Story of – By Badri Seshadri

A bot called Cricinfocricinfo badri seshadri

Badri Seshadri, one of the founders of the site, looks back at its origins and evolution over a memorable first decade

We were graduate students in the US. I was at Cornell University. The problem was getting hold of cricket scores of any kind.

Today to imagine a pre-internet era is really difficult. There was no television that broadcast cricket, the [foreign] newspapers were received a week to ten days after the matches actually happened. No internet, of course, though the university had internet connectivity and email.

Cricinfo was the culmination of a series of attempts that were made to simply inform a guy that a match had happened a day or five days back and this was the result. That was actually it, nothing beyond that. The idea of “live” coverage was not there to start with.

A few attempts had happened. One very credible attempt was the Usenet newsgroups, which had started happening around 1986.

To start a group there is a process. So if somebody proposed that a group be created for, let’s say cricket, somebody could come and oppose that, saying that there is no need for it. There were always a bunch of crazy guys who would oppose the creation of any group – people who would be called trolls today.

There was canvassing, saying we’re going to start, and all of us will have to vote otherwise we will not get this group. We are talking about a period of scarcity, where there was pressure on resources. Spaces had to be allocated by system admins, who looked at it as a pain and so said that a certain number of people should vote.

There was a very primitive level of cricket information that used to be discussed in the newsgroup but some of what you would call good cricket writing as well. Someone would write about a match that he saw in, say, 1970, in which England won amazingly or whatever.

Mailing lists, IRC and all that 
Then the mailing list comes in. That is where KS Rao, who was a professor at North Dakota State University, comes into the picture. He had access to a large computer. He created two mailing lists where anyone could send in their email id to subscribe. The mailing lists were created maybe a little after the newsgroup. Content from the newsgroup was distributed to subscribers of the mailing list.

In 1992, during the World Cup, our main consumption of cricket was through and cricket s, which were the two mailing lists. cricket s was for scores, for the guys who said, just send me scores and nothing else. Both lists were running out of the North Dakota State University computing facility through Prof Rao.

The same content was also posted in the newsgroup, which was done by a chap in Australia called Robert Elz, who was part of the project to link Australia to US through an undersea cable. So he was the guy with the best internet connection in Australia. He used to do five-over summaries for every match that he could watch, and have it posted to That was the closest to the first ball-by-ball commentary.

The BBC used to have short-wave broadcasts of cricket commentary, broadcasting it through a Caribbean station, and lots of us who were close to the east coast of the US had it quite clear. They even had a replication station in Syracuse [New York state], if I’m not mistaken. So there was some kind of radio coverage for it, particularly when people toured West Indies. But the BBC stopped all short-wave cricket broadcasting completely when their funding got cut, and our desperation levels really mounted.

The cricket commentary was available in the UK through BBC medium-wave and FM, and some guys in the US – paid grad students, subsidised by research grants, who could take a day off for doing cricket commentary – figured out some kind of encoder and receiver and shipped it to someone in the UK to connect it to an FM radio. That device would encode it and broadcast it through the net to the US, where someone would be able to listen to it and do a score update.

It was in the end of 1993 that I got more involved. IRC [Internet Relay Chat] became very popular during the Gulf War. I do not know whether Simon [King]was the first one to get the idea that it could be used also to provide cricket information – the idea that a person can sit in front of a network and give updates.

The early days of IRC were just an ego game of people trying to create groups, give themselves a higher status, friends giving friends status. It seemed like a silly environment but it was in such a silly environment that Cricinfo actually emerged.

It was Simon’s genius that he looked at the bot that gave privileges and said that if they improved it, it could do other things also. At this point the group was such that if you joined late, you could only see what was happening from that point onwards and nothing before. The first thing that people asked when they joined was what the score was. Someone would reply with, “It’s 140 for 3.” And then the next fellow would come and ask the same thing. And if you looked at the transcripts of the group chats, you would see a continuous repetition of “What is the score?” “140 for 3”, “What is the score?” “140 for 3.”

That’s when Simon came up with the idea of a bot to provide the information. It was a query-based thing. It could communicate with you if you put in certain keywords. Simon went by the nickname of “Cool Pom” on IRC, and the bot was under the name Cricinfo. Others helped him certainly – the other programmers who were creating this bot, they were much better at doing the programming, but they had no idea of what to actually do with it.

In every IRC channel you could set a title, like the title of a webpage or what you would call today a status message in Facebook. This was the “topic”. When you joined the channel, the topic would flash. The Cricinfo bot would regularly set the topic with the latest scores of all the matches, if someone gave it the information, which anybody could do.

Because there would be all kinds of trolls who would give wrong information, a set of approved people was made. And there were other privileges. You could ban somebody from entering the group, you could throw out somebody for a while if they caused too much of a ruckus. It was like a schoolmaster managing a bunch of kids. If there are some transcripts from the IRC channels, you will see the kind of conversations that went on.

I remember one particular incident from those days. We had an Indian kid from Hong Kong who was following cricket somehow, and he started covering one of the many one-day internationals India was playing at that time – I think it was one of the Sharjah matches. This kid started providing cricket scores and no one realised that he was a high-school kid. And at some point some people were goading him and making fun of him and he got so angry that he started shouting: Give me money. I’ve spent so much money giving you scores in the IRC channel.

It kind of gave you a flavour of what was going on. I will not give you the score unless you give me money. How do you give money? There was no way, even if you wanted to. No payment gateway or anything. You could see the kind of fragile people inhabiting that crazy world.

To convert it into a more sophisticated thing, it took a long time, and it took place only because of Simon King. He was very tenacious and he saw some kind of potential – I don’t think it was business potential but a community potential. He clearly emerged as a single leader. It became sort of a dictatorial model, where Simon King decided that that is what Cricinfo would be. If you disagreed with him, you could go do something else. It was for the better. I didn’t have any problem with it.

The major limitation of IRC was that nothing was archived, and the networks were very fragile. Nobody was responsible for the internet and nobody was responsible for IRC.

That’s when the University of Minnesota computer science department came up with Gopher. The same university as Simon, but Simon was in a different department. It just so happened that the University of Minnesota’s computer science guys initiated this idea, and it was a server-client architecture model, which automatically provided some sort of stability as compared to a peer-to-peer IRC networking model.

Gopher was developed for maintaining a structured, ordered tree-based info storage and retrieval mechanism. The idea was that you keep this info in various university networks and you try to put together some sort of repository or indexing system. This was pre-Google, or you can say proto-Google. You needed a Gopher client, a browser. WWW or the W3C models and web browsers had already been developed at CERN, but Gopher had a graphical interface. I wouldn’t say it was a great graphical interface but you could use a mouse and click on links. Neeran Karnik, who was a student at the university, was following all of Cricinfo’s development on IRC, and with Simon helping, the Cricinfo Gopher was built by them.

Simon started building a back-end database, which was great engineering because the system was not developed or defined for that. He modified the Cricinfo bot so that people could not only give live scores but also archive scorecards. What you see today as the Cricinfo scorecard structure, its precursor was evolved at that time loosely by Simon.

He spread the idea and he would talk about it on, encouraging people to throw scorecards into the system. Slowly a few volunteers started doing so. There were incentives. If you submit one scorecard, you will get access to 100 scorecards, or something like that. This was done to encourage more people to contribute. It was through that system that I started contributing.

Once I sent in a scorecard, Simon immediately pounced on me – and every other new volunteer – telling me and them to do more. In this way he was slowly organising a bunch of volunteers. I would send in a card once in a while just to maintain my privilege of getting access to more content.

Simon needed more volunteers in a managerial capacity because he did not have enough time to contact and communicate with everyone and get them to contribute. At that time, two of us agreed to be volunteer-managers. The other one was a chap called Shashin Shah. So now two of us had some kind of access to the system, along with a third guy, Murari Venkataraman, who did a lot of work and then again worked for Cricinfo in India and headed Cricinfo India’s operations for several years.

“We should have paid Allan Border royalty”
The donkey work was put down to me, but I liked it, so it was not a problem.

That was when a bunch of statisticians, people who had access to Wisden Almanacks, started coming in. I remember one name, John Hall. He came up with this idea: why don’t we type and archive every Test scorecard ever? This idea was floated on and volunteers came and joined. I volunteered to type all India matches and John volunteered to type all England matches. I think Travis [Basevi, who later went on to build Statsguru on Cricinfo] was doing some Australian matches. He was a high-school kid then.

At this point everyone was typing the scorecards in his own format. Some ideas were introduced on how the formatting of the scorecards should be. The first attempted scorecard had only the score. It was only later, in 1995, that we said runs, minutes, balls, fours, sixes. At first there was just a fall of wickets as 1-100, 2-173. Later on, adding the name of the dismissed batsman came in.

The life of Cricinfo stopped at the scorecard. It was seen as an end in itself.

In mid ’94 or end ’94, Simon found some sort of code that was available and written in some horrible language called Tcl/Tk, which could be used to take the Gopher site and completely convert it into a www and http format. Simon was still not very comfortable with the http protocol, more because we didn’t have good software to view it. Around then, NCSA Mosaic happened and we sort of disconnected Gopher, since http gave us a lot more facilities.

You could actually present an image in Mosaic, which Gopher couldn’t do. Not that we had access to many images, but you could at least throw a logo. Simon developed the logo for Cricinfo, which was an image of Allan Border playing a shot, and it was slotted and blue paint was poured over it and that was the logo, which he was very fond of. Cricinfo written in Times New Roman, with both C’s capital and everything else in regular size. We should have paid Allan Border some royalty for using his name!

Once the scorecards started pouring in, the value of Cricinfo went up. That was also the time that the attempted live scoring of matches started happening. A few guys in South Africa had attempted live scoring even earlier, probably in ’93. They had developed a score program and called it “Dougie” because the name of one of the South African scorers was Douglas. He and his wife Lennie were always seen at cricket venues, scoring matches together. Dougie was a very sophisticated score program, written in C language, and I worked on the code subsequently, along with several other guys. In the spirit of the internet, it was a completely open-source code.

Obviously now you probably have far better versions of the software, but at that time to say that you could actually create such a scoring program in C with no graphical user interface and just key in input, it was dramatic.

The thing was that they were developing not only a score-crunching machine, they were developing an internet-connecting protocol to convey it, which was the difficult part.

The problem with the model that they came up with was that you had to score every single ball without interruption, and if you stopped, the continuity would be lost. So they needed volunteers who would continue if someone lost their connection. How would this be done if they were in different places? This is where they created a master-slave relationship. When I run this software, I become the master. Then you run it sitting wherever you are and it will throw up a bunch of existing matches that are currently running and you can become a slave of one of them or you can become a master and start a new score. The second volunteer would first become a slave by connecting to the master and everything that the master does is simply rebroadcast to the slave. You could also communicate to all the people there, connected in the private network. So you say, okay, I’m going to give up in this over, can someone take over? Once you give up, you log out and the next slave in line can input a command and become a master. This was soon discontinued because it was too much to handle. Volunteers were difficult to come by.

The pressure was on us, and primarily on KS Rao. He convinced Vishal Misra and got him to change the program, to make it into something that had to work in a robust manner. Vishal was one of the guys from and he took the initiative to change the programming completely to make it work and be able to put out a live scorecard.

So we had a scorecard-generating engine but we had to find someone who could do the scoring, and that’s when we got to this chap at the University of Louisiana. We needed money and a few of us put some in, much of it by Professor Rao, who had his own exclusive dish connection. We are talking about the pre-laptop era. He would take a desktop into his room, sit there and score.

Then he and I started alternating. Operating the software was the difficult part as it needed a steady, high-quality internet connection. For some matches he would feed me through a private conversation, mostly through an IRC private network, a messenger-ish conversation. He would capture the ball-by-ball info and convey it and I would do the scoring, sitting in my office. I had a reasonably free lab with no one bothering me.

Vishal would do some matches as well, as he knew the program in and out. So between us we were covering all the matches, and that’s how we managed live scoring around that time.

At the end of ’96 I moved to Chennai. Once I was there I had ESPN Star Sports, so I could score comfortably. We had people in South Africa doing South Africa matches and people in Australia doing Australia slowly. Travis probably started doing matches around that time. UK also had people covering.

With ESPN Star in India it was a major boon for us because they were getting rights to all the non-India matches as well, so at a low-enough cost we could actually cover cricket. Finding volunteers in India was relatively easy. Our problem was internet connections. In ’97 we had very low-quality internet, even until about 2002.

This program, Dougie, was doing only the scoring. Then Vishal made some enhancements and so did Travis. Commentary was enabled by one of them.

We probably had proper ball-by-ball commentary in ’97. I remember scoring and doing commentary for that very boring draw in the Test between India and Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka where they scored some 900 runs or so.

The next major goal for Cricinfo was to somehow cover every international match live. In ’98 we started doing that. Maybe there was just the odd match that we weren’t getting coverage for.

Partnering a Rolling Stone
It was one of the Sharjah tournaments. It was a series for which no broadcaster in Britain took the feed, because England had sent a second-string team.

I had no direct interaction with Mick Jagger. Simon was his contact point. At that time my music interests were such that I didn’t even know who this guy was. When he figured out that there was going to be no video coverage whatsoever, he probably called one of his assistants to ask who is producing this, and he called Mark Mascarenhas [of WorldTel, who had the rights] and said, I want video, do something. So Mark said, look, I will give you access to the signal and you pay me for it and you do whatever you want with it.

The problem was figuring out how to broadcast it. So then he tracked Simon down and talked to him. Simon must have been pretty amazed because he was a fan. After that he and Simon became really good friends.

So Simon got the feed and we tried to figure out what to do with it. That’s when RBN [Real Broadcast Networks] was doing a lot of streaming and they said they would charge us to stream it. We had no mechanism for charging people, but Mick said that whatever it was, he would pay for it all, because he wanted to watch it. From then on, every Sharjah series for quite a while, we had streaming on RBN. The whole thing would be put out on some pretty low-quality stream, some 56kbps or 128kbps.

You have to imagine the kind of desperation people were feeling – they would take just the audio feed in some cases. There was no way of inserting advertisements. We constructed a page with some ads, but no advertiser was willing to come on board because how many people would watch it anyway? At best the capability was for 200-300 simultaneous users watching, not more than that.

A company is born
The company was incorporated in July-September ’97. Simon and I were the first two directors. I had to go to the UK to sign the papers. I was coming to India anyway, so I came via UK and signed the papers.

In the ’96 World Cup we had the servers in the Oregon Graduate Institute [OGI]. Someone working at Sun Microsystems said that Sun would be willing to give Cricinfo a couple of servers during the World Cup. So we had two machines that had to be housed somewhere. This guy at OGA provided space and bandwidth, with little realisation what was going to happen to them. The Cricinfo servers occupied 96% of the total bandwidth available to that computer department, and all their email and communication came to a standstill because people were just hammering the servers.

So they said they would somehow maintain it till the end of the World Cup but after that we had to find somewhere new to host the server. We were looking around but there was no way of figuring out any service provider in the US who would provide it for free. This is where Mike Whitaker and Jeff Green come in. They both worked at Cricinfo for a long time, even after the Wisden-Cricinfo merger.

Jeff used to build computer boxes to sell. Mike was working for an ISP in the UK. His boss had a 2mbps line coming to his house, given gratis by the company as part of the perks of working there. He agreed to host the Cricinfo server in his house. So we quickly bought a machine from Jeff, who assembled it. A group of us pitched in. So we bought a machine with various people giving $5, $10. We only needed $1000. He built a fairly good machine and moved it to Mike’s boss’ home.

Thereafter, until post Wisden-Cricinfo, every server was assembled by Jeff and Mike. They would choose the hardware, they would tune it, everything was done by them. They considered each machine their baby.

Money, it’s a hit
In ’97 we started getting advertisement deals, primarily from India and some from UK. For the ’98 Australia tour of India, ANZ Grindlays gave us money. Some connection was there with Australia. They wanted to track NRIs or something. We had them paying us Rs 100,000 for that one series sponsorship.

There was a period in ’97 when ICC gave us some money, before we got any advertising money. David Richards had moved to UK to head ICC as their chief executive. When Simon moved in ’95 to UK, he had built up a relationship with Richards, who used to browse scores on Cricinfo. When I subsequently talked to Richards, he said Cricinfo was one way for him to get in touch with the cricket world and know what was happening, because ICC had no communication room or information flowing into it.

That was the time where Simon was proposing that ICC take over Cricinfo and that all of us work as employees. Richards actually liked the idea but he had minimal funding and he was honest with us about this. He said, I survive on money given to me by ACB and ECB, but let me see what I can do, and he did give us some money, though on what basis I was unsure, in terms of what we were supposed to deliver. It was around £7000-8000, which came in dribbles every month. That allowed Simon to take some salary and start spending more time on Cricinfo.

Within a few months we started generating money on our own, enough to build an office and hire people. Their salaries were not very great amounts – Rs 4000 even. By the beginning of 1999, we had a fantastic deal with Intel for Rs 12 lakhs per year. It pretty much took care of all of our expenses. Handling the India office was not difficult, but UK took a longer time to build an office. Simon was still working from home. In terms of proper money, ’99 was a big year for us.

The 1998 Champions Trophy
You had three people: Simon, David Richards and Jagmohan Dalmiya. On one side Simon had great respect for David Richards and he had this idea about ICC owning Cricinfo.

The video thing that he did with Mick Jagger really gave him a kick. Whenever he would go to meet people to talk about Cricinfo, he would say, just imagine a day when all first-class matches are streamed live, so you could watch Railways v Uttar Pradesh – why he chose those two teams we didn’t know, but he always would say Railways v Uttar Pradesh in his British accent.

In ’98 there was an executive committee meeting of ICC in Dubai. Richards got us to meet with every board’s chief executive. At that point AC Muttiah was the Indian board head. Dalmiya was head of ICC. We talked to almost all of them, presenting the idea that ICC should somehow end up owning this great Cricinfo and that the revenue generated should be shared. Obviously it was a non-starter because people like the Australian Cricket Board were looking at the net seriously at that time and had their own plans.

The meeting in Dubai happened before the Wills Championship in Dhaka. We ended up covering that tournament on behalf of ICC, so again Richards was trying to push us to make it into some sort of showcase to say, look, this is what we can do. But no one was sympathetic. The most he could do was to get South Africa, headed by Ali Bacher, and Zimbabwe to be with us. These two were very sympathetic. They immediately agreed for Cricinfo to run the official websites of their boards. Questions of if they would generate income and whether or not it would be shared was not clear.

Much of the money was still generated from India. Indian advertisers were willing to advertise. We were showing those as examples, saying, look, there will be a lot of money and we can do interesting things. But Dalmiya showed no interest. He said that as much as there would be some pluses to owning Cricinfo’s profits, what if it starts making losses? Then I’ll be losing money and all my constituent boards will be losing money. So I don’t want it.

The one last thing David Richards did was getting us all to the ’98 ICC Knockout to cover it. Our travel and stay was all funded by ICC, otherwise there was no way we could have gone there. So we had two people or one covering the matches – Travis mostly, and one back-up scorer.

We were still absolutely thin or nearly zero on editorial capability, or people who could write match reports, but we did take some journalists. Among the people we hired around that time was Partab Ramchand. Anand Vasu probably came in around ’99. This ’98 coverage involved mostly people who were volunteers, who just flew in for this. Travis was not an employee, so he just came in and did the scorecards. Rohan Chandran was one of the other volunteers who did the match reports, and Simon and I were there.

In Dhaka, the ICC gave us excellent space, a good internet connection, and we could do ball-by-ball sitting in the stadium officially. In South Africa too, the South African cricket board had already given us access and we were doing live coverage.

In February 1999, five of us met in UK, Simon and I who were the directors, and three others who showed a lot of interest – Peter Griffiths, Alex Balfour and Dave Liverman. We discussed the future of Cricinfo and each one had their own opinions. Dave was a professor in Canada and he said that his contribution could be only as an advisor, not as an employee. Alex and Pete were both ready to join the company if we could raise money in co-operation. I was committed. The only issue now was to find the funding.

Part – II

The first £100,000
Peter Griffiths brought a very strong connection from the scoring and statistics side of things. He was at that time probably the Secretary of Cricket Scorers and Statisticians. Alex Balfour was doing all kinds of jobs, one of which was freelance journalism. He did a story on Cricinfo. That drew him into Cricinfo and he started working as a volunteer. He was always ready to write copy for any document we had to write or presentation we had to make. In addition to that, he was well connected in London with the financial side, because he was doing a lot of research work during the dotcom period.

One such company that was brought in by Alex was called Pangolin. It later renamed itself as and then collapsed eventually. They were a company run by a bunch of sports executives who were in some television company or the other, into rights negotiations and broadcasting. It was primarily driven by soccer. They had the idea of putting together a pan-European mega sports network. They said they would give us £100,000.

It was our first proper funding in return for virtually nothing. Amazing deal. They said they would give us the money in return for us to write a business plan. If they liked the business plan they would invest in us at the agreed valuation. If they didn’t like it or we didn’t like the offer, we were to return the money, and if we didn’t have the money to return – because obviously the moment you take £100,000, you start spending it – they would take advertising on our site, since they were building a sports network and they needed advertising and they knew we had a good audience base.

We said, fine. There was nothing to lose. Cash for advertising, and that as a last resort. So we took the money and started using it. Simon set up an office in a place called Hartham, and I went there quite often. Alex would come in for a day or two a week for small money, to do some work, and me going there, staying there for a month and coming back – that sort of thing.

But now we could employ more people in India. With that kind of money, if we even allocated a couple of thousand pounds we could hire people in India to do scorecards and other things. So that’s how the Indian office was set up. Even before that, in ’98, when I started travelling to UK, we tracked Murari Venkatraman, who had been one of the admins before me. We got Murari in, and quite a few other employees. In hindsight we probably should not have hired most of those people, but we ended up hiring about 60-70 people, lots of them typing scorecards, which was the starting point, whereas in UK we had just one employee.

David Richards was still very active. He brought in a guy called Michael Watt, a New Zealander, who built CSI, which like TWI was into sports broadcasting. Both the New Zealand Cricket Board and Australian Cricket Board supported him and gave him television production contracts as well as television rights marketing contracts.

“I will give you £3 million”
David Richards got Simon to meet Michael Watt. Watt did not ask any questions. After a couple of meetings he said: You want money? I’ll give you money. I will give you £3 million and you take it and build Cricinfo. This was over a handshake. Simon, myself, Balfour and Griffiths went, met him in his room, shook his hand, and he told his accountant to transfer three tranches of one million pounds.

Later they said they would have 25% stake in the company in return for the £3 million. It was an angel deal of a kind which was completely unheard of. So the money came first and the agreement came later, of less than half a page, which covered just three points: 25% equity, first-exit option for them, and if someone comes to invest they had the right to sell their equity first or not sell. They didn’t even ask for a board seat or anything.

So this first funding came in August ’99. Simon and I tried writing business plans and we just couldn’t do it because we didn’t know what a business plan was. So we a got a document from Coopers & Lybrand which talked about how to write a business plan. We would go and sit in some pub and try to write. At times Alex would join us but mostly it would be me and Simon. We were always talking about the same thing: we will cover all international matches, we will have audio and video, the same things.

Michael Watt’s people suggested that we get Pangolin out of the way. He knew everyone, so he simply called them and said, let these kids out, they will pay you off at no interest rate. So we paid the £100,000 out of the first £1 million that we got and cut the relationship off and we had Watt holding 25% of the company.

Around the time when the money came in, a whirlwind of activity started happening with us in terms of investments and we were simply not ready for it. We were clueless, really. Alex Balfour was probably the one who was the most clued-in because he was a business journalist. He knew about shares and valuations and how money was invested in companies, and we would meet in his house and we would talk about what to do.

Declan Murphy, who was Watt’s investment manager, started looking around for investments. Probably he was looking to turn this £3 million into x million. So he started going to the market, saying, here is this company called Cricinfo and you can invest in it. And he started bringing in all sorts of deals.

It was just too much for us. There was a sudden flush of money – £100,000 comes from nowhere and then you have £3 million happening and you have not done anything.


All along there was some cricket coverage going on – the ’99 World Cup happened, which Alex managed completely. At that time he had a problem with the ECB, who were running an official website and didn’t want to give us entry into the stadium.

But our coverage of the ’99 World Cup was a tremendous success. We could get more advertisement revenue in US or UK than the official website. Obviously the ECB would have been really pissed off about that. That was the last World Cup that was run by a cricket board before ICC took over the running and sponsorship and management of it.

Trust v profit motive
Our user base was going up tremendously and money was also coming in, but we didn’t have any idea or plan or strategy. And Simon wanted complete control. Say, for example, if we wanted to sell the company in ’99, someone would have come and bought it for any amount of money. But Simon had the idea that the whole thing started as a voluntary venture, so we could only consider ourselves as trustees. Simon was never in it for the money and that is where the clash started, because on one end you have Michael Watt and his money – though he also appeared to be a very nice guy, but his manager, Declan Murphy, was about money.

So Murphy said, let’s do a deal and get investors. Simon said, no, it’s a trust. And we had exasperated meetings of five of us, including Declan. He was very angry, thought we were a complete bunch of idiots sitting there with no understanding about what the dotcom market was all about. We had agreed to give 25% shares to Watt but only two shares had been issued at that point, and both were taken by Simon. So on paper 100% was with Simon. He said he was a trustee for a bunch of volunteers. How do you structure these things?


Simon came up with a formula. The idea was something that he had discussed with me, where he looked at all the people who had volunteered for Cricinfo, and we went through all the names and came up with 70-75 names. So 75 people own the company before anyone else came in. How do you give them shares? So then a measure was how many scorecards were typed up by which guy. Then there were other people like Vishal, who had created scoring software, and KS Rao. Using and applying all sorts of measures he created a formula where premium equity was given to himself and me, because we were the first two people who quit our careers to jump into this. After this entire formula was created, it was sort of like 25% for Simon King, 15% for me, and then it starts tapering down all the way. And a further 25% to Watt. This was presented to a few people and it was agreed and accepted generally.

When we started getting money, Simon and I took a trip to the US to meet with, which was then called CBS Sportsline and was a pioneer among multi-sports media companies. They were keen but uninterested in any sort of cash deal. They wanted to acquire Cricinfo and roll it into CBS Sportsline, to make it CBS Cricinfo. The deal was that CBS would invest, but more in terms of advertising space in return for nearly 30% equity.

When we went there it was quite amazing for us because they had their own internet radio station that they were running for basketball and football matches. These were things that we had always wanted to do, and we saw that they could do it with just two guys sitting in a room, providing live audio commentary. They had wonderful server set-ups, while we were hopeless. They were the ones who actually told us about the importance of editorial. They had so many journalists. We were thinking only about cricket scorecards and statistics, and journalism was somehow not as important to us.

So CBS Sportsline were interested in acquiring us for stock but Simon was not. Other deals were proposed and all of them consisted of people taking a majority stake and buying the company completely. Simon was dead against that. He believed control is important and that he had a great vision for Cricinfo, so he said he could not give a majority stake to anyone. This resulted in a loss of several deals, and Declan Murphy was absolutely raging at this point.

So we all gave up and I came back to India, where I started getting a lot of phone calls about deals. Word had spread that Cricinfo was interested in investment. CBS sent one of their top executives here. They were trying to build a company called, which was supposed to be an exact replica of Sportsline for the UK. They were direct competitors of Pangolin. Both were still interested in us.

India was opening up at that time to internet ventures. We were approached by Bank of America’s investment banking division in Hong Kong. They said they would represent us, do a business plan for us, which was wonderful, as we had been trying nearly a year to write one and had not gotten anywhere.

Prakash Parthasarathy from Bank of America, primarily working with me and with some inputs from Simon, put together an information memorandum. Then he circulated it to various potential investors, and the best deal from Simon’s point of view came from Sify, Satyam Infoway, mainly because it gave us the best valuation, $150 million, and it didn’t ask for much in terms of stake.

Sify gets on board
The first thing was to come to an agreement with Murphy on how much he wanted out of the whole thing. He drove a hard bargain.

If you take 25% of $150 million, it comes to what, $37.5 million dollars? It was split as 20 and 17.5. So $20 million to be paid off to Michael Watt and a further $17.5 million invested in Cricinfo.

I don’t remember exactly how the structuring was done. They first acquired the £3 million, or $5 million, worth of stake for consideration and further invested money. Additional shares were issued to the founders at no particular cost. So at the end of it, it was 25% to Sify, 75% to these 70 people.

Michael Watt walked away with $20 million. But this is where the problem comes – it was not dollars, it was ADRs – American Depository Receipts of Satyam Infoway, which was a listed company in the US. Basically they issue ADRs, which take a certain time for registration and then you have to offload them into the market and then you will get the current price of the stock. If the stock price falls you have a problem, but if it goes up, you have an upset too.

Declan Murphy and Co, they liquidated fairly quickly. But at our end we didn’t do a good job of it. After the ADRs were issued to us, when Sify announced the deal, the stock price actually went up. Which meant that the 17.5 we got was worth probably 18.5, 19.5, 20 – it went up by 10-15%.

Peter Griffiths decided to keep everything in ADRs, which in hindsight was a big mistake because we could simply have converted them into cash and then put it in safe investments of some kind. He was liquidating only what he wanted to use each month. Within two months the whole market collapsed.

The deal happened around the end of April 2000. By May we had the ADRs in hand. June-July the stock went up a little bit and started coming down. With the stock coming down you want to wait for it to go up, so you just compound the problem. At one point you had $5 million cash, then you have $17 million in notional cash. It just went berserk.

We started sponsoring the women’s World Cup, County Championship – those were chunks. We were also hiring people, building offices.

Adding value but no revenue
Basically these sponsorships were Simon’s way of giving money to cricket. They were handouts. If you are a cut-throat fellow, what mileage will you get from sponsoring the Women’s World Cup?

We had by then built a burn rate of a million dollars a month, with revenues not even one tenth of that. I would blame, one, us, but equally Bank of America. We were asking: what do we do with the money? Build value, we were told. Spend the money, build value, because the next deal we are going to do will be on a $250 million-plus valuation. So income was not even considered. We were literally hiring snake-oil salesmen, who came and said, I will raise the revenue from $1 million a month to $2 million a month. And we were hiring them at £75-85,000 a year.


I wouldn’t say we spent a lot of money on editorial, but we spent on equipment, and we were hiring producers. We were sending a lot of equipment to the Women’s World Cup to do video and beam the matches on the net. Today it just looks ridiculous. Flying people from England to New Zealand itself is a huge cost – all flying business class, and Simon would fly first class. So how to spend money is very easy.

I was basically handling operations. Simon said that my job was to go and meet all the cricket boards at the top level. I was hiring people in UK and India and sending money to the Indian subsidiary to spend.

We had built a team in Australia and were covering cricket matches at first-class level everywhere. We were adding lots of value but zero revenue. The only revenue-making places were Britain and India, with Australia contributing a little bit. Then we did a deal with Nine MSN in Australia. It was a tripartite deal: Nine MSN, us and the Australian cricket board.

Then this craziness about doing the official websites of the boards started happening, but slowly that wore off because it was not generating too much money. The boards were not making much out of it either. They saw that everything was template-ish, looking the same.

This was a time when we were going through difficulties on every possible front. The engineering was weak, the Mike-Jeff boxes were not sufficient. Their thinking was to add more boxes and to build software solutions, when what we actually needed was good, robust hardware solutions. You had a lot of journalists but they were from very disparate backgrounds, and to really pull them together to do good work wasn’t happening. All through, the one thing that could not fail was the scoring, and that was also the one that generated money. That went on, but you could see the lack of professionalism everywhere.

By the end of 2000, it was clear to us that things were not going right. Bank of America came and said, sorry, we may not be able to get you any more deals.

In too deep

The money came in in 2000 and we were going broke in 2000! We forced Pete to sell all the ADRs. We lost money, but still it raised a few million dollars for us. Maybe we lost about five or six million dollars, but still we had millions. Our burn rate was huge, but more than that, mentally we were not clear where we were going. There was no business plan. It was only an information memorandum, saying our page views will increase like this, our revenues will increase like this. That’s not a business plan.

By the end of 2000, I was in UK, and I decided that I would go to India and start driving revenue rather than focusing on operations. Operations were sort of stabilised. We were simply stuck for money. The realisation that money is more important than everything else happened at that time. I was to look after the generation of income in India, and Alex Balfour was to do the same in UK. We did increase it but it was nowhere near the kind of money we were already spending, so it was very clear that we had to cut cost.

In 2001, we had about 25 people in UK, on production, html, technology, everything. In Australia there were only four or five because Nine MSN was providing technology and other things there, so we needed very few people. In New Zealand the same chap, Adrian Motherway, was responsible for both operations and revenue. South Africa and Zimbabwe we had Keith Lane handling. Indian operations, I was primarily handling revenue and I had hired Ramesh Kumar to build up a team

Companies were just getting smashed everywhere. At least in India we were generating more revenue than what we were spending. But a lot of costs are hidden – the servers were paid for by the UK operation, which is a crucial payment.

That is when we went to Sify, saying we are just clueless. But their operation was also exactly like this, which I didn’t know at the time. They were raising money and spending money like crazy, which their CFO told me about after he quit Sify. Cricinfo was just one of the hundred or so investments or acquisitions they had. It was taking their stock price up but they also had burn.

They started loaning money to us. They were not interested in investing money in shares, but they created a loan-note arrangement. They had a stake in the company and they still had cash. They were raising cash through all kinds of jugglery, which I came to know of much later.

Exit King
Simon was forced out. We were reaching a stage where we were running out of cash fast, so we had to act. After all this investment, Sify was 25, Simon 15, and mine was 10 or nine point-something, and then others dropped down all the way.

In some sense we were somewhat unfair to Simon, but Simon in that scenario couldn’t give any leadership either. He could have simply taken the decision of sacking as many people as possible, slimming down the operations, working till it’s cash break-even, but he was in no position to do that because he didn’t have the experience, and we didn’t have the experience either.

I had never worked anywhere else. Simon had all his life been a researcher and then into this job. Pete had run his own firm but it was nothing compared to the size we are talking about, and Alex Balfour didn’t have this kind of experience either, as a journalist.

Simon tried to get the Cricketer magazine on board. The idea was that they would raise some £5 million or something and buy out Cricinfo. A paper was presented by Simon and the Cricketer, saying that they would raise the money through some investors, and the Cricketer and Cricinfo would be rolled into a single operation, and they would eventually try to turn it around into a working model. The whole idea in that scenario was to buy out Sify.

But almost the day before the plan was to be presented, the Cricketer team changed their stance and said, you’ve got to put the company into administration, which is a pre-liquidation kind of model. Suspend all the creditors. The administrators will manage the company and then we will buy. At this point Sify said, look, we are still a very large company. We have access to a lot of cash. We cannot have any of our companies put into administration.

They said, we will take it over in some sense and we still want you guys to run it. Basically George Zachariah of Sify was sort of driving the whole thing, saying you have to start cutting the cost and for that you have to get Simon out.

Simon was the one who was not really willing to see the baby that he had built – we were now chopping off its limbs and he was really not coming to terms with it. We had an emergency board meeting in which they said, you guys go into a room, talk and come back with a plan. If not, then we have our plan, which we will read out to you. It’s only on that we will lend you money. By then we had come down to two months’ worth of bank balance.

Alex volunteered to step down. When Simon couldn’t come up with an alternative plan, we all decided that we have to do whatever Sify says, because we had no plan. So at this point George told Simon: they have decided to get you out of the board.

Simon was a broken man. In a sense it was all our relationships breaking down. I left the same day – with George, because we based out of Chennai. That was the last that I saw Simon.

I did feel guilt that I was betraying him, in a sense. And that guilt also made me not communicate with him at all. He didn’t communicate, I didn’t communicate. There has been no email, nothing, since that day.

The agreement was that Pete would take over as CEO, Alex would leave, Simon would leave. I was paid staff. I was getting an Indian salary. So it was not a major cost per se, and I was the one who was needed because I was literally managing the entire company. Pete was needed because we needed somebody in the UK to run the operation. Simon subsequently filed a case of unlawful dismissal etc and there was compensation – an out-of-court settlement.

Pete showed a little toughness. He was at least a numbers man, saying that if we have to sack people, I will do that. It was something that Simon couldn’t even envision.

We started getting money from Sify on loan and we started moving a lot of positions to India. We reduced the staff considerably in UK. Then what happened was, with all the pressures of dealing with this, Pete gave the financial controller a little more control in dealing with the money, and he made quite a bit of a mess. He kept a lot of old bills unpaid. He started paying off a lot of new bills. It reached a stage when the older creditors started writing to us saying that you’ve got to pay us. Pete started blaming himself for the mess and he wrote a note saying, I want to resign.

Finally the Sify guys did the right thing. In January 2002, they seconded a person from Sify, a chap called Naresh Vittal. They said, go and clean up this company, it is a mess.

I can tell you now, what I have learnt about business I learnt from this guy, Naresh Vittal. He came and called all the creditors and told them, look, the company is in trouble. I’ll give you one-third of the money, if you take it and run. Otherwise you will not get any money. He smoothed out the payment structure, put a tight grip on cost.

He made it very clear: look, I have no idea about your company. I don’t know most of you guys. But I will work with a few key people. That was pretty much it. He said, I will ensure you break even.

Naresh Vittal cleaned things up substantially, increased revenue sufficiently, brought the cost down. Seven or eight months into it we had almost reached break-even on a monthly basis. That is when Wisden communicated with Alex, and Naresh Vittal and the Sify guys came in and talked to Wisden.

The whole deal of was pitched to John Paul Getty Jr [the American millionaire] by this agency called Quintas. They said were not going anywhere in terms of revenue and Cricinfo is tottering, so the best deal is, you put some more cash, you buy both, roll it, and thereafter it is up to you. That plan was bought by Getty. Anything cricket, he was willing to write a cheque anyway.

The way the Wisden deal was structured, it was £5 million for the assets of Cricinfo, not liabilities. So five million came and by then we had run up liabilities of £4 million with Sify. None of us made any money – essentially it sold for zero. It had so many liabilities. So effectively what we were doing was: let’s give the company away so that it can be managed properly.

Cricinfo is still there for me
I would love to meet Simon again. I agree that I could have dealt with it differently, but I also know that it wasn’t me making the calls to get Simon out, so that guilt is not there. None of us actually made any money in the end. If I had made any money then I would have felt more guilty

I cannot claim to love Cricinfo more than Simon. He had moved so far away from his chosen field of work. He couldn’t go back to nuclear physics, which is what he was doing, nor was he going to find a job in this field. Whereas I continued to keep my job – it helped me learn things that he probably didn’t learn on the job.

I went on to another start-up, which I started in 2004. I’m on the board of three companies. Everything I have learned is at the expense of Cricinfo shareholders’ money. I can still call myself a co-founder of Cricinfo, which still has some value

Alex [Balfour] went on to head the new media initiative of the London Olympics, a job he would have gotten partly because he was involved in Cricinfo, and he did a good job of it.

Peter Griffiths was reasonably old when he left Cricinfo after resigning. He didn’t take up anything immediately. Then he built, which is run by him. Even Jeff and Mike, who we let go, they were also involved in cricketarchive.

It doesn’t bother me at all that I’m not part of Cricinfo. To be honest, if I had continued here, I might not have added any value. I’ll say that Cricinfo is still there for me and it still gives me pleasure to keep following the game, and I’m still in touch with people – a lot of people who worked with me back then.

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