“That just ain’t cricket!” This is a common English expression for anything that is not precisely according to rules. It comes from the fact that the game of cricket is played by gentlemen according to written and unwritten rules, without deviation.

Cricket is one of the world’s oldest organized sports, with history going back to the 16th C., and with international cricket played since 1844. One would expect, therefore, NOT to find innovation anywhere near the cricket ground.

Not true. Cricket test matches are normally long, sleepy events played by two teams of 11 players that can last up to five days. Years ago, someone invented one-day cricket – a match limited to, say, 50 ‘overs’ (an ‘over’ is a series of six bowled balls). It was a successful innovation. And now the British have invented Twenty20 cricket. According to Wikipedia:

Twenty20 is a form of cricket, originally introduced in United Kingdom for professional inter-county competition by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), in 2003. Both teams have a single innings and bat for a maximum of 20 overs.

A Twenty20 game is completed in about two and half hours, with each innings lasting around 75 minutes, thus bringing the game closer to the timespan of other popular team sports such as football. It was introduced to create a lively form of the game which would be attractive to spectators at the ground and viewers on television and as such it has been very successful. The ECB did not intend that Twenty20 would replace other forms of cricket and these have continued alongside it.

The game has spread around the cricket world. On most international tours there is a Twenty20 match and most Test-playing nations have a domestic cup competition. The inaugural ICC World Twenty20 was played in South Africa in 2007 with India defeating Pakistan in the final.

But – guess what. The nimble Indians (India, as a nation, is utterly insane about cricket -–life stops there when an important international match is being played) grabbed the idea and created a hugely successful Twenty20 professional league. Now Britain is about to do the same, creating a televised British league. 

Conclusions? Even in the most conservative hidebound product can be innovated. To do so successfully, think ‘in the box’. The ‘box’, in this case, is television. You cannot really televise a five-day match! But you can televise a Twenty20 two-hour match. And without television revenue, you do not have a real product.   Once you assume that the rules of cricket must conform to the constraints of TV – Twenty20 follows instantly. Interestingly, the British invented Twenty20, but the Indians were first to make big bucks from it.  How many times have we seen that happen, decades ago, with American inventions and Japanese commercialization!

p.s. My friend Richard Milecki, Kibbutz Tuval (in the Galilee) wrote to reveal the true origin of one-day cricket:

    Hi Shlomo!
One Day Cricket was initiated by Kerry Packer – the Australian Media Mogul. As you suggested, he did it to make more money out of television  advertising. The Brits of course could never have taken such a step. It  created a huge up roar at the time as did night cricket. He even had the  gall to dress the players in coloured uniforms! In retrospect the move ensured the ongoing survival of the game. 

One correction: As a child I remember sweating it out in front of the box for 5 days watching Test matches against England – it can be done!