OPINION: It is hard to believe so much is being made of this Twenty20 World Cup, when you think back to the abbreviated game's origins.
Action Cricket will spring to mind for some, as one of the first Twenty20-like formats. Championed by people like then-Canterbury coach David Trist it was still 50-over a side cricket, just split into two halves, with the other team having their two 25-over innings either side of yours.
Then Martin Crowe came up with Cricket Max, which was fundamentally a decent idea, but will mostly be remembered for its naffness. Fielding positions like “mid straight" to protect the “Max Zone" and the short-lived Max Blacks national team, were as daft as a brush.
Never mind the idea of four stumps, which was ditched after the first season of Cricket Max. Graeme Hughes' commentary was another aspect that made your toes curl with embarrassment.
But Crowe's concept planted a seed and before long administrators in England had conceived an idea called Twenty20 cricket, that would hopefully enliven their county game.
At that stage, Twenty20 was going to be confined to domestic cricket, because of a feeling that it might demean the international game.
Market forces took over at that point and once people started flocking to Twenty20 matches, the bean counters decided that national teams needed to play the game too.
So on February 17, 2005, New Zealand and Australia met at Eden Park in the world's first Twenty20 international.
It was still as naff as anything, with the teams sporting retro playing strips, handlebar moustaches and headbands, not to mention Hamish Marshall's unforgettable afro. It was hit and giggle and no more and served its purpose as pure entertainment very well.
Only Twenty20 is a serious affair, now. Money and world titles are up for grabs these days and they're not things that people tend to scoff at. Three players from that inaugural Twenty20 international are at this World Cup in Sri Lanka: Australia's Michael Hussey and the Black Caps' Brendon McCullum and Kyle Mills.
Seven years ago, working out how far ahead of February 17 you needed to start growing your facial hair was probably the biggest issue for the players.
These days strategy meetings stretch over hours and every player's game is scrutinised ad nauseam, because every ball counts when there are only 120 per side and fortunes can be made by those who execute their skills best.
“We certainly spend a lot more time planning [for teams] than what we're going to be out there playing against them. That's just part and parcel of the game in this day and age," McCullum said this week.
“You're expected to understand where your opponent is going to be strong and where it's weak and how you're going to be able to expose those areas.
"That's something that, right through my career, I know we've been very strong at, under Stephen Fleming, and obviously Dan [Vettori] and now Ross [Taylor] as well.
“We've been really strategically savvy and I guess the opposition teams do the same sort of stuff as well.
“The other aspect is how you implement that at the key moments and being able to identify when the moments are key, to be able to implement those strategies."
Sounds complicated for a game which, fundamentally for a batsman, is still just about seeing the ball and then hitting it. But then what else would coaches and players do all day?
The afros and mutton chops were certainly more fun.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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