Paris: Sleepy Southampton on England’s south coast is an unlikely birthplace for a revolution, but on Friday, 13 June 2003, the first shots were fired in cricket’s brave new world. Under the banner, “Twice the action, half the time”, Hampshire beat Sussex by five runs at a packed Rose Bowl in the first Twenty20 match.
Breezy package: An April 2008 photo of Irfan Pathan celebrating Virender Sehwag’s dismissal at an IPL match in Mohali. Atul Yadav / PTI
The radical, shortest form of the game has since propelled cricket into the 21st century, packaged breezily for live television and transforming players into millionaires.
With the bold and brash Indian Premier League (IPL) about to start its second season on Saturday, it’s easy to forget that Twenty20 was originally seen as a way of saving the sport’s traditional invalid—English county cricket.
“The game in this country (England) has been associated with the middle class and the middle aged. White males,” said Stuart Robertson, who was the England and Wales Cricket Board’s marketing manager at the time and credited with being the brains behind the new format.
“But we discovered that there was a vast potential audience of women and children. And younger men, too, aged between 16-34.”
Fans in England, most of whom devoured Premier League football, lapped up the bite-size game and crowds exceeded expectations.
John Perera, the ECB’s commercial director, told The Guardian newspaper in the run-up to the 2008 season: “We had crowds totalling 250,000 in 2003, 305,000 in 2004, 476,000 in 2005, 500,000 in 2006 and a bit over that last year. “Every match brings in an average of £75,000 (Rs55.7 lakh).”
Ninety Twenty20 matches were played in 2008. “That means a total of £6.7 million,” added Perera. “Add on one million in sponsorship and the game is earning something approaching eight million for the counties.”
Twenty20 has become a fixture of international tours and India, the driving force behind the IPL, are world champions.
But as with most revolutions, blood has been spilt. A group of West Indians became overnight millionaires when they won the controversial, and widely-damned, Stanford Twenty20 against England in the Caribbean last year.
English cricket has since severed all its ties with Allen Stanford after the Texan billionaire was accused of masterminding a $9.2 billion (Rs45,540 crore) fraud. Many fear not only the impact of Twenty20 on technique and tactics, but also on the future of Test cricket, the game’s pre-eminent form.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting, who is sitting out the 2009 IPL, preferring to concentrate on his team’s defence of the Ashes, expressed his concerns over the money on offer in the IPL as well as the rebel Indian Cricket League.
“Unless a balance is achieved, I could see some countries’ teams declining in the way Zimbabwe’s sides have struggled over the past few years,” said Ponting. “If the IPL keeps growing, the next generation might opt for franchise over country.”
The IPL is hoping it has this year’s balance right. Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff may have been auctioned off for $1.55 million each, but both will only play IPL for two weeks before heading home for a Test series against the West Indies.