Tracing the origins and evolution of T20 cricket

The origins of the post-work T20 cricket matches between clubs actually go back more than 100-years, to the rural setting of Yorkshire in England.

In a remarkable turn of events, India, whose players had only ever played one competitive T20 match before the World Cup, swept the competition, beating traditional rival Pakistan.   -  GETTY IMAGES

The cheers of 33,000 delirious Mumbai Indians fans rise above the Wankhede every time Hardik Pandya dispatches a hapless bowler out of the ground, the 5 ¼ ounce white bullet hurtling past the floodlights.

When you see that, it is easy to believe that the arrival of the IPL and other T20 club tournaments is 21st-century entertainment whose invention has transformed the evenings of players and fans alike.

FOLLOW| MI vs CSK, IPL final Live Score

That would, however, be far from the truth, for the origins of the post-work T20 cricket matches between clubs actually go back more than 100-years, to the rural setting of Yorkshire in England.

Cricket is revived after World War 1

Warwickshire and Lancashire cricketer Sydney Barnes graced the cricket field after the end of first World War.   -  getty images

 

When the first cricket season got underway in Yorkshire after the end of the First World War (or Great War as it was known then), while there was sadness at the tragic loss of friends and family, despair at the continued fuel and food shortages, and the challenges from the loss of their fields (to food production) to be overcome, the prospect of cricket brought a smile to the faces of the people.

Clubs once more resurfaced all over Yorkshire as they welcomed back those who had served in France and Egypt, had been prisoners of war or were no longer needed for weekend working in factories and workshops. Famous bowlers like Schofield Haigh and Sydney Barnes once more graced the cricket fields.

As the summer went on, interest in the game very quickly revived, and circumstances dictated that cricket be played more in the evenings. Yorkshire was one of the major hubs of the British industry. Factories were omnipresent. The wartime Daylight Savings changes meant that the light lasted longer into the evenings, and the revival of the factories and return to work of the staff from the war resulted in Works Cricket.

Clubs of factories mushroomed, with large employers providing recreational facilities to encourage a healthier workforce. There was a clear need to provide alternative leisure forms to the workforce and their families – an alternative that is, to the alehouses. The workers finished their shifts, moved on to the fields and played football and rugby, but increasingly, these clubs also played cricket in the evenings.

READ| The objects of fans’ affection

Work Cricket in Yorkshire

Bert Oldfield, Australia’s famous wicketkeeper, was a fixture behind the stumps between the two World Wars.   -  getty images

 

A study by Duncan Stone in 2008 titled Cricket's regional identities: the development of cricket and identity in Yorkshire and Surrey, found from local newspaper reports of the time accounts of 193 Work Cricket teams in just the three Yorkshire regions of Barnsley, Halifax and St Helens in 1922. By 1930 that number had grown to 262. 

Yorkshire and England cricketer Sir Len Hutton would write: “George Herbert Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes both came from Kirkheaton, near Huddersfield and both learnt their cricket in what might be called an industrial village, cricket being the game to play and the cricket ground being the meeting place for all during the summer months”.

Work Cricket in the evenings became a part of the Yorkshire social fabric. Bert Oldfield, Australia’s famous wicketkeeper, who was a fixture behind the stumps between the two World Wars, provides a fascinating account of his experiences with Yorkshire cricket on his tours to the British Isles. In his autobiography The Rattle of the Stumps, published in 1953, Oldfield writes:

“I found that in Yorkshire, for instance, apart from the famous [Yorkshire] County Club, no less than thirty-two Leagues were conducting independent competitions. Moreover, these leagues controlled no less than 627 clubs, many of which fielded two teams, and in some cases, three teams every Saturday.”

READ| A cricket book, autographed by Pele

The First T20 League

The most popular competitions in Yorkshire were a series of matches that were played on two evenings a week between clubs belonging to the various factories at Denby Dale near Huddersfield. This was the very area that gave birth to some of England’s greatest cricketing sons - Herbert Sutcliffe, Hedley Verity and Len Hutton.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

But the most popular competitions in Yorkshire were a series of matches that were played on two evenings a week between clubs belonging to the various factories at Denby Dale near Huddersfield. This was the very area that gave birth to some of England’s greatest cricketing sons - Herbert Sutcliffe, Hedley Verity and Len Hutton.

These matches attracted the biggest crowds, far more than even the weekend games. There was a good reason for that. The format was very special, as were the clothes and the spirit in which the matches were played.

The twice a week fixtures were named the Workshop Competitions and there were fifty or sixty similar competitions, each involving between ten and twenty clubs.

Oldfield's description of the match conditions might seem familiar to the modern reader:

“Each team bats for 20 overs, the team scoring the greatest number of runs during the time being the winner. As the mills close at 5 p.m., it develops into an after-tea competition, play commencing at 6.30 p.m., and ending at 8.30 p.m., a condition only possible where daylight saving and a longer twilight prevail.”

His next words could almost have been written about the IPL: “Bigger crowds are attracted than for many a Saturday afternoon game, for the cricket provided is invariably exciting and a low admission charge makes a strong appeal. The wickets are of a very sporting type, being just rolled and cut, while the players, in age from fifteen to fifty, appear in clothes ranging from flannels to ordinary black trousers and braces.”

READ| Wisden lashes out at new 100-ball competition

The Disappearance and Reappearance of T20 as the Future of Cricket

The England and Wales cricket launched the Twenty20 Cup in England in 2003.   -  getty images

 

In the decades that followed the Second World War, industry in Yorkshire and nearby counties went into decline. The Yorkshire coal mines were shut down along with those of neighbouring Nottinghamshire that had produced cricketers of the calibre of Harold Larwood. The Wool Mills around Huddersfield, where Oldfield witnessed the Workshop Competitions, slowly closed shop. The heavy industry moved out of the country, attracted by cheaper labour in other parts of the world. And with this, the Work Cricket culture of Yorkshire and the Workshop Competitions that had pioneered the first T20 competitions, faded from memory.

T20 continued being played in England by club cricketers after work over the next few decades, but the clubs were not run by the factories and the charm of the Workshop Competition was missing.

Then in 2003, when the England & Wales Cricket Board (the ECB) was looking for a new competition to replace the Benson & Hedges ODI Competition that had been in discontinued the previous year, it’s Marketing Manager - Stuart Robertson, familiar with the format, proposed a new T20 competition between the counties.

READ| Kohli hits out at 100-ball format: Commercial aspect hurting quality of cricket

It was intended to deliver fast-paced, exciting cricket accessible to thousands of fans who were put off by the longer versions of the game. The major counties, ironically including Yorkshire, opposed it vehemently, but overriding the naysayers, in 2003 the Twenty20 Cup was launched in England.

Four years later the first T20 World Cup was held in South Africa. In a remarkable turn of events, India, whose players had only ever played one competitive T20 match before the World Cup, swept the competition, beating traditional rival Pakistan. Holding aloft the trophy was MS Dhoni, a man from the industrial belt of Jharkhand. In fact, Dhoni’s father worked at MECON, a company that provides engineering services to the Mining industry (among others). The long departed founders of the T20 format in post-war industrial Yorkshire were undoubtedly smiling from above at the irony.

The following year, Lalit Modi invented the IPL. Eleven years on, the league has grown beyond recognition. Thousands come to watch the matches after work. Millions more watch on television sets and smartphones around the world. Industrial houses own the clubs. The players wear coloured clothes. The wickets are prepared to provide exciting cricket.

A hundred years after the Work Competitions in post-WWI first invented the format, life has come full circle. T20 is back to fill our evenings.