Taif to host first group race as King Faisal Cup is upgraded

LONDON: What started out as “a bit of a laugh” in cricket but turned out to be much more serious? This is not a trick question. It may refer to the origins of Test cricket. England v Australia, five-day matches, players switch allegiances between countries, mockery of Australians to create “ashes” of English cricket in the urn. While this has turned a bit of fun into a deadly serious competition for nearly 150 years, it’s not the solution.

Another option is to start limited overs cricket. The first so-called international limited-overs match was played between Australia and England on 5 January 1971 in Melbourne. The first three days of the Test match were poor and the authorities faced a considerable loss of income. They decided to drop the match, replace it with a one-off, one-day match and add a seventh Test at the end of the series. This was a great surprise and dislike of the players, who were not consulted.

England players seemed to be more concerned about getting paid as they were asked to play extra matches. They were accustomed to the advantages of limited-overs cricket, which was introduced in English and Welsh professional games in 1963 in response to declining attendances and defensive play. Although commercially successful, with Gillette as a sponsor, none of the other test-playing nations showed any enthusiasm for the format. The decision of the Australian authorities to stage the match did not provoke laughter among the players, while the Australian Cricket Board was not laughed at in the face of a serious need to generate income.

On what would have been the fifth day of the Test match, the one-day game resumed in the format of 40 overs, each of eight deliveries, which was the standard in Australia at the time. The teams were labeled “England XI” and “Australia XI.” Press reports referred to it as a “one-day Test match.” Any skepticism about the game from the players and authorities was not shared by the 46,000 crowd.

It was a watershed moment for the Australian Cricket Board, whose chairman, Sir Donald Bradman, declared: “You have seen history in the making.” Australia won the match, the England captain admitting his players did not take the game seriously, although they were relieved to play some cricket after spending so much time in the dressing room, and were also paid an extra £50 for taking part.

In this rather chaotic and fragile set of circumstances, history was actually being made without many of the participants recognizing the significance of the event. A few years later, one Australian player recalled his surprise that a game they thought was “a bit of a joke” had become part of cricket history.

The revolution was ready. The first Women’s One Day World Cup was organized in 1973, followed by the Men’s in 1975. Kerry Packer’s spin-off from the 1977 Cricket World Series in Australia jolted the cricket authorities into realizing the commercial opportunities offered by the format. At that time, Australia, England and West Indies dominated. India have not taken the format, which is often called ‘pajama cricket’ due to its use of a colored kit, very seriously.

All that changed in 1983 when India not only took the format seriously but their team also won the One Day World Cup, defeating England, Australia and the West Indies in the process, inspired by captain Kapil Dev. Within two months, the appeal of limited-overs cricket changed as the Indian public fell head over heels in love with it and its heroes. Triangular and quadrangular tournaments originated in the Indian subcontinent and in Sharjah. The joke became a cheerful and serious commercial activity.

However, this still does not answer the original question. At the turn of the 20th century, declining attendances in England and Wales, poor national team performances and the imminent ban on tobacco advertising in sports created a new crisis. Based on focus groups and surveys, the England and Wales Cricket Board found that the public wanted a form of cricket that was more attractive both in terms of duration and style of delivery. Reduced formats such as 15 eight-ball or 20 six-ball overs have been used for decades in club cricket in midweek evening cups. In 2002, the board proposed a new Twenty20 Cup competition for the professional game.

It was narrowly approved by the county cricket clubs and launched in May 2003 on a roof garden in central London with members of a quickly forgotten pop group appearing in a tasteless photo shoot. They were also accompanied by the captains of the two county teams who competed in the first match. One of them admitted that he winced when he saw the result of the photo shoot. He also said he thought the first game, on June 13, 2003, was “a bit of fun.” They didn’t take it too seriously as it was widely believed that it wouldn’t last.

How could they be wrong? Another piece of cricket history was created without anyone understanding the significance of the event. Circuits used increasingly bold methods to entertain their new breed of viewers, who responded positively, ensuring the format lasted longer than many thought it would. Again, India was slow to adopt the format, but as cricket transformed, the subcontinent effectively hijacked the new format.

The effects of this continue to reverberate and spill over into other formats, fueling the game’s global expansion. Matches in the imminent twenty-a-side T20 World Cup will be played in the USA, and T20 cricket will be an Olympic sport in 2028. It has gone from a “bit of a laugh” to a dominant format and a commercial behemoth, an existential threat to longer-running formats that began as “a bit of a joke “. Cricket knows how to make fools of those who joke.

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