headley and Learie Constantine, had to play under white captains with limited cricketing credentials, the Vijay Merchants and CK Nayudus had to turn out under the leadership of royalty with the financial engine to bankroll tours.

Vizzy’s sins during the 1936 tour have been repeated oft enough and meticulously documented. They ranged from sending the team’s best player, Lala Amarnath, back home on supposed disciplinary grounds, to asking Baqa Jilani to insult the great CK Nayudu in exchange of a Test cap. When he fell out with Vijay Merchant during the second Test at Old Trafford, Vizzy instructed Mushtaq Ali to run him out. Mushtaq refused, and both the openers scored centuries while famously putting on 203. 

Vizzy’s 600 runs on the tour came at an average of 16.21, and in the three Tests he scored 33 at 8.25. Even these runs were bloated, many of them bought. He was not above showering the opposition captain and bowlers with expensive gifts in exchange of some loose deliveries. Wisden records the story of a county match during which Vizzy gifted a gold watch to the opposing skipper.  The unnamed recipient is supposed to have recalled, “I gave him a full toss and a couple of long hops, but you can’t go on bowling like that all day, not in England.”

Now let us hark back to the definitions of spot-fixing stated earlier. To me, Vizzy buying his way to full tosses and long hops sound uncannily like “dishonest activity of arranging a specific part of a game so that the result is what someone wants.”

So, was Vizzy the first recorded spot-fixer in the history of Indian cricket? According to the definition of the act, it certainly seems so.

And while the world awaits the verdict on S Sreesanth and the rest of them, let us try to find out what happened to the original spot-fixer in the history of Indian cricket.

During the 1936 tour, Vizzy became knighted — the only cricketer ever to receive the honour during his active playing days. And, for perspective, let us recall that his career Test average was 8.25.

Okay, so we will overlook that as one of the curiosities of the history of British imperialism. Let us turn the pages of history and find out how independent India treated this trend-setting scumbag.

Well, after Independence, Vizzy was appointed a prominent member of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and served as President from 1954 to 1957.  The numerous followers of the game who are waiting for the final piece of evidence to irrevocably connect the N Srinivasan to the current murky IPL scandal need not bother. History has already traced profound links between the President of BCCI and spot-fixing.

In 1958, Vizzy was honoured with Padma Bhushan, an award that remained elusive to the likes of Vijay Hazare, Polly Umrigar, Bishan Bedi and many others. In fact, some stalwarts of the stature of Vijay Merchant, Mohinder Amarnath and Subhash Gupte were not even awarded the Padma Shri.

Later, Vizzy became one of the most pontificating and pretentious commentators of the game.

With this chequered history of the way justice has been meted out to such blackguards of the Indian cricket, one wonders what lies in store for Sreesanth and the rest of them. Coveted national honours, a high post in cricket administration, place in the commentary box?

In India, nothing should come as a surprise.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at