Ashes column: Men behaving badly

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If it hadn’t been for Kerry Packer, World Series Cricket and the smartphone, England’s Ben Stokes might well be out in Australia defending the Ashes, this winter, rather than waiting at home to see if he’ll be charged with actual bodily harm, after that brawl in Bristol, last September.

Crispin Andrews is a freelance cricket expert who writes for the Cricketer, Cricinfo, Inside Cricket and the Nightwatchman.

World Series Cricket began ,forty years ago, this December. Australian media tycoon, Packer, was refused international broadcast rights by the Australian Cricket Board, so he signed up the world’s best players on lucrative contracts and put on his own contests.Two years later, the ACB gave Packer his TV deal and the players returned to their international sides.

Before World Series Cricket, international cricketers were paid peanuts. Ever since, cricket boards have been increasingly aware that if they don’t pay their best players what the players think they’re worth; someone else will, these days most probably a T20 franchise.

To raise money to pay their stars, and of course their own salaries, cricket board executives turn to corporate sponsors. ECB made £1.1bn from their last TV deal alone.

Corporates sponsor cricket teams because they think it will help them sell more of whatever they sell. They like their chosen teams to be full of well spoken, nicely turned out lads. The sort the company CEO might hire as an office junior, or even invite home to meet his or her, daughter.

What the corporates don’t want are charismatic, colourful types who can’t be trusted to say the right things at the right time. People like Kevin Pietersen, and Tony Greig, who in 1976, on national TV, announced that he’d make the West Indies grovel. Imagine the outrage if the England captain said that today. The ECB’s corporate benefactors would be queuing up to sponsor tennis.

And now an England cricketer gets filmed fighting in the streets and the footage ends up in the national newspapers. Even if the ECB wanted to be lenient to England’s star player, there’s no way the corporates are going to have that sort of thing associated with their brand.

Stokes has nothing to complain about, whoever started the fight, and for whatever reasons. He is an England cricketer, well aware of the standards of behaviour his employers expect, of what is likely to happen to transgressors. He was also happy, no doubt, to pick up the sort of salary that wouldn’t be possible if ECB didn’t dip into the corporate wallet.

Before Packer, in the days before smartphones with cameras, players could get away with the odd boozed-up barny.

Ian Chappell got into a bar room fight with a young Ian Botham before the 1977 Centenary Test. A few months later, Botham was making his Test debut and Chappell captaining Kerry Packer’s WSC Australian team. Christmas 1980 and Botham, allegedly, got involved in a brawl in a Scunthorpe nightclub. But whilst the bow-ties at Lord’s might have raised a disapproving pink gin or three; Botham was still England captain when the team set out for the West Indies a few months later.

Back then, though, there were no corporate bigwigs casting judgements about the type of chap they wanted associated with their brand.

It’s not all bad change for Stokes. Suspended on full pay since the incident, he has probably earned more in the last few weeks than he would have, in an entire career, if he’d had played during those more lenient, pre-Packer days.