Lara’s batting ‘scoop’ shot down by ICC

Brian Lara remains one of the most saleable commodities in sport. He is good looking, he’s a brilliant sportsman, he speaks well, he has the classic charm of ‘errant genius’ and he is in the spotlight an awful lot.

So it’s no wonder that people will do anything to hang their label on him in the interests of publicity. On the third day of the third Test, conveniently the Saturday in order to catch the Sunday newspapers, a press release was handed out announcing that the West Indies’ most popular hero had been signed by a new bat sponsor.

It seemed odd, on the face of it, that the sponsor was an internet company. And it was odd.

Over a decade ago Allan Lamb appeared in a Test match for England with a well known whisky brand’s logo on his bat (oh alright then, it was J&B).

Apparently he was paid something like 3,000 pounds for the stunt and, to be fair, it was a brilliant advertising coup as commentators chuckled and the world noticed.

The English Cricket Board were horrified and Lambie was rapped over the knuckles and told to behave. No matter. The job was done.

Then, about five years ago, Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga appeared on tour in England with a grotesquely over-sized logo advertising a burger joint that served “chicken and ribs.”

Once again, it was a brilliant stunt and one the portly ‘Arju’ was perfectly suited to carry out. By then there were regulations in place to limit this sort of thing, but they only applied to the size of advertising logos on players’ kit. So Arjuna duly came out to bat in the next match with a reduced size logo advertising the same chicken and ribs! Fantastic!

So the ICC put their collective thinking hat on and decided that only “recognised cricket bat manufacturers” could appear on bats. The response of the Indian tobacco giant, Wills, was to open a factory making cricket bats! It just gets cleverer and cleverer.

And the latest twist, if it can be called that.

Lara’s internet company announce very proudly that it is their intention to “…manufacture cricket bats to Lara’s specifications to use in international matches.” Right. Blah blah blah, true ambassador for the West Indies, world record holder, blah blah blah.

Unlike Lamb, J&B, Arjuna or Wills, they have shown absolutely no inclination toward creativity whatsoever.

The result is that one of the ICC’s finest match referees (ie one that does something), Mike Denness, squashed the deal outright on Sunday with a simple statement: “…any bat used by any West Indian player that uses the *%!@#?* logo … will be in breach of the ICC regulation policy on advertising.” He didn’t bother going into what the consequences might be. That he saved for later.

The sponsorship was immediately reversed.

My fellow columnist, Dave Richardson, has often told me that international cricketers can provide advertisers with a shop window of six hours a day, if they are good enough, and that in America (to take the extreme) they would be worth a million dollars a day, if not an hour. Quite right, too.

Rules are there to be broken, but broken cleverly. This was just a cheap shot.

ps. David, I’m sure the readers would be interested in a column from you on this subject!

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