A brief, alphabetical history of the site
December 31, 2018
This is an updated version of an article originally published to mark ESPNcricinfo’s 20th anniversary in 2013
Cricket’s early amateur spirit was reflected in ESPNcricinfo’s first avatar. Students, in American universities, and also in the UK and Australia, starved of cricket and desperate for scores of matches being played across the world, used Internet Relay Chat to post and search for score updates. After Simon King, a student at the University of Minnesota in the early 1990s, who was the first to realise the value of automated updates, developed the CricInfo bot that would send users a private message every time they asked for scores, several people in various universities volunteered to keep the scorecards updated, later taking the time to add old scorecards, match reports and other information to Cricinfo’s database.
The longest-running regular column on the site, Ask Steven is a weekly q&a in which Steven Lynch, a former editor of the site, answers all manner of reader questions – mostly to do with things statistical and trivia-related. In its near-20-year run, Ask Steven has been interrogated on such topics as “How many times has a team played an unchanged XI through a five-Test series?” and “When were both of Australia’s Test openers from Wagga Wagga?” The more notable questioners have included a policeman trying to verify the alibi of someone who was supposed to have been watching Allan Lamb in a Test match at the time of a crime, and the cricketer Riki Wessels, asking about a record featuring his father.
ESPNcricinfo’s bread-and-butter offering first developed as descriptions of India’s Tests in Australia in 1991-92, written by Australian computer programmer Robert Elz, who watched the games on TV and posted updates every half-hour or so on the rec.sport.cricket Usenet group. The frequency of updates and the number of matches covered by commentary have increased dramatically since, with every international match in men’s and women’s cricket, and the vast majority of all domestic matches covered live from across the world (including Aghanistan, Ireland, Nepal and Hong Kong). Live coverage spans all ICC events (including regional qualifiers for marquee tournaments like the World T20 and World Cup), Associate and Affiliate country tours and tournaments, including the ICC Intercontinental Cup, ICC WCL Championship. And T20 leagues from across the world, big and small.
In 2007, ESPNcricinfo’s global headquarters moved from London to Bangalore, signifying the growing importance of India in the cricket market. The office houses about 100 employees who work in editorial, data services, video production, design, production, product development and sales for ESPNcricinfo and other ESPN websites.
ESPNcricinfo adopted the blog format early, in 2003. Among the longest-running of the site’s blogs in subsequent years was Beyond the Test World, which chronicled the game in countries outside the top tier. In 2013, the site’s blogs were brought under the Cordon brand, which soon came to be recognised as a leading platform for opinion on all matters cricket.
After the 2011 World Cup, ESPNcricinfo published a book on the tournament, Sealed With A Six. The following year ESPNcricinfo, in partnership with the Indian arm of its parent company, Walt Disney, published an anthology on Rahul Dravid, Timeless Steel. Talking Cricket, a collection of interviews with players and coaches, each dwelling on a particular aspect of the game, came later that year.
In 1994, Cricinfo moved to the http format, which allowed the use of images. David Dyte, a statistician in Victoria, designed a graphic with the name Cricinfo flanked by the silhouette of a batsman (Allan Border) on the left and a bowler (Wilfred Rhodes) on the right. The logo that was eventually used was the Border silhouette in conjunction with a CricInfo header.
The Cricket Monthly
ESPNcricinfo’s showcase for long-form and other features content was launched as a monthly magazine in 2014 and moved to a rolling-updates format in 2017.
Cricinfo sponsored the English first-class tournament in 2001, and later in the year, the England women’s Test and ODI series against Australia.
While most cricket sites today cover all or at least all major international matches, ESPNcricinfo is one of the few that offers comprehensive coverage of domestic cricket around the world. Domestic scorecards are available for virtually all seasons, and match reports and round-ups for the last 15 years. Since 2012, the County Championship and the Ranji Trophy have also been covered via live blogs.
In 1992, an open-source scoring software called Dougie, programmed by a graduate student, Jaques de Villiers, became the foundation for providing live coverage for cricket matches, first on the Usenet group rec.sport.cricket and later on Cricinfo. De Villiers named the programme after South African scorer Dougie Etlinger. The software was used exclusively for scoring by Cricinfo till the Cricinfo Live Scoring software was introduced.
While ESPNcricinfo ran multiple homepages for a number of years, adding new ones when it was felt a particular region had a large enough readership, these homepages were geo-targeted, which meant users were stuck with the homepages for the regions they logged in from. In November 2012, the site allowed users to select, and switch between, editions of the homepage, each tailored to specific countries or regions. The site currently has ten editions: Global, India, UK, Bangladesh, USA, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.
In 2007, American sports-publishing major ESPN acquired Cricinfo for an undisclosed sum from the Wisden Group. Apart from being a standalone cricket property, ESPNcricinfo now also provides the cricket content for ESPN’s worldwide network of multi-sport sites.
ESPNcricinfo was a touch late in capitalising on social networking, putting up a Facebook page for itself in late 2008. The page hit a million followers in December 2012, and as of mid-2018 that figure stands at 7.1 million.
The site ran several sponsored fantasy leagues in its early years, but the first one it hosted on its own was a subscription-based affair. Users were asked to pay £5 each to enter the league for a NatWest series between England and Pakistan. Cricinfo’s first free worldwide fantasy league competition was the one for the 2007 World Cup.
American-born millionaire Paul Getty bought cricket publisher Wisden in 1993, built a cricket ground on his estate in Wormsley, and helped finance redevelopment work at Lord’s. In 2003, the Wisden Group bought Cricinfo for about £5 million.
How many cricket grounds does Santiago in Chile have? Three: Craighouse Sports Field, Prince of Wales Country Club and the Grange School. Where in the Caribbean will you find the Salem Oval? Montserrat. Where’s the Yea Recreation Reserve? Victoria, Australia. There are ground pages for virtually every reasonably large cricket venue in the world in ESPNcricinfo’s database.
ESPNcricinfo was incorporated in December 2000 as Cricinfo UK Limited. The company’s first office was located in Hartham House, Corsham, Wiltshire, England. It was built in the 18th century and converted to house offices in the 1990s.
In August 2008, ESPNcricinfo introduced a blog for reader contributions in its expanding blogs section. Inbox went on to be one of ESPNcricinfo’s most popular blogs and is still active.
Internet Relay Chat
IRC, created in 1988, was one of the earliest instant-messaging services online. Users would log in to a server and join a chatroom or a topic to interact with other users and share files with them. In one such chatroom, #cricket, fans of the game congregated to discuss, and look at scores of, ongoing or recently concluded games. In 1993, as some users began to post score updates, the room was flooded with fans demanding commentary. The moderators decided then that only “commentators” would post updates on the channel, while another channel, #crickettalk, would be used for requests and discussions. These chat rooms were ESPNcricinfo in its infancy.
Cricinfo’s brush with rock ‘n roll came when the Rolling Stones’ Jagger, frustrated that the Akai-Singer Champions Trophy, played in Sharjah in 1997, was not telecast in the UK, contacted Mark Mascarenhas of World Tel, the company producing the telecasts for the matches, and asked if he could do something to change that. Mascarenhas said he could provide the feed but they needed someone to host it on the internet. Jagger then put up the money to pay Real Networks to stream the games on Cricinfo.
King was the main force in shaping the site, getting volunteers to contribute scorecards and other data, organising registration for users, and trying to cut deals with the ICC and national boards: Cricinfo was the official site of the 1996 World Cup and the 1997 ICC Trophy, and hosted several boards’ official sites. King registered Cricinfo as a privately owned company in the UK in 1996.
When a major news story breaks and develops quickly, ESPNcricinfo has used various platforms to bring the reader the details as fast and seamlessly as possible. To start with, the site used a traditional blog for live news updates, before moving to the Cover It Live, Scribble and 24LiveBlog platforms, which allow for user interaction and features such as polls and multimedia content. Live blogging has been a key part of the site’s coverage of IPL auctions and the English County Championship down the years. In 2018, the site moved to using a live blog instead of a match report for its primary coverage of major live matches.
These are the little bits of information about milestones in a game that are salted away at the bottom of ESPNcricinfo’s scorecards: about batsmen getting to fifties and hundreds, rain delays, century stands, session breaks, and so on.
One of ESPNcricinfo’s first major forays into live video was a livestreamed match-analysis show called Match Point, later renamed Match Day. Over the years the show has offered pre- and post-game analysis and chatter with in-studio experts like Rahul Dravid, Ian Chappell, Graeme Smith, Sanjay Manjrekar, Graeme Swann, Martin Crowe, Ajit Agarkar, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and Daryll Cullinan.
For over a decade, stats editor S Rajesh delighted cricket geeks by busting myths, spotting trends, and revealing the stats behind the performances of the day. His Friday column tackled issues as wide-ranging as dead-rubber experts, no-ball kings, and Zimbabwe’s super keepers.
Several corridors and aisles in ESPNcricinfo’s offices over the years have served as pitches for feisty battles of rubber-ball cricket between employees. These games have resulted in broken bottles, dented walls, shattered lamps, and bruised egos. Among the greats who have graced these scratch games down the years are the likes of Rahul Dravid, Martin Crowe and Daryll Cullinan.
What connects Gary Kirsten, Jason Gillespie and Mahela Jayawardene? The three, along with dozens of other ex- and current cricketers and writers, have over the years enriched the site’s opinion section with their takes on the issues of the day. The site’s earliest columnists included the likes of Trevor Chesterfield and Colin Croft; since then, the who’s who of cricket writing have been fixtures, including the late Peter Roebuck, Ian Chappell, Gideon Haigh and Mark Nicholas.
Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett, former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, and Prince Christian Victor, grandson of Queen Victoria, are among the more unexpected names among the 90,000 or so players and officials in the site’s database.
If A wins their next game and B loses on Friday then C and D may have a chance to squeeze in with a superior net run rate: ESPNcricinfo’s points tables pages for tournaments are much in demand, especially towards the pointy end of tournaments and domestic leagues.
A post-match video show that answers viewers’ questions about the day’s play, Polite Enquiries has been hugely popular since its launch in 2014. Mainstays on the show have been Jarrod Kimber, Melinda Farrell and George Dobell.
ESPNcricinfo’s repository of witty, wry, or just plain weird pronouncements about cricket has, over the years, included gems like “We were in the game for about 1.2 overs” (Michael Vaughan after an England-Sri Lanka ODI in 2003) and “Some days you’re the windscreen, some days you’re the bug” (Michael Hussey about a dropped catch in 2012).
When he was the CEO of the ICC, Richards played a big part in persuading cricket boards around the world to host their official websites on Cricinfo. It began in October 1996, when a deal was signed with the Zimbabwe and South Africa boards, and over the next five years, Cricinfo hosted the official homepages of eight Test-playing countries.
The home of cricket records on the internet, the Records section on ESPNcricinfo spans accomplishments in Tests, one-dayers, T20, first-class, List A, Under-19, women’s, and minor cricket. Each international team has its own listings page, as does each ground, each calendar year, and each major series/tournament. Which wicketkeepers have conceded the most byes in a Test innings? Who has taken the most catches by a substitute in an ODI? Want to know what the record is for the most runs scored off one over? Look no further.
In June 2000, Satyam Infoway, an internet service provider, and the first Indian company to be listed on Nasdaq, bought a 25% stake in Cricinfo for US$37.5 million. Satyam was the largest investor through the years of the dotcom bust, but eventually sold the site to Paul Getty’s Wisden Group in 2003.
Rare is the professional cricket match that is not recorded on ESPNcricinfo. Hundreds of scorers across the globe, battling dodgy internet connections, sleep, and more, pounding away at their keyboards at all hours have played a big role in keeping the site’s heartbeat going. In 2005, Cricinfo hired the services of Feedback Sport, in partnership with Lupo Data Concepts, to develop a customised real-time scoring software to replace the existing system, Dougie, which did not support extensive data capture. This system has since been upgraded over the years to record decision reviews, dropped catches, dismissal summaries, player v player data, types of runs, Powerplays and more.
For the scoring part – the only update is that we upgrade FBK constantly to incorporate capture of more data pointers per ball and accommodate the new rules with the latest release going live in July 2018
The brainchild of Travis Basevi, one of the early volunteers who helped create the ESPNcricinfo database, Statsguru remains the ultimate destination for cricket anoraks who have an hour or ten to kill. As a statistical tool that allows you to analyse, among other things, players, partnerships, teams, and grounds, Statsguru has helped resolve many an inflamed argument.
The most searched-for player in ESPNcricinfo’s history by a distance, and the one with the most-visited profile page till 2014. Tendulkar shattered all ESPNcricinfo records on February 24, 2010, during his double-hundred in a one-dayer in Gwalior, when the website registered 45 million page views for the day and the highest number of unique users in India and the US. He even broke a couple of the company’s servers.
ESPNcricinfo’s readership has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. In 1993, users accessed about 127,000 pages; in 1994 this figure had soared to 1.1 million, in 1995 to 3.5 million, and five years later to 810 million. A March 2001 report by the new-media arm of the UK Audit Bureau of Circulation revealed that Cricinfo, with 3.5 million visitors, had 254 million page impressions that month. That 3.5 million has grown manifold since.
A precursor of the World Wide Web, Usenet was a collection of newsgroups, each dealing with a specific subject. One such group, created in 1990 – rec.sport.cricket – went on to play a major role in the evolution of ball-by-ball cricket commentary. It was here that Robert Elz, an Australian computer programmer, posted scorecards and reports of the Australia-India series in 1991-92. These over-by-over entries were the early version of ball-by-ball commentary.
The site’s homepages, and its video section, are a gold mine of highlights, press conferences, match analysis, and special feature shows – among them the likes of Polite Enquiries, Run Order and Gloves Off, shot and produced in studios in Mumbai and London, and on-site at cricket events around the world.
In 2003, Cricinfo was bought by Wisden, then owned by Paul Getty. It was an alliance that lasted four years – and the site was briefly called Wisden Cricinfo for a part of that period – before the sale to ESPN. The two companies still maintain a content-sharing agreement: the entire Almanack archive is hosted on ESPNcricinfo.
Many of cricket’s quadrennial extravaganzas have marked landmark years for ESPNcricinfo. In 1996, the cricket.org domain was registered, the first sustained ball-by-ball commentary was provided, and Cricinfo operated as the official site of the tournament. In 1999, the site had its first notable success at selling ad space online, and match coverage was enhanced substantially. In 2007, it was bought in a landmark deal by ESPN (as in 2003 it had been by Wisden). The company has been involved in the women’s World Cup, particularly the 2000 event, which it sponsored. And the 2015 World Cup was a watershed for the site, with over two billion page views during the tournament.
A repository of every international scorecard since the advent of Test cricket, along with thousands of domestic ones from the hundred years before that, the year- and season-wise archive, the compilation of which was completed in 1995, was the first publicly accessible online cricket database of its kind, and provided the foundation for the creation of Statsguru.
In December 1996, Cricinfo received a boost when the Zimbabwe Cricket Union agreed to host its official website on the site. Zimbabwe was then the youngest Test nation, and the country’s cricket board was hoping to gain some recognition by being associated with an increasingly popular website. In February 2000, Cricinfo decided to fund the Zimbabwe cricket board to the tune of £80,000, which doubled the country’s annual cricket development budget.