Twenty20: Past, Present and Future
The history of Twenty20 cricket has its roots in England. The England and Wales Cricket Board originally introduced it in 2003 as a professional inter-county tournament. The winners that year were the Surrey Lions who defeated the Warwickshire Bears to clinch the first ever Twenty20 Cup, which was a huge success with the crowds. Since then the Twenty20 format has been tried in almost all cricket playing nations and the results have been on the whole positive. On January 12th, 2005, Australia’s first ever Twenty20 match was played at the WACA between the Western Warriors and the Victoria Bushrangers. It drew a sellout crowd of 20,700 people. The first ever Twenty20 international was played between Australia and New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland on 17th February, 2005. Although Australia won that game the people remembered the match more for its fresh approach to the game of cricket and its carnival like atmosphere. Starting July 11th, 2006, 19 West Indian regional teams competed in the Stanford 20/20 tournament. The event was on the whole was a success but some West Indian legends of the game, such as Micheal Holding, criticized it for being total ‘rubbish’.
The format of Twenty20 closely resembles a form of the game that has been popular in English amateur cricket since 1960. However, it can be best described as an amalgamation of various unorthodox cricketing rules that every child in the cricketing world must be familiar with. The match consists of twenty overs a piece and has to be finished within 3hrs. This gives each side exactly 75mins to get through their twenty overs with. Failing to bowl the requisite number of overs within the given time limit could result in penalty as per the umpire’s discretion. The penalty could be in the form of extra runs being awarded to the batting side if the bowling side is found guilty or it could be in the form of extra time being rewarded to the bowling side if it is the former that is guilty of time wasting. Twenty20 matches are usually action packed as the batsmen have to go after the bowlers right from the word go. As an extra incentive for the batsmen to slog it out, the boundaries in a Twenty20 game are usually shorter.
The England and Wales Cricket Board had initially introduced Twenty20 cricket as a way to get the crowds back in domestic cricket. The first Twenty20 Cup in 2003 was marketed with the slogan “I don’t like cricket, I love it” and it was aimed especially at the youth rather than the cricket connoisseur. It was meant to be a game that would bring the entire family together for an evening of fun and carnival like atmosphere. The finals of the 2003 Twenty20 Cup saw performances by pop stars and rock bands and the party like atmosphere made it an evening to remember. It was a huge success as the crowds were pleasantly taken by surprise. More than the cricket on field the idea was to have fun; cricket just provided the means. This was the ‘fast food’ of cricket and the people just loved every single bite. Since then Twenty20 has slowly risen in popularity and with the upcoming first ever Twenty20 World Championships in September, Twenty20 cricket is all set to take it to the next level.
However, the arrival of Twenty20 on the cricketing scene has surely divided the cricketing fraternity. Some believe that it is nothing but a travesty and should not be encouraged at any cost. They argue that since Twenty20 encourages far-from-technical cricket youngsters wanting to pick up the game will be misguided into believing that cricket is all about trying to hit 6’s and 4’s no matter how you do it. Also it will create the misconception that cricket is a batsman’s game and that there is very little incentive in bowling since it is the bowlers that are usually the ones at the receiving end. In such a scenario very few youngsters might take up bowling or bother learning the finer points of the craft. Plus there is always the argument that Twenty20 cricket will wean away interest from the traditional formats of the game, especially Test cricket.
All these concerns have had cricketing boards such as the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) treat Twenty20 cricket with a cold shoulder. However, in a meeting of the ICC (International Cricket Council) last year the proposal to formally accept Twenty20 cricket as a recognized format of the game was put to vote and the BCCI was outvoted 10 to 1. Since then the BCCI has agreed to the format and has also hosted a domestic Twenty20 tournament last April/May.
However, opinion regarding Twenty20 cricket still remains divided as its promoters insist that it will not replace any of the traditional formats but on the contrary will increase interest in them by pulling more people towards cricket as a whole. They also argue that the Twenty20 format is a great way of introducing cricket to the non-cricketing world which is used to fast games such as football.
With the Twenty20 World Championships just around the corner the format has reached a crossroads. A lot will depend on the Championships as to whether it will survive or simply run out of air. The question is not whether it is popular but whether this surge in popularity can be sustained.