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HindustanTimes Sun,21 Dec 2014

Cricket

When cricket made a giant leap
Sai Mohan, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, July 19, 2013
First Published: 00:50 IST(19/7/2013)
Last Updated: 02:04 IST(19/7/2013)

There are times when a process begins slowly and gathers momentum gradually. Sometimes, experiments also prove so successful they trigger a rapid change. Either way, cricket has not been the same since the Twenty20 format took shape.

It was sometime in 2002 when members of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) voiced concerns over poor turnouts for domestic matches.

It led to their marketing manager, Stuart Robertson, conducting a survey across the UK, asking fans what they’d like to see different.

Some suggested post-work, late-night cricket. Some wanted cheerleaders and music. Robertson put both together, and T20 cricket was thus born.

Initial days
The competition was approved by the ECB in April 2002 but didn’t receive the blessings from all counties. Twenty20 finally debuted on June 13, 2003.

That summer’s inaugural Twenty20 Cup was watched by 257,759 spectators and administrators around the world were licking their lips.

“It started in the county season with the hope that women and children would take to it, and eventually graduate to the longer format. The experiment worked well. Lord’s saw its first county fixture sell-out since the 1950s through a T20 match between Middlesex and Surrey that year. It was quick impact,” says Wisden editor Lawrence Booth, who, writing for Guardian then, pinned the headline, “Exciting times; High farce; and Sheer incompetence”.

The format was seen as a gimmick not just by Booth. The ECB invited pop trio Atomic Kitten to perform during the final between Surrey and Warwickshire - exactly ten years ago. But a decade later, Booth is convinced that T20 is serious business.

“Now, it’s become cricket’s biggest window to the Olympics. But ECB didn’t have Olympics in mind then. They envisaged it as a format to reinvigorate the sport and bring new fans. Nobody, including myself, foresaw it becoming a big international sport,” says Booth.

For the fans
For county cricketers, after years of playing before empty galleries, here was a chance to show off in front of tens of thousands of fans.

The difference between the first two years of the T20 Cup was that, the second time round, everyone took it seriously. Even Surrey, winners of the first tournament, had not given T20 much priority.

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Their skipper Adam Hollioake had called it a joke. A year on, it had already grown in stature and there was no looking back.

The first T20 international was played in February, 2005, with Australia defeating New Zealand at Auckland. Australia were also involved in kick-starting the one-day international, when they took on England at Melbourne in 1971.

Twenty20 has rapidly grown into a perfect amalgam of entertainment, sport and one that sets the cash registers ringing. The launch of the IPL in 2008 triggered the start of similar franchise versions in other countries has ensured cricket will never be the same again.


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