Fun and games as NZ fundraising series ends
For New Zealand cricket fans the Boxing Day tsunami disaster could hardly have struck at a worse time. Sri Lanka's curtailed tour saw New Zealand's hopes of making the ICC Super Series as the world's top one-day side all but evaporate, and left an unprecedented void in the home international season.
New Zealand Cricket (NZC) itself faced a three-pronged crisis. Its obligations to commercial partners still had to be fulfilled, the New Zealand team could ill-afford to go without quality match-practice ahead of Australia's visit in February, and it was inconceivable for the public to not have top-class cricket at the height of summer.
Halfway round the globe in London, Brit Insurance's head of marketing Philip Wolski pondered how to begin using his new year's corporate social-responsibility budget of £1million, so he called the Professional Cricketers' Association boss (and Federation of International Cricketers' Associations board member) Richard Bevan. The timing could not have been better as, just an hour earlier, FICA had struck a deal with NZC to bring a World XI to New Zealand. Without hesitation Wolski confirmed that Brit Insurance would commit £100,000 to the venture.
The three-match series was organised under such time pressure that NZC was not even able to confirm to FICA its tsunami-relief fundraising plans other than to say they were in the pipeline. That was good enough for the World XI players, who were only too happy to make themselves available, in some cases for a fee considerably below their norm.
For NZC, much depended on the response of cricket fans with ticket sales crucial in recovering the NZ$1million cost of staging the series. Indeed, a net loss was acknowledged as the most realistic outcome. The matches did, however, provide NZC with a high-profile fundraising vehicle.
The New Zealand Cricket Tsunami Relief Fund was soon launched, with the aim of raising NZ$1million for distribution to World Vision and the Cricket Aid project established by Sri Lanka Cricket. With the National Bank, energy company Vector and the New Zealand government - as well as Brit Insurance - confirming substantial commitments, the fund soon had momentum. When the final match at Hamilton ended $1,088,563 had been raised.
After spending a week with the team Wolski is convinced that the World XI concept is a winner, with the players proving to be outstanding ambassadors for the game. FICA's Tony Irish concurs, saying that with so many worthy causes round the world, annual World XI fixtures could be looked at where the players chosen are the best available. For Wolski nothing would be better than a World XI where being selected is both highly sought after by players and carries with it special responsibilities.
The crowds throughout the series were excellent, culminating with a sellout at Hamilton with the series locked at 1-1. Anticipation soon became disappointment as the World XI crumbled. Not wanting fans feeling short-changed, NZC promptly arranged a "Ten10" match for later in the day.
And so Shane Warne imitated Merv Hughes, and a bespectacled Daryl Tuffey mimicked Daniel Vettori, complete with a perfect left-arm action. There were smiles all round, and NZC and FICA could reflect on a job well done.