In each Festival match of 30 overs we scored over 115 runs and on average only lost 4 wickets an innings – well done the batters.* [Derbyshire Cricket Board]So...this well done the thing. I can't say it. Better Half says he hears it often in cricket commentary, but that it's rather new. I can't find anything discussing it in the usual places I'd look.
Well done the players, we knew you had it in you and well done Juande Ramos, you sorted the tactics just right to get the best from our lads [comment on SkySports]
Well done the runners [comment on a JustGiving page]
This for us was an excellent result, playing in a section above a our current one and finishing in the top half of the results, nothing wrong with that, well done the band. Well done the other bands yesterday, it was by all accounts a great contest [Amington Band]
* I also found one example of Well done the batsmen. I know cricket purists will be annoyed by the batter in that example--but BH tends to associate the expression with batter rather than batsmen, so that's what I looked up first.
It looks like a congratulatory utterance directed at the named group, but if you're congratulating someone, you'd usually do so by addressing them. In the second example we see an example of that: well done Juande Ramos. But if you're addressing a group by common noun rather than by a proper name, you wouldn't normally in English use a definite determiner (the). So, Well done, runners would be fine in any form of English.
The other thing that it could be is a sort of indirect congratulation, where you're not addressing the congratulatee (congratulee? congratuland?) directly, but expressing your congratulatory sentiments about them to someone else. In this case, common core English would usually use a to: Well done to the runners! Or 'Well done!' to the runners.
Most of the cases of this that I've found involve no mid-phrase punctuation. With a comma after done, I'd think it a straightforward case of direct congratulations, and so would note the weird use of the whoevers as a term of address. Without the comma, it's less clear--though note that the comma is not always used when address terms are used--and may be less often used (or used less often) in less-comma-ful British English. One doesn't see things like the runners being used as a term of address elsewhere in the language. Race officials don't welcome racers with *Hello, the runners. So, it's less than clear that the runners is being used as a term of address.
But I can see no motivation for dropping the to in the indirect form either. I can't imagine similar droppings of to in other indirect greetings. Hello to the children, yes. Hello the children, no. So, I'm sticking with my initial assumption that we're supposed to understand the runners as a term of address in Well done the runners. But then again, there is the BrE Up the runners, which is also missing a preposition (with) from my AmE perspective. BH's perception is that that use of up is (his words) (BrE) "toffee-nosed Oxbridge talk" and well done the is in a different class--but others may have different perceptions of the two constructions. I'd love to hear about them.
Because BH knew this from cricket, I had a snoop around other countries--I found only one case on an .au site (searching for batters, batsmen, bowlers, players and runners), none on .ie, .pk, .nz or .za, and the only one I found in a few pages of sorting through Indian sites was by a New Zealander. So, it's looking pretty British to me--though whether it's coming from a particular dialect is not at all clear, since I've found it all over the country.
So, who's got [orig. AmE] the scoop on the origins of this construction? And is there anyone out there whose brain isn't a bit jangled by it?