Stuart Wark June 5, 2013

One-day cricket turns fifty? Not quite

Michael Turner, the Midlands Knockout Competition, and the origin of the limited-overs format

Ted Dexter's Sussex side with the 1963 Gillette Cup © PA Photos

One-day cricket is widely thought to have originated in 1963 with the Gillette Cup, the first major tournament in this format. The year 1963 was an important one for many reasons, including the fact that it was the year that the centuries' old division between amateur and professional cricketers was finally abolished. However, it cannot definitively claim to be the year that one-day cricket emerged. "Limited-overs" cricket had formally commenced in England in 1962, but, to be pedantic, one-day matches have been around for many centuries.

Back in the season of 1744, London played Slindon in a one-day match on June 2. This is one of the earliest recorded matches of which comprehensive records are available, however few details other than team and player scores are recorded, with Slindon winning by "55 notches".*

Pitches during this period of history were perhaps not quite as batsman-friendly as seen today, and it was entirely expected for matches to be completed within one day. The year 1744 was also an important one for cricket officials, as it was when the "Laws of Cricket" were formulated by a group of "Noblemen and Gentlemen" who played in London.

It was not until 1772, with the advent of games that are now recognised as being of "first-class" status that cricket matches started to be regularly scheduled over two days. However, this did not signal the end of matches that concluded in just one day's play. In fact, even in the latter half of the 20th century we still had examples of first-class matches that were finished before the end of the first day. A quick search through first-class scorecards in England showed at least five games since World War II that were completed in a single day. Examples include a match between Derbyshire and Somerset, which Derbyshire won by an innings and 125 runs on June 11, 1947, and another three years later whereby Lancashire beat Sussex by an innings and 87 runs on July 12, 1950.

The year 1953 featured two separate matches that were completed in one day. Surrey beat Warwickshire by an innings and 49 runs on May 16, and less than a month later Somerset lost to Lancashire by an innings and 24 runs on June 6, 1953. The last first-class match to be completed in one day in England was between Kent and Worcestershire on June 15, 1960, with Kent winning by an innings and 101 runs in spite of only making 187 in their first innings.

Of course, it is appropriate to acknowledge that none of these matches technically were what would be current defined as a "one-day match". One-Day Domestic (ODD) and One-Day Internationals (ODI) are now accepted as a separate form of cricket in themselves, and are defined, among other specific legislation, by a set limitation to the number of overs that each team can face. The matches prior to 1961 were all completed in one day, but that was simply a result of the speed of the game rather than any pre-determined restrictions.

The formal introduction of limited-overs cricket first occurred in 1962, and can be largely attributed to the efforts of Michael Turner, who was the secretary of Leicestershire at the time. County cricket was going through a significant financial downturn, with falling crowds and increasing competition for media coverage from other sports such as soccer. Turner organised a four-team tournament called the "Midlands Knockout Competition". The rules for these matches included a limit of 65 overs per batting innings, however other restrictions that are commonplace now such as a maximum number of overs per bowler were not considered. In fact, these matches were basically the same as a normal first-class match, except they only had one innings with the aforementioned 65-over limit. It was thought that this would be more attractive to potential spectators, with a guaranteed winner on the day.

As a consequence of this initial three-game Midlands Knockout Competition, the English cricketing powers decided to invest seriously in the limited-over concept

There were two matches scheduled for May 2, 1962; Leicestershire took on Derbyshire in Leicester and Nottinghamshire played Northamptonshire at Trent Bridge. In the first match, Leicestershire captain David Kirby won the toss and chose to bat first. The home team made a total of 250 for 5 off their allotted 65 overs. Stalwart Leicestershire opener Maurice Hallam, who played an astonishing total of 504 first-class games over a 20-year career, had the honour of facing the first ball from Les Jackson and also went on to record the first half-century. The total of 250 proved to be a winning score, but not before Derbyshire gave the crowd an excellent afternoon's entertainment. They made 243, being bowled out in the 62nd over, and very nearly pulled off a win.

The second match was not quite as close, with Northamptonshire winning by 31 runs in a low-scoring game. Northamptonshire batted first and made 168 for 9 off their 65 overs. None of the batsman really threatened to get going, but wicketkeeper Keith Andrew top-scored with a spirited and unbeaten 38 at the end of the innings. The best of the bowlers was John Cotton, who took 4 for 24 in 15 overs. Nottinghamshire's reply was based around a solid 60 from opener Geoffrey Millman, however he lacked support with only three other players making double figures and the second top score went to No. 11 Bryan Wells who made 17. Nottingham's final score of 137 was completed in the 55th over of their innings.

The two winning sides, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, then went on to play the final a week later on May 9 at Grace Road, Leicester. Keith Andrew won the toss for the visiting team and chose to send Leicestershire in to bat. They totaled 218, being dismissed in the 58th over. John (Gordon) Williamson become the first bowler to take five wickets in a limited-over fixture, with figures of 5 for 58 off 18.2 overs. Williamson is also one of the few first-class cricketers to ever formally change his name; in 1965 he officially became John Gordon Barkass-Williamson. The Northamptonshire openers Michael Norman and Brian Reynolds put on a stand of 98, which laid the platform for Brian Crump and Patrick Watts to steer them home for an easy win by five wickets with five overs to spare.

The competition was considered a success. While the scoring rates hardly compare to those of today's smash-and-run fests with rocket-powered bats on flat decks with short boundaries and considerable restrictions upon the fielding team, the fact that games were completed in one day was still attractive and novel to the spectators. As a consequence of this initial three-game Midlands Knockout Competition, the English cricketing powers decided to invest seriously in the limited-over concept. An expanded competition was arranged for 1963 that featured all 17 first-class counties playing 65-overs-per-side knockout matches between May 1 and September 7. This competition saw Sussex winning the inaugural final against Worcestershire by 14 runs at Lord's in front of a crowd estimated at around 25,000.

Limited-overs cricket had well and truly arrived in England. It captured the imagination of the viewing public and, naturally, the administrators tried to milk the concept for all it was worth. Two other limited-over competitions, the John Player League (Sunday League) and the Benson & Hedges Cup, were added to the playing schedule over the following decade, leading to counties playing three separate one-day series in addition to their first-class matches. However, it was not until the washout Ashes Test in Melbourne in 1971 that an international limited-overs match was played. Australia took on England in a 40-over per side game (eight-ball overs), and ODI cricket was born. The first World Cup followed in England in 1975, and thousands of often forgettable and irrelevant JAMODIs (Just Another Meaningless One-Day International) have since taken place.

June 2013 sees the Champions Trophy competition occurring in England, with 15 matches being scheduled. The history of the Champions Trophy, which commenced as the Wills International Cup in 1998, is interesting in itself and cannot be covered in full detail here. However, this is proposed to be the final iteration of this competition, and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out. And it would seem appropriate in June for all ODI cricket fans around the world to raise a glass to Michael Turner and the executives of Leicestershire for their initiative and foresight back in 1962.

* Before scorecards became more commonplace in the late 1700s and early 1800s, scoring was often recorded using a stick onto which notches were cut. This is believed to be the origin of phrases such as "notching up a century" that are still used today.

Stuart Wark works at the University of New England as a research fellow