West Indies’ influence on T20 cricket


WATCHING the Indian Premier League unfold in 2022, after all it has gone through in the past two years, I couldn’t help but reflect on how the T20 format of the game of cricket began. It started so innocently and has burgeoned into a great entertainment spectacle that is a massive money-spinner, not only to its players, but the industry associated with it.

In the late 90s, the English Cricket Board was concerned with dwindling gates at county matches that started it thinking along the lines of a reduced form of cricket. However, the 18 first-class counties plus Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) that formed the game’s powerbase at the time did not agree with the idea and it was shelved.

Nonetheless, by 2001, the financial concerns reached alarming proportions because of the continued drastic drop in attendance at the three-day first-class games. Survival was of paramount importance.

The ECB got to work, and scheduled interviews with a wide range of people, to help discover the reasons for the falling-away of attendance.

They met with children, women, businessmen, and youngsters between 16 and 30, in other words, a wide cross-section of society.

Having studied the survey, it was then put to the vote of the 18 first-class counties and the MCC. They voted 11-7 (with MCC abstaining) in favour of the short-form game. This happened in April 2002.

Stuart Robertson was the marketing manager of the ECB at the time and said this new format was not an end in itself but a means to an end. The hope was, he claimed, “ that a 20-over game after work or school will be the first rung on a cricket-watching ladder that has a championship game at the top.”

The first official tournament was played in 2003. It attracted mammoth crowds, more than expected, filling the cricket grounds. The counties were over the moon at the reaction, including all the hype of music, television interviews with players, and cricketers no longer disappearing into the pavilion but staying right in view of spectators on the boundary line, now known as the dugout.

Needless to say, the eyes of the cricket world were watching closely.

Cricket was always considered a slow game because of its very nature. History will record that in 1963, there were similar circumstances that first brought limited-overs cricket to the first-class game. It was a paucity of crowds attending cricket games in Britain that brought certain changes. The UK had the lone professional cricket league in the world and it was dying.

West Indies, under Sir Frank Worrell had a lot to do with the recovery, although, on the outside, it wouldn’t appear that way.

It was the WI tour of Australia in 1960/61. The previous Ashes tour Down Under of 1958/59 between Australia and England produced slow, drawn-out cricket by teams playing not to lose, rather than to win.

When Worrell’s team arrived in November 1960, the first question posed by Aussie reporters was whether his team would be playing bright cricket. His reply was that they would be playing their natural game.

That tour is still considered one of the greatest Test series ever.

The first Test ended in a dramatic tie. Australia won the second by seven wickets and WI won the third by 222 runs. The fourth saw the Aussies’ last-wicket pair hold on for one and a quarter hours to draw, and the final Test ended controversially, with the Aussies claiming victory by two wickets.

The hundreds of thousands who lined the Melbourne streets to say farewell sent a subliminal message to worldwide cricket administrators about how attractive cricket could be, the WI way.

England, just two years later, couldn’t wait to get their hands on Worrell’s West Indians. They launched their limited-overs (60 overs) for first-class counties to coincide with the WI tour of 1963. They changed their entire county schedule of international visits so the WI could return in 1966 and not 1971, as scheduled. The twin summer tours were introduced. The regulations for overseas players were changed so that they could qualify to play first-class cricket for counties, without giving up their international status. And they introduced a 40-overs limited-overs competition.

All this change took place because of the popularity of WI cricketers and the excitement they brought to the game.

So when the counties were losing money again in the early 21st century, Twenty20 was born. It caught on.

The world of cricket has not been the same since.


"West Indies’ influence on T20 cricket"

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