March 1, 2016

How the World T20 was made

In 2007, the ICC came up with a tournament that went a long way towards repairing the damage a poor World Cup had inflicted. The rest is history

The win that changed cricket: India celebrate putting one over Pakistan in the first World T20 final © Getty Images

The day after the final of the 2007 World Cup, Malcolm Speed, the ICC chief executive, decided to say sorry. A press conference was called, in which Speed and David Richardson apologised for the match officials' mistake in forcing the players back onto the field in almost unplayable light. While Speed and Richardson addressed the cameras, a sponsors' backdrop collapsed onto them. "It was a fitting end to the event from hell," Speed later said.

There was, though, an upside to the calamitous World Cup in the Caribbean. The ICC envisaged that the first World T20 event, which took place six months later in South Africa, would be the antithesis to the overlong, over-sanitised and utterly joyless World Cup. They succeeded. For two heady weeks in South Africa, even the most ardent ICC bashers had nothing to complain about.

Like many revolutions, the rise of T20 cricket looks inevitable in hindsight. As cricket entered the new millennium, both the Test and 50-over formats seemed out of sync with a time-poor world.

Innovative cricket minds had been aware of the problem for some years. In the 1990s, both Cricket Max, an abbreviated form of the game, designed by Martin Crowe, and the Hong Kong Sixes, a five-overs-a-side game played by teams of six, emerged, and were a qualified success without taking off.

As cricket entered the new century, the English game seemed moribund: domestic attendances fell 17% in the five years to 2001. John Carr, the ECB's director of cricket operations, commissioned Stuart Robertson, then the ECB marketing manager, to undertake the biggest consumer survey in cricket history.

"We found 19 million people who were there for convincing," Robertson says. "The format that they were keen on and would come along to was the 20-over format." The challenge was how to get there: a majority of the 18 county chairmen were needed to support a T20 competition.

"T20? Why not ten-ten or five-five or one-one?" So asked Niranjan Shah, the BCCI honorary secretary, in the ICC board meeting in March 2006 when a World T20 competition was discussed. "India will never play T20"

Despite the strength of Robertson's research, this did not look likely, despite the support of ECB executives John Read, Terry Blake, Tim Lamb and Lord MacLaurin. As the ECB's desperation mounted on April 21, the morning of the vote, MacLaurin decided to "flatter the f***" out of the county chairmen, as Read later recalled. Minutes before the vote Bill Midgley, the 60-year-old Durham chairman, who had opposed T20, likened the situation to that 40 years ago, when there was staunch opposition to the creation of one-day cricket. Enough chairmen were convinced: the vote of the counties and MCC was won 11-7, with one abstention.

T20 cricket was born. All 48 games in the 2003 English domestic tournament were played to a conclusion. Over 18 exhilarating days, Robertson's target of an average attendance of 5000 was cleared; the average would have been considerably higher than 5300 if county grounds had greater capacity.

Other countries immediately realised that the format could both grow cricket's appeal and help the domestic game generate revenue. The Standard Bank Pro20 Series was immediately launched in South Africa, attracting average crowds of 9000 in its first season. Successful imitators soon popped up across the globe and, only 20 months after the first domestic T20, the first T20 international was played.

The scenes at Auckland Park, where New Zealand's players dressed up in 1980s kits and outfits, Hamish Marshall wore frizzy hair more at home in a 1970s disco, and Glenn McGrath did an impersonation of Trevor Chappell's notorious underarm, spoke of a format still not taken seriously. That all changed four months later, in the second T20 international, when England saw besting Australia over 20 overs as the first step to winning back the Ashes.

The development did not go unnoticed by the ICC, especially chief executive Speed and president Ehsan Mani. They were about to go out to tender on commercial rights for 2007-15 and believed that a T20 World Cup would add significant value to the deal, giving the ICC greater funds to award to Full Members and Associates alike.

"I saw it as a great way of promoting cricket in countries such as the USA, Canada and China. I felt that ICC could follow Fifa's lead, who had held a very successful football World Cup in the United States, and use it as a tool to develop cricket in these countries," Mani reflects. He and Speed were adamant that if they did not do so first, someone else would attempt to create a T20 World Cup. "There were entrepreneurs, broadcasters, sponsors and multinational businesses that would seek to claim the right to run the international version of T20 if the ICC did not stake its claim and actually hold the first event," Speed writes in Sticky Wicket: A Decade of Change in World Cricket.

The belief imbued Mani and Speed with a sense of urgency. At the start of 2006, they pushed to hold the first World T20 event in 2007. Ahead of the ICC board meeting in March, Speed prepared a paper arguing that there was "first-mover advantage" for the ICC in organising an international T20 tournament before anyone else could do so.

Not everyone was convinced. Some Full Member representatives feared that T20 could ultimately cannibalise ODIs, Test cricket or both, and was better left as a domestic event. Some simply did not believe that T20 was worth playing at all. The Pakistan Cricket Board's chairman Shahryar Khan "was a traditionalist who disliked the format," Mani reflects. Most problematic of all was the BCCI's stance.

Malcolm Speed and Ehsan Mani were quick to see the potential value of the World T20 as an event that could boost the value of the ICC's TV rights offering © AFP

"T20? Why not ten-ten or five-five or one-one?" So asked Niranjan Shah, the BCCI honorary secretary, in the ICC board meeting in March 2006 when a World T20 competition was discussed. "India will never play T20," Shah kept reiterating. Eventually India and the other subcontinental nations agreed to the creation of the World T20 from 2007, but only on the condition that participation in 2007 was not obligatory.

Only shrewd politicking from Mani and Speed ensured India competed in the first World T20. While discussions about the tournament's creation were taking place, the ICC was inviting countries to make submissions for hosting the 2011 and 2015 ICC World Cups. The bid submitted by the four Asian Test nations did not comply with ICC requirements, assuming they would be awarded the 2011 World Cup regardless, as they were the only bidders for the tournament. After being persuaded by Mani, David Morgan of the ECB then submitted a bid too.

Initially, Mani rejected the Asian bid on account of it being non-compliant. The Asian nations were shocked. At a private meeting after, Mani "told them I would consider giving them another opportunity to make a compliant submission on the condition that the BCCI and the other three Asian countries supported all ICC events and in particular agreed to participate in the inaugural T20 WC. The BCCI reluctantly agreed." (Morgan later withdrew the ECB's bid for the World Cup on the condition that England were guaranteed hosting rights for the 2019 tournament.)

India still went into the T20 tournament rather half-heartedly: leading players like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid were not involved, and India's inaugural provincial T20 tournament, in 2006-07, was not televised.

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But getting every Full Member to agree to compete was just the start: the ICC also had to find a window to hold the tournament in. Eventually a two-week span, between the end of the English season and the start of the southern hemisphere summer, was found: the tournament would take place in South Africa from 11 to 24 September 2007. So hectic was the schedule that both England and India did not have time to play any warm-up matches. The two Associate qualifiers, Kenya and Scotland, had not even come through T20 qualification; the 2007 ICC World Cricket League Division One, a 50-over tournament, doubled as the qualification event for the World T20.

When Steve Elworthy was appointed tournament director in January 2007, he had nine months to decide on the tournament's grounds, playing schedule, ticket prices, marketing, pitch-side entertainment and security provisions. "There were some real challenges in terms of time," he reflects. But the organisers of the World T20 had one great advantage: they had just witnessed the event from hell. Even before the World T20 begun, it was already winning the comparison by simple dint of being over four weeks shorter than the World Cup.

Much of the blame for the Caribbean debacle rested not directly with the ICC but with the Caribbean World Cup committee, which set the cheapest tickets for Super Eight games at $75 in their determination to maximise profits. In South Africa, the ICC took a more active role in running the event.

"One of the key learnings from the World Cup was ticket pricing for locals," Elworthy says. It drives the entire tournament. Ticket pricing is probably the most critical element to get right." He also sought to avoid the heavy-handed approach to spectators in the Caribbean, when musical instruments, alcohol, flags, and even bringing in local food or bottles of water had all been banned.

The World T20 felt like a throwback to the inaugural World Cup in 1975: a breezy tournament defined by pulsating cricket rather than off-field tumult

At the World T20, the cheapest tickets were just R20 for the group stages, and R40 for the Super Eights: well under a tenth of the prices in the West Indies. This pricing ensured healthy attendances at matches and - most important of all - an appealing spectacle for those watching on television. "Full stadiums are quite an advert for the sport. It's what you want," Elworthy says. His only regret is that prices might have been too cheap: there was a drop-off between ticket sales and attendances of almost 10%, the result, he reckons, of prices that left supporters relaxed about not using their tickets if it was not a particularly appetising day to watch cricket.

The shortest format also lent itself to innovative scheduling. Double headers were played, with one ticket for both matches, helping ensure healthy crowds for ostensibly less appetising matches. On occasions, three matches were played consecutively in one day, across Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, the three grounds used. It only made the contrasts with the World Cup in the West Indies, when the hosts had an absurd nine-day break midway through the Super Eight stage, more salient.

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From the moment Chris Gayle scythed the first delivery of the tournament for four, the sport was transformed. So intoxicating was the cricket that it did not matter that, with the event shoehorned in before the South African summer, some players prepared to bat with blankets.

Even before the classic India-Pakistan final, other events were being planned to capitalise on the popularity of T20. The IPL had been conceived for some time - Lalit Modi actually outlined his plans at an ICC Commercial Forum in 2006 - and was formally launched two days into the tournament, on September 13. The Champions League was also unveiled during the World T20.

All the while, the ICC was grappling how to deal with the Texan billionaire Allen Stanford, who wanted to arrange for regular matches between the Stanford Superstars (effectively West Indies by another name) and international teams. Speed envisaged using Stanford's money to bankroll cricket's development. Just before the World T20, Speed believed a deal was almost at hand. There would be an annual $20 million match between an international team and the Stanford Superstars over the next five years; if the international team won, they would keep $10 million, and the other $10 million would be disbursed among Full Members and Associate nations.

Former South Africa seamer Steve Elworthy pulled off a coup as tournament director for the first World T20 © Getty Images

On the day of the World T20 final in Johannesburg, Speed and a delegation from the ICC met Stanford at the Sandton Sun Hotel. Five people were due to attend, but Stanford decided to bring the entire Stanford board. When Speed started to outline the ICC's offer, Stanford made clear that he had withdrawn it, and instead wanted a game between the Stanford Superstars and the winner of that day's World T20 Final. Eventually he allowed Speed to finish his offer. He was not impressed. "I reject that proposal," Stanford said. When Speed spoke again, concluding "Our proposal is made in good faith and we believe it deserves consideration", Stanford was indignant. "I am offended by that comment. In fact, I am insulted by that comment. I am so insulted that I am going to leave the meeting immediately," he said as he walked out.

More chaos broke out. "There was a very loud outburst from Desmond Haynes directed at me," Speed later wrote. "He claimed that I was solely responsible for the demise of West Indies cricket. He was ranting and yelling and he was very angry. While he was doing this, Vivian Richards, who was sitting at the end of the table (I think he had been next to Stanford), started banging loudly on the table with both hands." Speed called it "the most amazing incident in which I was involved in [during] 11 years of cricket administration". So even during these heady two weeks, ostensibly international T20's age of innocence, there were signs of turbulence ahead. But at the time the World T20 felt like a throwback to the inaugural World Cup in 1975: a breezy tournament defined by pulsating cricket rather than off-field tumult.

The cricket was engrossing and unpredictable. Zimbabwe defeated Australia in the tournament's fourth game, Yuvraj Singh plundered six sixes in one Stuart Broad over, and Australia were bested by India in a semi-final that contained all the intrigue of the longer formats.

The weather, too, was kind. "Cape Town was a concern, as it would be coming out of winter, which can be pretty wet," Elworthy admits. In the event, only one game - India's clash with Scotland in Durban - was affected by rain. And, luckiest of all for the ICC, India were successful. "You can never say that India winning a tournament does not help the general feel-good factor," ICC head of events Chris Tetley later said.

Yet the World T20 was also vindication for the ICC. So derided after the World Cup, the ICC had designed an effervescent tournament that married brevity with affordability for spectators and embraced the notion of cricket as entertainment, just as Robertson had envisaged when he devised the concept of T20 cricket 16 years before.

"This tournament was a dream," Wisden said. "It just got things right."

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts

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