Chasing the bucks

As the Indian Premier League prepares to launch, we look at other ventures where people have sought to milk cricket's popularity for commercial gain

Martin Williamson

April 17, 2008

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Dennis Lillee was one of dozens of high-profile players who turned their backs on the establishment to join World Series Cricket © Getty Images
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World Series Cricket 1977-79
The daddy of breakaways. Frustrated by the refusal of the establishment to allow his TV stations to have a slice of the cricket pie, media magnate Kerry Packer surreptitiously signed dozens of the world's leading players. The ICC and national boards spluttered and tried to ban players, but in the end were forced to cave in to Packer, whose deep pockets and slick marketing methods left them looking like dinosaurs. The legacy of World Series Cricket is felt to this day and as a result of the two-season venture, cricket was changed irreversibly.

South Africa Breweries 1980s
With international isolation depriving a sports-mad public of games, South African organisers decided to test out the theory that everyone has his price. Almost all did, although some, like Viv Richards and Ian Botham, told them where to stick their offers. Dozens of players, ranging from current internationals to obscure, bit-part cricketers, were lured to apartheid South Africa with substantial payments, but for many there was a heavy price to pay on top of any moral quandaries they faced. Those from Sri Lanka and West Indies were slapped with lifetime bans, although Australian and English rebels escaped with lighter punishments - so much so that John Emburey was twice banned for three years after taking the rand in 1981-82 and 1989-90.

All England XI 1846-1880
The arrival of the railway led to a rapid expansion of the game in England in the 1840s and 50s, and enabled sides to travel distances in hours that a decade earlier would have taken days. Realising the potential for making money, William Clarke, a very good cricketer and an astute businessman, signed the best players of the age and formed the All England XI, who travelled the length and breadth of the land playing cricket, usually against much superior numbers. Fed up with poor treatment from Clarke, some broke away in 1852 to form the United England XI, but there were enough players to sustain both set-ups for more than two decades. After Clarke died in 1856 the rivalry between the sides dissipated, though matches between the two remained the highlight of the season. The emergence of a county structure and the advent of Test cricket in effect ended the need for such wandering sides.

Lashings 1990s-
The brainchild of David Folb, what started in 1984 as a pub side grew into something that was a throwback to the 19th-century all-star sides, with mainly retired big-name players recruited to a team that travels the country playing high-profile fund-raising matches against club sides. Like any such venture, it attracts its share of criticism, mainly over the amounts charged to have the XI turn up, but many clubs and charities have benefited from games against Lashings.

Single-Wicket Cricket 1963-68
In the 19th century, single-wicket games were immensely popular, but as the game became more organised, the format all but died out. With the advent of one-day cricket, in 1963 a successful tournament, won by Ken Palmer of Somerset, was held at Scarborough, and buoyed by that success, similar ventures took place at Lord's in 1964 and 1965. In the first year more than 20,000 watched Barry Knight win the title, but the turnout when Fred Titmus won in 1965 was much lower and the idea gave way to a challenge match between the Gillette Cup winners and the touring international team in 1966. Single-wicket events were held in Australia in the late 1960s before they too fell by the wayside.


The 1868 Australian aboriginal side © MCC
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Australian Aborigines 1868
The Australian Aborigines captivated England in 1868 when WR Hayman of Victoria put together a touring side that undertook a punishing 47-game visit. Captained by Charles Lawrence, formerly of Surrey and Middlesex, they attracted massive crowds for not only their cricket but also for exhibitions of boomerang-throwing and running. In all, they won 14, lost 14 and drew the remaining 19. Such was their popularity that there was a plan to house them for the winter in southern France to return a year later, but the finances were not so good - the tour lost £2000 - and the plan was scrapped. Future tours were in effect ruled out when a law was passed in 1869 banning any aborigine from being taken out of the state of Victoria without government permission.

Leicestershire Knockout 2005
The illegitimate grandfather of the ICL and IPL. An Asia-based company called Investors in Cricket had an ambitious plan to stage a world Twenty20 Champions League. The problem was, it was slightly ahead of its time as only four countries had at the time held domestic tournaments, and the response from others was lukewarm. The six sides that did gather in Leicester in chilly mid-September for the International 20:20 were fairly below-par, and dodgy weather added to the feeling that it was an event held in the wrong place at the wrong time. Losses were estimated at over £200,000 and plans for a spring version in Dubai in April 2006 soon evaporated.

Australia 1880
Given the slickness of modern touring, we forget that most early tours, even those we now consider to be Test series, were private enterprises run by individuals for profit. The Australians arrived in 1880 without any major matches arranged, as many in England doubted their strength. It seemed as if they would leave without a game against England, but Charles Alcock, the forward-thinking Surrey secretary, arranged a match in mid-September on days originally set aside for a game at Hove. It was to be the first Test in England. It was only in 1903-04 that the MCC took over running tours - as late as 1901-02, the Ashes side from England was privately run, and Yorkshire refused to allow their leading players to join in for fear of tiring them out.


WG Grace in his London County cap © Cricinfo
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London County XI 1900-08
What started as a private venture became something much bigger when WG Grace was recruited to lead the London County side after his public falling-out with Gloucestershire. His presence attracted many other leading cricketers to the club and, in turn, that guaranteed a strong fixture list. In 1900 Grace was granted first-class status for the club, but financial pressures meant that sides were usually packed with amateurs, and without the spice of Championship competition, crowds at Crystal Palace were at best moderate. After being refused admission to the Minor Counties Championship in 1904 and losing first-class status the same year, the club meandered on until 1908, when it folded.

Lambert & Butler Cup 1980-81
Excited by the massive support for floodlit cricket, which was introduced by Kerry Packer, English entrepreneurs looked to cash in. The only problem was that there were no grounds with lights, so the compromise was to play matches on football pitches, the only stadia with permanent floodlighting. The inaugural event, between West Indies and Essex, took place at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge in August 1980, but the initial enthusiasm soon waned, and after a poorly supported and financially crippling mini-tournament in 1981, the idea was dropped.

Cricket Legends 1994
If Lalit Modi is looking for an example of how not to run a tournament, he should call former England batsman Roland Butcher, the man behind the disastrous six-a-side Cricket Legends. Held at The Oval in September 1994, nothing went right from the off. On the first day the players, many who had flown in from around the world for the two-day event, went on strike as the poor turnout made it clear that organisers would struggle to meet their obligations. The second day never happened. Surrey, the hosts, were left with a loss of £15,000. Although they had taken a deposit, they were left to pay ground staff, cleaners and security staff, and they also refunded anyone who had bought tickets for the second day. The company that supplied the floodlights was £50,000 out of pocket, while TSL TV was thought to have lost around £45,000. The liquidators of Cricket Legends Ltd eventually reported a total loss of around £330,000.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.
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