Cricinfo XI April 5, 2007

The devil is in the detail

Martin Williamson on XI events which suffered through poor planning ... or were just daft to start with

The World Cup, which still has more than three weeks to run, has been dogged by bad publicity surrounding security, ticket sales, venues and a mass of other bits and bobs. Here we take a look at previous events which have been let down by poor planning ... or were just daft ideas to start with

A thumbs up from Henry Olonga in 2003 during his courageous protest © Getty Images
World Cup 2003
If it could go wrong, it did. On the field, South Africa, the main hosts, were eliminated in the first round after a Duckworth-Lewis cock-up, delivering a hammer-blow to local interest before the bloated tournament was really underway. That was, however, a minor problem. England's boycott of Zimbabwe dominated headlines for weeks, while New Zealand's own refusal to play in Nairobi largely sneaked under the radar. Percy Sonn, the president of the South African board, proved a far from ideal host when he got drunk and insulted guests at a minor group match. The ICC showed their true colours when censuring Andy Flower and Henry Olonga for their black armband protest. And the format, especially the system of carrying forward bonus points, was so flawed that the Super Sixes were anything but.

Cricket Legends 1994
The idea was simple. Get the stars of yesteryear to The Oval in early September for a feast of ten-over matches and the public would flock to watch. Temporary floodlights were erected at a cost of 75,000 pounds and players were promised return tickets and 1000 pounds a head. What could go wrong. In essence, nobody turned up, and it was clear by the end of the first day that the event was in trouble. The players went on strike and the event petered out in acrimony. "It was not born out of a whim," one of the organisers said. "It has been carefully researched over 12 to 18 months." It turned out that research had been that crowds for sixes events in Hong Kong were good. In The Guardian, Vic Marks presciently warned: "The cricket authorities should take note: If they are too greedy, at a time when there is more money coming into the game than ever before because of television, the public will become wary and bored by any gimmickry, while the players will be exhausted in their pursuit of short-term gains."

Triangular Series 1912
Proof that it's not only modern administrators who can get it wrong. The idea of getting the only three Test-playing countries to stage a round-robin tournament in which they played each other three times had its merits when it was suggested at the inaugural meeting of the Imperial Cricket Council in 1909. But by the time it came round, all was far from rosy. South Africa, who had been a force in 1909, had gone into a sharp decline while Australia were a shambles, with six of their leading players boycotting the tour and the rest seemingly preoccupied with drinking. Add into that the weather - 1912 was the wettest and coldest year of the 20th century - and it is not hard to see why the tournament was a disaster financially. A second such event was scheduled for 1917, but the First World War did for that, and it was to be another 63 years before such an exercise was attempted again.

Faithwear Cup 2005-06
As Zimbabwe cricket descended into near farce with player desertions and strikes, the board was hell-bent on carrying on regardless with its domestic programme. Against a backdrop of a government takeover of the game and stakeholder rebellion, the Faithwear Cup took place at the end of January. The only thing was that many of the players were unknowns and, according to witnesses, not even of club standard. The situation was highlighted by Mashonaland, traditionally one of the leading sides. Their selectors refused to pick anyone who had opposed the board, meaning they fielded a side so weak that only two players finished with batting averages in double figures. The first five matches produced a highest team score of 118 and not a single individual fifty. A week later the board shelved the Logan Cup, the first-class tournament that had been played for more than a century, aside from during the two World Wars. In a classic piece of spin they denied that it had been cancelled but claimed they had decided to amend the dates of the season. However they painted it, the competition never happened.

A delighted Muttiah Muralitharan spots a spectator during the Afro-Asia Cup © Getty Images
Afro-Asia Cup 2005
Conceived as a way to raise funds for African and Asian cricket, initially this idea seemed to have merit, but it soon occurred to the organisers that they needed the best players in order to attract lucrative commercial interest. To do that, the ICC made a unilateral decision to give full ODI status to the matches. Purists were appalled and the crowds stayed at home. Making matters worse the only slot that could be found in the creaking international schedule was August in South Africa, so out of season that the parched grass had to be spray-painted so it looked good for TV. And hopes that the XIs would reflect the continents as a whole were short lived as the selectors leant on the main countries, thus keeping sponsors happy. It did deliver cash to the Asian Cricket Council and the Africa Cricket Association, but there was little else in the plus column.

Super Series 2005
It seemed a great idea on paper. Get the best players in the world to take on the leading Test and one-day sides - both happened to be Australia, which made the organisation so much easier - in a feast of cricket cum cash cow. The only problem was that the matches followed straight on from one of the most epic Test series of all time - the 2005 Ashes - and always paled by comparison. Despite a controversial decision to award full Test and ODI caps, the World XI players were clearly out more for fun that anything too serious. Andrew Flintoff proved to be the bugbear of the on-message ICC, but his brutal honesty was refreshing. "I've got the Super Series in two weeks' time. I can't think of anything worse," he said, adding on arrival; "I'm only here for the food." Post-match, the reality had sunk in. "I guess it goes to show that you don't just play for the money." For Malcolm Speed, the ICC CEo, the priorities were quite different. "We are confident that our twin objectives of meeting event revenue targets and achieving maximum global audience reach will be met," he said. The idea, while not officially killed, has been filed away in a cupboard and the key quietly lost.

International 20:20 2005
The concept was to stage a cricket equivalent of football's Champions League - the best Twenty20 sides from across the world meeting at one venue. But that venue was Leicester and the only time the event could be held was September, a time of year when the weather is hardly conducive to watching cricket under lights ... or even not under lights. And the global appeal was hardly all encompassing with a side each from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa, two English counties and a PCA Masters XI. Crowds were dismal and despite bullish statements from the organisers, it is believed the three-day event made a six-figure loss. Suffice to say, it has not been repeated.

Tony Blair, in the days when his presence was considered a bonus at an event, opens the 1999 World Cup © Getty Images
World Cup 1999
England hosted the first three tournaments in 1975, 1979 and 1983, and there was widespread expectation that when the World Cup returned for its seventh outing, another success would follow. It didn't. To start with, the organisers set their commercial targets too high and failed to secure the minimum number of main sponsors. The damp opening ceremony at a half-empty Lord's would have been overshadowed by a low-budget village firework display. The schedule was ill-conceived, with major draws, such as India, being sent to small outgrounds while England's main match was played in London on FA Cup final day. The media arrangements were awarded to a company with no track record and even less idea. To cap it all, a woeful England were knocked out in the first round. Almost mockingly, the official World Cup anthem was released as a single the next day, more than a fortnight after the start. It, like so much to do with the entire event, bombed.

B&H Super Cup 1999
English cricket underwent a huge upheaval during the late 1990s, with four-day first-class cricket replacing the long-standing three-day game, and a radical change to the County Championship in the pipeline. The thing was, counties were resisting splitting the Championship into two divisions but they wanted a way of keeping the mid-table teams interested until the end. The solution appeared to have been reached after an all-night drinking session. The counties came up with the bright idea of putting the top eight four-day sides into a new one-day tournament. "Those who thought of it should resign," wrote Tim de Lisle in Wisden Cricket Monthly. "Those who didn't should resign in protest at the decision." It lasted a year.

County Championship Cup 1873
Remarkably forward thinking or barking mad? In 1873 the MCC decided to put some spring in the (still unofficial) Championship by staging a five-county knockout tournament at Lord's. The ink was barely dry on the minutes approving the idea when two of the sides withdrew, their memberships making it clear they had little time for such frivolities. Middlesex, Kent and Sussex were still up for it, but the MCC, with its nose put out of joint by the rebuffs, withdrew their offer of a silver cup for the winners. In the end, only Kent and Sussex actually played, but their match was dogged by a woeful pitch and dismal attendances, and the idea was scrapped. It was to be another 90 years before Lord's was to host a high-profile knockout match again.

C&G Trophy 2006
For 33 years the C&G Trophy - originally the Gillette Cup - was England's premier one-day knockout, attracting large crowds, especially in the early years. It also presented Minor Counties with a chance to bloody the professionals' noses, and in more recent times, afforded Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland and even Denmark a chance to gain some vital exposure to high-class games. But the ECB wanted more 50-over cricket early in the season, and so came up with the brainwave of kicking out all the non first-class sides, apart from Scotland and Ireland, and introducing a format of two leagues of 10. Incredibly, only the top side from each division would go through to the Lord's final, and to add to the whole feeling of pointlessness, that was held more than two months after the last league match. Unsurprisingly, many of the group matches soon became utterly pointless as sides were in effect eliminated after two or three rounds. C&G announced they were pulling out of the sponsorship, although the ECB claimed it was not because of the tinkering. Few believed their protestations and it clearly wasn't a coincidence that semi-finals were introduced for 2007.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo