County cricket in England was never a large revenue earner from its very beginnings. It reached crisis proportions many times and always continued to recover mainly because of the passion of those who enjoyed the game and were willing to contribute to its welfare. Other sports were growing but cricket was falling back as it was seen to be drab, outdated and only kept alive by the dwindling traditionalists and their love for the ‘gentleman’s game’.
Thus, in 1963, the cricket authority which was the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), finally gave in to a new attractive plan to bring people out to the county grounds to witness the game of cricket, so rekindling interest in the English summer game. This plan was the limited-overs game.
One must be reminded that at this time there was no such thing as a limited-overs game and first-class cricketers only played three-day and four-day matches, plus the better ones who might be chosen for their country would take part in a five-day Test match. Hence it was with a tremendous round of excitement that this new venture was greeted. The agreed-on concept would be a game to be played under the existing laws of cricket but each team would only be allowed one innings of 60 overs.
The success of this endeavour started a whole new mindset for the game of cricket through the improvisations of the players and the stream of revenue earning potential of administrators. Within five years a 40-over league started but this was introduced to take advantage of the new relaxed Sunday entertainment laws in the United Kingdom where promoters were granted permission to charge a price of entry on Sundays to view sports and other live entertainment; however only from 2 p.m.. In this way, the Sunday League was born. I should mention the administration had no difficulty in getting a sponsor for the limited over format.
And it kept multiplying and spreading from county cricket to internationals!
Twelve years after the first limited-overs game the first World Cup in that format took place. After it caught on internationally the sound of cash registers was deafening; Kerry Packer, the Australian business magnate came in at the end of the seventies and with his impact caused increased players’ earnings worldwide.
Again, it was dwindling gates at county matches that had the English Cricket Board putting their minds to work. In 1998, they had an idea for a reduced form of cricket but the 18 first-class counties and the MCC did not agree and the idea was shelved. By 2001, attendances were still falling and the concern of three years before was becoming a worry. Huge marketing research was done and the plan was once more placed before the counties and it was passed. It took them another season for lift off, eventually starting the t20 format in 2003.
It was launched accompanied by lots of fanfare with many games for children and plenty print advertising plus loads of gimmicks! It became a roaring success with county administrations seeing their grounds selling out over and over again. They finally realised it was the cricket which was appealing, combined with music and singing groups from the stand, making the combination irresistible.
A few years later an Indian Test cricketer, a past captain, plus some Indian businessmen formed a franchise, naming it the Indian Cricket League which was the first sign of the spread overseas of the t20 format as a club venture. This soon crashed when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) blocked them for operating without the permission of the BCCI which then formed their own franchise and named it the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Players receive lucrative fees to participate in the six-week league creating cricketing millionaires. This began a mushrooming of leagues around the world as cricket club administrators anticipated the gold rush.
Survival of the game of cricket is dependent on popularity as all advertising and publicity is based on crowd attendance. That’s what corporations pay for and sponsors expect. This is what t20 delivers!
One cannot refuse to ignore this cash cow if one is to survive in the present age of cricket which has arrived in the West Indies as the Caribbean Premier League but is still in its infancy stage.
Those who love cricket for its art, its tactics and its strategies, its gentleness and its unpredictability, will not find much satisfaction here as t20 has reduced cricket to just another sport.
When one observes the inelegant strokeplay plus the missing finesse, then one knows the excitement is for those who are not interested in the game for its own sake but for the sixes and fours, the mindless music and the West Indian concert type entertainment…and there’s nothing wrong with that.
However, one should not expect the lover of art, not unlike the devotee of classical music, to quite appreciate the noise of this artless spectacle to compare with the refinement of Test cricket.