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Disney's (and ESPN's) flirtation with cricket.
by Venu Palaparthi
Jun 13, 2007
Cricinfo's purchase by Disney owned ESPN is a continuation of Disney's curious love affair with cricket. It is also something of a reunion of distant cousins - both ESPN and Cricinfo have a Getty connection.

Disney and Cricket

Walt Disney once said, "remember, it all started with a mouse." But Disney's fling with cricket started with a duck. Literally!

It is said that Walt Disney came up with the Donald Duck name for Mickey's friend after he heard that Donald Bradman got out for a duck in New York. The Australians were playing their third match against New York on July 16, 1932 and Donald Bradman made a duck. The Australians made 206 for 6 and the New Yorkers drew the match, a rarity on this tour.

Just the week before, John Kieran wrote in NY Times - “According to evidence submitted by interested parties, Donald Bradman makes so many runs that the scorekeepers no longer go into the details choosing merely to ring a bell as he passes each century. He simply keeps hitting and running until some sensible person in the stands suggest a cup of tea, whereupon all hands break for tiffin with the score standing: All-England 358. Don Bradman 405 (not out).”

Naturally then, when Donald Bradman, who had just been named Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1931, got out for a duck, America was stunned. Pundits proclaimed "Donald took to cricket like duck to the water." They did not expect him to make a duck instead.

It is therefore not surprising if Disney himself was taken by the thought of ‘Donald’ scoring a ‘Duck’

That Walt Disney followed cricket is not very surprising either. The Australian tour of USA certainly got a lot of press across the country. Especially in Los Angeles where Sir Charles Aubrey Smith presided over cricket. Walt Disney is said to have attended the Australia versus Hollywood Cricket Club cricket match at the UCLA Westwood ground in Los Angeles on August 25, 1932, even though concrete evidence to prove this is hard to come by. It is a fact that the Hollywood Cricket Club was founded some months before the Australian tour of America. Its members included Sir Charles Aubrey Smith, Dougles Fairbanks, Boris Karloff, Cary Grant and many other luminaries. Disney may even have been a member of the cricket club (see fact #48).

There is plenty of evidence that the Australian cricketers enjoyed being in Hollywood. In fact, on August 26th, Boris Karloff took the entire Australian team to MGM where The Mask of Fu Manchu was being shot. Aussie batsman Alan Klippax and Hollywood cricketer Aubrey Smith also were featured in a short called Flickers.

Professional courtesy?

There is another reason why the cartoonist in Disney might have taken an interest in the visiting Australians. The Australians were led by a well known cartoonist, Arthur Mailey, who was also a highly regarded cricketer.

Whatever the reason, Disney named the duck Donald in 1932. The rest, as they say, is history. Donald Duck made his debut in 'The Wise Little Hen' in 1934. Some years later, in 1937, the Donald Duck made a solo appearance in a movie aptly titled the 'Don Donald'.

Disney's bid for big-time cricket

Seventy years after the release of Don Donald, Disney's sports complex in Orlando was named a potential venue for world cup cricket matches. Americans were disappointed when the actual venues were announced.

Some years before, when Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex opened in 1997 on 200 sprawling acres in Orlando, provision was made for a cricket field. In fact, a proposal was sent to ICC offering to stage cricket matches at this complex. According to an interim report of the ICC development committee which was widely quoted in the media at that time, ICC would have had to make a commitment that three national teams from among ICC's full members would play in Orlando in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Disney offered to build a cricket facility to international standards if such a commitment was made. Disney's efforts in bringing world class cricket to Orlando came to nought (or shall we call it a duck?).

ESPN and Cricinfo are cousins!

ESPN's flirtation with cricket is not as mysterious as its parent company Disney's flirtation.

Cricinfo was bought by Sir John Paul Getty II's Wisden Group. Sir Getty II was the anglophile son of John Paul Getty, who established a $6 billion fortune through the oil company Getty Oil.

Coincidentally, Getty Oil owned ESPN until ABC acquired ESPN in 1984. When Disney bought ABC in 1996, ESPN joined the Disney family. Both companies are therefore connected to Getty! In the family tree of companies, ESPN and Cricinfo are just distant cousins.

ESPN had extensive interests in cricket even before the Cricinfo deal. In 2006, ESPN-Star secured ICC's television rights for 2007-2015 after paying a staggering "$1.1 billion." It acquired rights to the inaugural Twenty20 World Championships 2007 and two world cup tournaments (2011 and 2015).

Reacting to the results of the bidding process, Jamie Davis of ESPN-Star said, "this acquisition affirms our commitment to the Indian sub-continent and the world and we are absolutely delighted to bring the exciting line-up of ICC Events to millions of cricket fans globally." The latest acquisition further strengthens this American organization's ties to cricket.

Last word: Contrary to popular belief, Jiminy Cricket has nothing to do with the game.

 
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