The first T20 season

How cricket's darling format was conceived and launched

Andrew Miller

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Revolutions tend not to be spawned by market research surveys. But when, in 2002, the ECB responded to one of its habitual "whither the game?" moments by commissioning the most extensive study to date into the peccadilloes of the British public, it hit upon a truth that would transform the reach of the sport.

That truth was an uncomfortable one. The majority of people who did not attend county cricket games claimed they were put off by the length of the contests, and the fact that they were "boring". However, beneath an otherwise depressing list of responses, the ECB's marketing manager, Stuart Robertson, spotted an undeniable opportunity. Of the 34% who said they might yet be persuaded to watch a shorter format, more than half had never attended a county game in their life.

Right there, hiding in plain sight, were the unconverted to whom the ECB needed to preach - and so they set themselves to take the game (or a slender portion of it) to their public. A tense vote was passed, 11-7 in favour of innovation, and the inaugural Twenty20 Cup was inked in for the second fortnight of June 2003, with a razzmatazz "Finals Day" slated for Trent Bridge the following month.

The inaugural arrangements were as dorky as a bout of dad dancing. Many of the counties hedged their bets when it came to the venues, refusing to risk their main grounds for fear of humiliation at the turnstiles. And almost without exception, they all went overboard on off-field activities, lining up such gimmicks as pitch-side jacuzzis and bouncy castles, not to mention loud PA systems for bursts of Queen and 10CC, as if to apologise for the action out in the middle.

Surrey excelled right away in a format that would go on to change the whole game © Getty Images

But then, remarkable things started to happen. The players began to capture the vibe, the spectators began to warm to an event that was blessed, auspiciously, by a heatwave. And perhaps most importantly, the cream started rising to the top. Two teams in particular epitomised that first year of competition - Mark Alleyne's Gloucestershire, the outstanding one-day team of their era, and Adam Hollioake's Surrey, then the most driven and professional club in the country.

Sure enough the two sides were drawn together in the second semi-final, and it was Surrey who went on to be crowned inaugural champions, upstaging along the way even the pop frolickings of the girl band Atomic Kitten. The sport had rediscovered a hidden glamour of its own. But in that innocent first season, it didn't know the half of it.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @miller_cricket