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Cricket Betting: Twenty20's coming home

Twenty20 RSS / / 31 May 2009 /

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As Lord's prepares to welcome the World Twenty20, Andrew Hughes tells the story of the format that has revolutionised cricket in recent years...

On Friday, the eyes of the world will be on Lord's for what will no doubt be a bracingly entertaining yet cost-effective opening ceremony to launch the ICC World Twenty20. Once the global audience has recovered its composure, they will be able to watch England take on the might of the Netherlands in a winner takes all struggle to determine which nation will finish as runner-up to Pakistan in Group B.

And perhaps that global audience might take time to reflect and give thanks to old Blighty too. Lest we forget in these days of million dollar contracts, Premier Leagues and sponsored boundaries; Twenty20 was conceived, born and raised on these shores. Twenty20 cricket is, to misappropriate a lyric, coming home. So what better time to write the life history of this sexy little format.

Having at one time been nothing more than a glint in a marketing man's eye, Twenty20 was born, in 2002, to sceptical parents. County cricket was once again on its last legs and in an attempt to administer a life-saving transfusion of cash, the ECB marketing department proposed a 20 over domestic competition. County chairmen were unconvinced but were assured that it would produce inordinate amounts of the green stuff and so, after careful consideration, voted in favour.

From the start, the crowds came. Astonished county officials watched their usually empty grounds fill to the rafters evening after evening. To everyone's surprise, it turned out that cricket supporters rather liked being entertained. Chairmen counted the gate receipts and then counted them again. And all over the world, like carnivorous beasts on the Serengeti, businessmen lifted their heads into the air, sniffing the scent of raw cash.

Over the next five years, cricket folk earnestly debated the nature of Twenty20, wrung their hands at the unnecessarily exciting nature of the game and foresaw the overthrow of civilisation itself. Meanwhile, men like Lalit Modi and Allen Stanford set about unearthing the seams of gold they were sure lay just beneath the surface of this new cricketing territory.

Back home, the ECB were watching all of this hoopla with amused indifference. Didn't these foreigners understand? Twenty20 was just a jolly wheeze cooked up to prolong the existence of the moribund county game. We weren't supposed to take it seriously. Unfortunately, Mr Modi did take it seriously and when India won the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007, the nation of a billion cricket lovers embraced the format and the door to untold riches was unlocked.

Belatedly the ECB fished out their best dining fork and determined that they too were going to get their share of the pie. Unfortunately, they sat down to dinner with a Texan 'millionaire' who not only had no clue which way to pass the port, but didn't actually own the port or the table or any of the chairs. Whilst Lalit Modi paraded himself at player auctions and jetted around the world as the new King of Cricket, Giles Clarke and chums slunk back home to Blighty, tails between their legs.

Now Twenty20 has come to mean so much more than midsummer knockabouts in the home counties. It is bling, cash, wonga and it is eating everything else in the fixture list. Veteran journalists of the Packer wars are digging out their apocalyptic editorials and soothsaying about the emergence of the freelance international cricketer not tied to any cricket board. The end of Test cricket, we are told, is nigh.

Or maybe not. There are signs in the land of its birth that the Twenty20 goose is laying ever smaller golden eggs. Crowds are dwindling at the very grounds where it all began. Perhaps rather than dealing a fatal blow to the five day game, this new format will merely administer a short sharp kick to the posterior, reminding cricket officials the world over that they are also in the business of entertainment.

Meanwhile, we should feel a glow of parental pride over the next two weeks as we watch Bangladesh take on Ireland and Scotland tangle with South Africa. Seven years ago we gave the world Twenty20 and now it has come home, all grown up and wearing a chunky gold necklace and Armani trainers.


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