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

LONDON: In cricket, what started as a “little laugh” but turned out to be much more serious? This is not a trick question. It could refer to the origins of Test cricket. England-Australia, five-day matches, players changing allegiances between countries, a jibe by the Australians to create the “ashes” of English cricket in an urn. While this has turned a bit of fun into a deadly serious competition over the course of nearly 150 years, it’s not the answer.

Another possibility is the start of limited-overs cricket. The first so-called limited-overs international match was played between Australia and England on 5 January 1971 in Melbourne. The first three days of a Test match had been ruined and the authorities faced a significant loss of revenue. They decided to abandon the match, replace it with a one-day one-off match and add a seventh Test at the end of the series. This was much to the surprise and reluctance of the players, who were not consulted.

The English players seemed more concerned about receiving money for being asked to play extra matches. They were used to the advantages of limited-overs cricket, which began in the English and Welsh professional game in 1963 as a response to declining attendances and defensive play. Although it was commercially successful, with a sponsor in Gillette, no other Test-playing nation showed any enthusiasm for the format. The Australian authorities’ decision to stage the match did not cause a laugh among the players, while the Australian Cricket Board did not laugh at the serious need to generate revenue.

On what would have been the fifth day of the Test match, the one-day match went ahead in a format of 40 overs, each of eight deliveries, the standard in Australia at the time. The teams were announced as “England XI” and “Australia XI”. Press reports called it a “one-day Test match”. Any skepticism about the match from the players and authorities was not shared by the spectators, 46,000 of whom turned out to watch.

This was a moment of enlightenment for the Australian Cricket Board, whose head, Sir Donald Bradman, proclaimed: “You have seen history made.” Australia won the match, the England captain admitted that his players did not take the match seriously, although they were relieved to be playing some cricket after spending so much time in the dressing room, as well as receive an extra £50 for taking part.

In this rather surly and fragile set of circumstances, the story was, in fact, created without many of the participants recognizing the significance of the event. A few years later, an Australian player recalled his surprise that a game they considered “a bit of a joke” had become part of cricket history.

A revolution had been started. In 1973 the first women’s one-day world cup was organised, followed by the men’s one in 1975. Kerry Packer’s 1977 World Series Cricket escape to Australia shocked the cricket authorities into realizing the commercial opportunities offered by the format. At that time Australia, England and the West Indies dominated. India have not taken the format, often referred to as “pyjama cricket” due to the use of colorful kits, seriously.

That all changed in 1983, when not only did India take the format seriously, but their team also won the one-day world cup, defeating England, Australia and the West Indies along the way, inspired by captain Kapil Dev. Within two months, the allure of limited-overs cricket was transformed, as the Indian public fell madly in love with it and its heroes. Triangular and quadrangular tournaments were generated in the Indian subcontinent and in Sharjah. A joke has become a joyful and serious business.

However, this is still not the answer to the initial question. In the early 20th century, declining attendances in England and Wales, poor national team performances, and the impending ban on tobacco advertising in sport combined to create a new crisis. Based on focus groups and surveys, the England and Wales Cricket Board concluded that the public wanted a form of cricket with broader appeal both in terms of length and mode of delivery. Reduced formats, such as 15 eight-ball or 20 six-ball overs, have been used in club cricket in midweek evening cups for decades. In 2002, the board proposed a new Twenty20 Cup competition for the professional game.

This project was narrowly approved by county cricket clubs and launched in May 2003 on a roof garden in central London with members of a soon-forgotten pop group appearing in a tasteless photoshoot. They were accompanied by the captains of the two county teams who would be playing the first match. One of them admitted that he shuddered when he saw the result of the photo shoot. He also said that he found the first match, on 13 June 2003, a “bit of fun”. It wasn’t taken too seriously, as the general consensus was that it wouldn’t last.

How wrong could they have been? Another piece of cricket history had been written, without anyone understanding the significance of the event. The counties used increasingly flamboyant methods to entertain their new generation of viewers, who responded positively, thus ensuring that the format lasted longer than many thought would be the case. Once again, India was slow to adopt the format, but when it did cricket transformed, and the subcontinent effectively took control of the new format.

The impacts of this continue to reverberate and invade other formats, as well as drive the game’s global expansion. Matches in the upcoming twenty-team T20 World Cup will take place in the United States, and T20 cricket will be an Olympic sport in 2028. So it’s gone from “a bit of fun” to the dominant format and a commercial. juggernaut of existential threat to longer-established formats, both of which started out as “a bit of a joke.” Cricket has a way of making fun of jokers.

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