Origins of one-day cricket
Boycott faced the first delivery in ODI cricket.
Boycott faced the first delivery in ODI cricket. © Getty
"Change is the only constant in life" - Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher.
In a fast-changing world, symbolised by instant gratification and advanced technology, businesses struggle with transition and disruption. Some organisations evolve with time by embracing risk, while others fall away. Time stops for none, and as the clock tick-tocks relentlessly to move ahead, those organisations that anticipate the needs of the consumers and find a way to manage the risk factor have a better chance of surviving.
In the cricketing landscape, too, administrators have had to grapple with the ever-evolving world. With attention spans getting shorter, administrators have time and again spilled a lot of ink and thought to devise fast-paced formats. One such change occurred during early 1960s in England, which saw the birth of one-day cricket.
During the 1961 County Championship season in England, the attendance figure stood at 969,382, down from 2,200,910 during the 'Golden Summer' of 1947. It had further reduced to 719,661 by 1963. So there was a need to take necessary steps to address the declining gates, which were affecting the financial health of counties.
To address the issue, the MCC set up a committee, better known as the "1961 cricket enquiry" under Gubby Allen. Subsequently, a proposal was drafted for county matches to be held on Sundays. The other major recommendation by the committee was to start a one-day knockout tournament. In December 1961, when MCC's Cricket Committee comprising 17 counties examined the proposals, they voted in favour of ushering in a knockout tournament but the required details for such a tournament were unclear.
It is a given that "change initiative" is based on inherent risk associated with it. So someone from the cricket fraternity had to take the initial steps towards climbing the staircase. It was Mike Turner, Leicestershire's club secretary, who provided the impetus with his revolutionary idea of starting a knockout tournament called the Midlands Knock-Out Cup.
"By the early 1960s we had reached the end of cricket's post-war boom. The crowds had declined and there was a need to make the game viable. These were parlous times and there were arguments about which direction the game should take," Turner wrote in his column for the Guardian.
Turner, who became the club's youngest secretary at just 25, invited Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Derbyshire to play alongside the home county. The invitations were accepted and on 2 May 1962 the tournament kicked off with Leicestershire taking on Derbyshire on a chilly day at Grace Road. Two semifinals and a final made up of 65 overs each were played on a single day. The Keith Andrew-led Northamptonshire emerged triumphant by defeating Leicestershire in the final.
With the attendance dwindling in county cricket in the early 1960s, a one-day knockout tournament was proposed.
With the attendance dwindling in county cricket in the early 1960s, a one-day knockout tournament was proposed. ©Getty
Turner hit upon the idea as the four aforementioned clubs didn't have a single game during the first two Wednesdays of the season. Turner himself bought a trophy from a store selling second-hand products and got it polished. The trial tournament received thumbs-up from the respective captains, with David Kirby, Leicestershire's skipper, saying cricketers "were all for it".
In the aftermath of the successful tournament, the MCC set up a sub-committee to draft a framework for a knock-out tournament for the 1963 English domestic season. The committee met in October 1962 and recommended 65-over matches, with the final to be played at Lord's. The teams that were drawn first would get the opportunity to play at home. Other rules included a 15-over limit for bowlers. Due to poor weather, if the matches weren't completed on the scheduled days, then a 10-over game would be held. In the backdrop of inclement weather affecting any of the matches, administrators decided to set aside three days for the same.
With 17 counties in the fray, a play-off round was added. Lancashire and Leicestershire, the two sides who finished at the bottom of the points table in the 1962 County Championship, were set to lock horns in the play-off game. Meanwhile, Gillette forked out 6500 pounds to sponsor the event.
H. C. L. Garnett, then managing director of Gillette, was quoted by Wisden: "Clearly you are embarking on a major experiment of vital importance not only to the immediate finances but also to the whole future form of first-class cricket. It will call for a new approach to the game by players, public and press alike."
In the qualifier game played between Lancashire and Leicestershire on 1 May 1963 at Old Trafford, the former posted a comfortable 101-run win. Peter Marner, the experienced all rounder, composed a noteworthy 121 while Brian Statham bagged a five-wicket haul. The highlight of the match was Marner's hefty blow off John Savage, the off spinner.
"I was bowling from the Stretford End and he hit me over Eight Stand, clean out of the ground and into the gun club field, which is now the indoor school. Some people still reckon it was the biggest hit ever on the ground. It was a decent wicket but Peter played very well that day," Savage told BBC.
Savage also recalled the traditional field placements employed by the county. "We played it as a normal game of cricket, with slips, gullies, cover and so forth. It's entirely different now, as you know. The tactic of stopping the boundaries wasn't even thought of then. The first man to do it, if I remember, was Mike Smith at Warwickshire."
Although the players enjoyed the one-day contest, initially fans didn't flock to the stadiums. Most of the newspapers carried the scorecard of the preliminary game, but only about 100 fans turned up on Day 2 of the match that was extended due to rain. Attendances gradually picked up during the next round of games. Approximately 3,000 fans witnessed the Nottinghamshire versus Yorkshire fixture, with the former emerging victorious. The high-scoring and edge-of-the-seat quarterfinal contest between Yorkshire and Sussex in Hove saw fans swarming the gates of the stadium, with around 15,000 attending the game.
Sussex took on Worcestershire in the final of the competition. As it had rained through the previous week, spinners were getting it to grip. It was Jim Parks, the vice captain of the Sussex side, who held fort on a tricky surface to propel his side to a competitive 168. Eventually, Worcestershire won the closely-fought contest by 14 runs.
The tournament also was marked by Ted Dexter's smart field placements. During the nascent stages of the one-day arena, the Sussex captain worked out how to keep the opposition in check with his tactical nous. His plan was to bat first in case he won the toss and look to defend the target. He mostly asked his bowlers to target the stumps, which included fuller length or short deliveries. He also had as many fielders as possible patrolling the circumference of the boundary rope. At one stage during the final, nine fielders were positioned as boundary riders.
Even in the second round when Sussex met Kent, Dexter's tactics were criticised, with the fans booing his defensive field placings. With Peter Richardson, Kent's prolific batsman in fine form, and Colin Cowdrey supporting him from the other end, Dexter mainly looked to restrict the boundaries. "Colin Cowdrey [Kent's captain] played it in festival fashion, Dexter played to win. Cowdrey tried to bowl Sussex out and used spin as well as speed. Dexter used nothing but short-of-a-length pace men with the idea of keeping Kent's score down," Keith Miller wrote in the Daily Express.
Dexter on his strategy later wrote: "It was not my intention to get him [Richardson] out. I set the field back, allowed him to take a single, then bowled tight to the other batsmen."
The match created enough controversy with the Kent chairman observing that the field settings weren't in the "spirit of the game". Parks, the vice captain of the Sussex side, later said to The Times: "We went past 300, but Colin Cowdrey still had a couple of slips in at the end. We just went out and defended. The Sussex chairman received a letter from the Kent chairman saying it was a disgusting performance not in the spirit of cricket."
Barring a few grumblings by critics about defensive field placements, the tournament turned out to be a successful venture. Some supporters who had never seen a game of cricket before came to watch their county, Sussex, play the final. The final also saw fans holding up banners and witnessed a sell-out crowd, with around 24,000 attending the game. In a few years time, the 50-over abridged version of the game became even more popular. In 1969, the John Player Special League was launched - with games being played on Sundays. In 1972, the Benson and Hedges tournament also came into effect.
Just a year before the Benson and Hedges tournament was launched, on 5 January 1971, Australia took on England in the first-ever one-day international at the MCG. Incidentally, there were no plans to host an ODI during the course of England's tour to Australia. However, due to persistent rain, the first three days of the MCG Test were abandoned without a ball being bowled.
Meanwhile, the authorities were incurring losses in the range of 80,000 pounds due to the first three days being washed out. As a result, on what should have been the fifth day of the Test, the home board hastily arranged an ODI. Meanwhile, Rothmans opted to sponsor the match and chipped in with 5000 pounds. The Man of the Match was expected to earn a princely 90 pounds. So history was made when Geoffrey Boycott, the England opener, faced the first ball in an ODI from Australia's Graham McKenzie. The game was largely played in a festive atmosphere with Australia emerging victorious.
Eventually, the 50-over format changed the landscape of cricket. With coloured clothing, day-night games, a World Cup, field restrictions, pinch hitting and strategies, more and more fans were attracted by the razzmatazz. But as sport ages, change occurs. Over a period of time, cricket has continued to evolve. The 50-over format in itself has lost ground in terms of popularity, with the T20 version of the game taking over from its big brother.
It is said that "the risk of doing nothing is higher than the risk of embarking on an experimental initiative". The advent of the one-day game was one of those ideas where administrators embraced risk to take a flight to the land of new opportunities.