Boundaries and Big Bucks—The T20 Story
In the year 2002, the third major one-day competition—the Benson & Hedges Cup, the English Cricket Board’s domestic competition came to its conclusion. This left a gaping hole that the ECB needed to fill with another one-day competition. There was, however, a problem that needed addressing. The game required a significant boost in popularity, especially with the younger demographic, considering the reduced sponsorships and dwindling crowds. Fast-paced, exciting cricket was the need of the hour. Keeping all this in mind, Stuart Robertson, the marketing manager of the ECB, came up with the ingenious idea of a 20 over per innings game. Not long after, Twenty20 was adopted as an official format. The first official matches were played on 13 June 2003, between the English counties. Twenty20 was officially born.
On seeing the success of this in England, the format slowly began to spread to other cricketing nations. Thirteen teams from different parts of Pakistan participated in Pakistan’s inaugural competition, with Faisalabad Wolves becoming the first winners. 12 January 2005 saw Australia’s first T20 game played between the Western Warriors and the Victorian Bushrangers to a sell-out crowd. From 11 July 2006, 19 West Indies regional teams competed in what was named the Stanford 20/20 tournament. Billionaire Allen Stanford threw his weight behind this tournament, funding it with an astronomical sum of money.
A major turning point in the growth of Twenty20 cricket was the IPL, which started after the first world Twenty20 in 2007. The T20 world cup proved to be extremely popular among the masses, following which the BCCI decided to start the Indian Premier League in 2008. With eight teams sponsored and owned by famous faces such as Shahrukh Khan and Preity Zinta, IPL was a crowd-puller since its very first season, giving this cricket-frenzied nation something new to cheer for. The immediate success of the league quickly brought acclaim to the newest format of the sport.
Following this, the Big Bash League, Bangladesh Premier League, Pakistan Super League, and the Caribbean Premier began and have remained popular with the fans ever since. T20 leagues have made their way into women’s cricket as well with the Women’s Big Bash League, which was started in 2015 by Cricket Australia and the Kia Super League, started in England and Wales in 2016.
More than a decade on, it is evident that T20 has transformed cricket beyond all recognition. Suddenly, cricketers who are fitter, stronger, and much more athletic ever emerged on the scene. But undoubtedly, the most significant impact of T20 is the absence of limitations for these players. Things that seemed unimaginable to do 10 years ago have become a routine now—scoring at a rate of more than 10 an over, being confident enough to bowl six different varieties of the slower ball, a batsman scooping fast deliveries over his head, and fielders jumping off the field and back on again to take spectacular boundary catches. All this is suddenly a regularity in cricket matches today.
T20 has ushered an era of unprecedented riches from the various T20 leagues in place today. These leagues are extravagantly held affairs. Right from having lucrative packages for players to making good money through sponsorships and TV rights, these leagues are huge money minting machines today. However, contrary to popular belief, the funds generated by these leagues are not creamed off by mega-rich franchise owners. In most cases, it flows directly back into the coffers of the national cricket boards, who reinvest it in the grassroots game. This helps in nurturing the growth of the sport in many countries, and as a result, allows countries to produce better cricketers.
The rise in stature of teams like Afghanistan owes a lot to the arrival of these leagues. They give lesser-known players the chance of a lifetime, to rub shoulders with some of the best in the business and make a name for themselves. The IPL has probably had the most prominent role to play in this regard. It is considered to be the gold standard of cricket leagues in the world. The teams’ purse of INR 82 crore exceeds the entire player cost of Australia’s Big Bash League, West Indies’ Caribbean Premier League, or any other such league. Over a thousand players registered for the IPL 2018 auction, and eight franchise teams collectively spent more than 600 crore rupees building their squads, bolstering IPL’s monopoly over the market. Unsurprisingly, the tournament is given its own unofficial window to ensure all international players can participate in it.
But the allure of these cash-rich leagues has led some players to turn their backs on their national teams. They end up preferring to play in multiple T20 leagues held throughout the year which helps them make a lot of money. There have been many cases of well-known players refusing to sign contracts, to play in the leagues instead and becoming T20 journeymen. West Indies is a major example of a cricket team that has lost many players to the charm of T20 leagues, due to their inability to give their players more lucrative options. Now suddenly these T20 leagues are the primary source of livelihood for these rogue players. While some players choose to leave their national side for T20 cricket, some owe their careers on the national front to such competitions. These leagues have played a major role in plucking unknown players from all over the world and turning them into cricketing heroes. They go on to play for their national teams, showcasing their abilities on the biggest stage.
Twenty20 cricket has helped in accomplishing two essential tasks. It has helped keep the interest of the people in the game alive, especially the younger demographic. It has also helped in promoting high-quality cricket among all the players who play it today and encourage more youngsters to turn to the game. More entertainment, more fun, more matches throughout the year are all the positive side effects of the advent of T20. Just like a good cricketer, T20 leagues delivered all their promises with huge margins that led to their striking victory.