Big Bash League 2011-12 December 15, 2011

Going back to Australia's Twenty20 roots

Alex Malcolm
On the eve of the Big Bash League, we revisit the first Twenty20 match played in Australia, in January 2005

On January 12 2005, the WACA was sold out. It was the first time the ground had been sold out for a cricket match since a one-day international between the West Indies and Australia in 1981. But unlike that year, 20,071 people had not jammed in to see two of the best sides in the world in a 50-over fixture. Instead they were there to witness Western Australia play Victoria in a one-off, experimental Twenty20 fixture, the first of its kind on Australian soil.

The presence of Shane Warne in the Bushrangers line-up would have undoubtedly bolstered the attendance, but the counter-argument to that is a combined total of only 42,193 had attended four days of a Test match between Australia and Pakistan at the ground a month earlier. Warne's support cast in the Test match featured names like Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Shoaib Akhtar, Younis Khan, and Mohammed Yousuf. In the Twenty20, the crowd would have hardly recognised the names of Liam Buchanan, Ian Hewett, Tim Welsford, Darren Wates, Peter Worthington, and Scott Meuleman, let alone have entered the gates to see them play.

The lure was quite clearly the format. The Twenty20 concept had been brewing in England for several years, but had not reached Australian shores. Domestically, the depth of talent and strength of cricket was as strong as it had ever been. But interest in it from a spectator's perspective was waning. The Australian side was so dominant, a World XI was to be assembled in October 2005 to try and challenge Australian hegemony in world cricket.

Twenty20 seemed to be the right antidote at the right time. This one-off match at the WACA captured the imagination of all those who saw it, even though it was a particularly one-sided affair. Victoria battled their way to a total of 8 for 141, after winning the toss. The visitors at one stage slumped to 5 for 55 before Adam Crosthwaite (57 from 46) and Hewitt (32 from 24) steered the Bushrangers to a total that seemed competitive. But two Western Australian show-stopping wicketkeeper-batsmen, Luke Ronchi and Ryan Campbell, lit up the WACA with an opening stand of 101 from just 56 deliveries to make a mockery of Victoria's total and show Twenty20's great appeal, which is big-hitting, thrill-a-ball, cricket. Ronchi's sparkling 67 from 24 balls launched a career that has included Australian representation, while Campbell, a month shy of his 33rd birthday, must have lamented the timing of the format's arrival after his unbeaten 56.

"The biggest thing was just the crowd. The crowd was just the most amazing thing," Ronchi said, as he reminisced. "The game was good but just the noise of having 20,000 people was just amazing."

It is extraordinary to think that on the eve of the first edition of a new franchise-based Twenty20 league in Australia, the Big Bash League, that the first match of its kind on these shores six years ago was nothing more than a novelty. Despite extraordinary success in England since the first county-based competition was launched in 2003, Cricket Australia had been very reluctant to introduce the product in the Australian market. Even ESPNcricinfo's report was unsure of the concept, writing in the post-script to the WACA match "it remains to be seen whether the popularity shown for this Twenty20 match is more than a one-off".

"A few of the guys took it seriously." Ronchi said. "Murray Goodwin, who was our captain, had played a fair bit of it in England. But for me it was more a novelty. At the time I didn't take much notice of it (Twenty20). I just thought it was a slog, and a bit of fun. I didn't think it would take off quite as well as it did."

The following night, 21,000 crammed into the Adelaide Oval to see the first unofficial international Twenty20 between Australia A and Pakistan. Six years later, it is arguably the most popular version of cricket not just in Australia, but world-wide.

And whilst the skeptics continue to question the concept of a franchise-based competition shoe-horned into the heart of a fascinating Australian Test summer, the lessons that can be gleaned from the first Twenty20 ever played in Australia are quite clear. No matter the teams, no matter the individuals, the wider public seems to love the format. Crowd numbers, and television figures will be only measurement for success, and if they outstrip Test match audiences then the Big Bash League, much to every purist's chagrin, may well be the way of the future.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Randolph on December 18, 2011, 2:17 GMT

    Lets just all hope the BBL dies and we go back to the state sides.

  • Chris on December 17, 2011, 20:39 GMT

    How much research was done for this article? I was at a WSC one day match at the WACA ground in the 83-84 season where the crowd was so big they allowed kids to sit on the grass outside the boundary rope. Which would suggest pretty strongly to me that it was a sell out. The Australian game in Perth during the World Cup in 1992 drew a crowd of 21214.

    Please cricinfo, report the facts, not the fluff.

  • Satish on December 16, 2011, 7:01 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster : I think every format has its own fans and for a real cricket fan, format should not be an issue but good contest is.. As a fan, i wouldn't mind BB or IPL or test between Zim and BD.. All i need is, cricket with a good contest.. You can never say no players learn by playing T20 leagues.. Now, more players will participate and they wil have every chance to mingle with some greats(Even retired greats) and it is upto the players to learn or get inspired from them and go big in their career.. We saw a Warner as test/Ashwin, Dernbach, Cummins, Lyon, Theron, Wade, Bollinger, Even Watson and so many players coming out as stars after making a mark in T20s.. Team mgmt should take the responsibility to pick fit players or rest big players from leagues.. If they are not going to do it, then pick other players available..

  • Philip on December 16, 2011, 4:12 GMT

    My son is playing three T20 games this weekend, two senior & one junior. That's three games when you could schedule one longer match instead. So, no doubt that is an attraction to marketers, the fact that there's always a new fixture to promote. But my question always has been, how does a junior with his eye on the longer formats get to fine-tune his game with little cameos? Just think about it - that's three games to travel to and from to - the 10,000 hours of practice argument doesn't apply to time spent sitting around in the back of a car etc. Nor does it sit well with having to find a different focus to the way you play all of a sudden because the rules and roles are chopped and changed. I'm not against T20 per se, but the effect on the quality of junior cricket from either playing it or watching it is not to be welcomed. And that ultimately has to present a problem to marketers, if the quality of the product drops so will, eventually, the interest garnered by it.

  • Andrew on December 16, 2011, 3:32 GMT

    @512fm - I think most people that blog on this site would agree with you, however, we are a minority amongst cricket fans. People who hardly know Viv Richards from Sunny Gavaskar, love the format as it is over in 3 hours - about the same time they would spend at a footy match. Often the appeal of ODIs was for office workers to come in after the working day was done & watch the 2nd innings (about 3 hours) - which is about the attention span for cricket, of most people in the modern day.

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2011, 2:49 GMT

    T20 is a good description for a game that is not cricket> by pandering to the entertainment bias of the younger generation the older generation wil be lost and cricket as we know it is changed for ever. My 13 year old son plays 28 over a side one dayers some Saturdays and they have changed them to 20 overs. Just means less kids get a bat and bowl and yet they say it will bring more players. T20 devotees will never take to test cricket. Could be the beginning of the end

  • Jay on December 15, 2011, 20:56 GMT

    Aussies have becoming GREEDY just like the BCCI. They are trying to exploit the golden duck by killing it for all the golden eggs. This doesn't auger well for the Aussies as a test nation. I cannot see them doing well in the upcoming India series let alone winning it. This Big BASH League or should I say Big TRASH League is going to bring Aussie cricket into disarray. T20 leagues are primarily tournaments for young uncapped players along with retired oldies like Hayden and Warne. The current Aussie test players should boycott the tournament and focus on the India series. The same thing applies to Indian test cricketers participating in the IPL in case there is an important overseas tour. I cannot understand why the administrators are taking fans for granted. I think Rahul Dravid has to dive into people's minds to tell them how important test cricket is.

  • Freeza on December 15, 2011, 20:08 GMT

    I think thats stretching it a bit far when you say its the most popular version of cricket. Only with the administrators and the players, but most of the general public would take test cricket over twenty20 any day of the week.

  • Rohan on December 15, 2011, 19:53 GMT

    I'm curious that when one looks at say Luke Ronchi's profile, it says that his Twenty 20 Debut was almost a year later ... so what is the official status of this match described here? Is it an official Twenty 20 Match? If not, then why not?

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