‘Thought it was a gimmick’: How cricket’s big joke morphed into shock 20-year revolution

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‘Thought it was a gimmick’: How cricket’s big joke morphed into shock 20-year revolution
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The best part of two decades ago Ricky Ponting smashed an unbeaten 98 off just 55 deliveries in the first ever men’s T20 international – he then hit the new format for an even bigger shot.

“I was on record then of saying, ‘Oh, this is fun, it’s going to be a really good promotional tool for 50 over cricket,’” Ponting told foxsports.com.au.

“I was thinking that it was a bit of a gimmick and probably going to die a couple of years later.”

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The New Zealand and Australian teams pose in their Retro 80s uniforms before their Twenty20 International Match at Eden Park on February 17, 2005. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Nigh on two decades later, on the eve of the T20 World Cup – the first time the tournament has been held on Australian soil – opener between the trans-Tasman neighbours, Ponting can’t help but laugh about how wrong he was.

“Here we are probably close on 20 years later with a lot of the focus on world cricket being on T20 Cricket and different domestic leagues around the world,” he said.

Little did Ponting know at the time, but the retro kits both the New Zealanders and Australia would sport, with afros and under-arm deliveries bowled to players long retired, would be the start of a juggernaut that would power the game of cricket and change it forever.

Indeed, the hit-and-giggle concept is now the format that dictates world cricket, with nations bending over backwards to try and manage their best talent and keep the Test format of the game alive and in good health.

New Zealand player Hamish Marshall (left) celebrates with his team after Andrew Symonds was out for 13 during their T20 international at Eden Park. NZ HeraldSource: News Corp Australia

With T20 leagues popping up all over the world, governing bodies are having to think creatively of how to keep players playing international cricket rather than gun-for-hire specialists searching for their next dollar.

From Chris Gayle to Tim David, Trent Boult and possibly David Warner, administrators fear that cricketers will become mercenaries, with franchise leagues ruling the roost over the established formats of the game that have been the foundations of cricket since day dot.

Indeed, In barely 20 years, Twenty20 cricket has gone from being a light-hearted sideshow to a money-spinning, central plank of the sport’s global calendar, which started in England and took off immediately.

Brad Hodge of Leicestershire hits out during their T20 semi-final at Trent Bridge on July 19, 2003 in Nottingham. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Stuart Robertson, the marketing manager of the England and Wales Cricket Board, proposed a 20-overs-per-side event, a format already known in amateur and junior cricket, to replace the Benson and Hedges Cup one-day competition in 2002 that had been canned due to an advertising ban on tobacco, which left a huge gap in the market.

And there was born the concept of T20 cricket – a format that could be played in a matter of hours, attractive to those looking for an after work activity and wrapped up before the kids were called for bedtime.

Brad Hodge, who played in the inaugural competition and scored a quick-fire 66 in Leicestershire’s semi-final loss in mid-2003, was on board immediately.

“No, no way. I was a believer,” he shot back immediately, after being asked whether he was a sceptic of the new competition.

“I actually played in the first game in England, Leicestershire versus Yorkshire, I think it was, and the first game we showed up at Leicestershire and it was a packed house, so 10-12,000 people, sunny afternoon in Leicestershire, and it was unreal.

“I knew straight after that day that it was a hit.

“The players loved it, fans loved it and it was new to the TV.”

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Glenn McGrath pretends to bowl the last ball under arm at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. AAP ImageSource: AAP

Despite Hodge’s belief that T20 cricket was the future of the game, others, including large sections of the public, were less convinced and believed the game was heading in the wrong direction.

The afros, the nicknames and the cameos from players in other sports like NRL great Andrew Johns as well as dual international Jeff Wilson, added to the idea that the game was hardly serious.

Ponting, however, said his former teammate Matthew Hayden firmly disagreed with him.

“I did think that yeah, I absolutely did (not think the game would last),” he said.

“I had other guys in the side like Matty Hayden and those guys saying that this is the future of the game, this is the way.

“They were saying that then, and I could not agree with him at all. Maybe it was because I was a bit more of a traditionalist and, maybe, well back then I didn’t even fear that it was going to have any impact on the international game because I thought it was just a promotional tool for the game to get younger people interested in cricket, thought if they got to watch it they’d be interested in going to watch the 50-over game and the Test matches.

“That’s what I thought the evolution of it was going to be but it’s turned out to be quite different.”

Adam ‘Church’ Gilchrist cuts against England at the SCG on January 9, 2007. Photo: Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Indeed, T20 exploded and the emergence of the Indian Premier League was a game-changer.

Just as India’s victory in the 1983 men’s one-day World Cup changed the attitude of cricket’s most populous nation towards the limited-overs game, so was the 2007 title success equally transformative there.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India, looking to capitalise on that success and concerned by the Indian Cricket League, a private T20 event, launched the IPL in 2008.

Not only did it effectively end the ICL, the new six-week tournament changed cricket’s global environment.

The city-based IPL, where teams were bankrolled by wealthy private owners and with squads based on player auctions, meant leading cricketers could earn vast sums of money in a short space of time.

Traditionally, the way to having a lucrative career was to become an established international in multi-day Test cricket and benefit from the sponsorship deals that followed.

Now, however, there was another route, with the creation of other leagues such as Australia’s Big Bash and England’s Blast creating a global T20 circuit.

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The concept has only mushroomed, with the Caribbean, Pakistan and Bangladesh all now in on the act.

– The future –

The IPL has so changed the game that the ICC has effectively barred international men’s matches during the usual April-May time-frame for the tournament in a bid to ensure top-class cricketers remain available.

Now there is an uneasy co-existence between the formats, with the ICC creating the World Test Championship in a bid to bolster the five-day game.

Some key players, like India’s Virat Kohli, recently proclaimed that Test cricket would always be “the absolute pinnacle of the game”.

“I will give everything to Test cricket for the time I play, I can assure you of that,” he said, but how long his attitude lasts across cricket remains to be seen.

In a sign of the times, new cashed-up T20 leagues are slated for South Africa, the United States and the United Arab Emirates from 2023, further tempting players with big-money offers. Australian star Warner was said to be weighing up a move to the UAE in the new year but has signed on for a return in the Big Bash in a coup for the Australian Big Bash.

The gold rush T20 has delivered has seen questions arise about the sustainability and the interest of ODIs.

For now, all three formats are co-exisitng with T20 cricket, as well as ODI World Cups, helping to sustain all three formats.

What is certain is just like the introduction of World Series Cricket in the 1970s, T20 cricket has changed cricket forever over the past 20 years.

With AFP



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