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SYDNEY: In barely 20 years, Twenty20 cricket has gone from being a light-hearted sideshow to a money-spinning, central plank of the sport’s global calendar.

With the eighth T20 World Cup starting in Australia on Sunday, AFP Sport looks at the rise and rise of the game’s big-hitting, crowd-pleasing format.

The beginning

The end of the Benson and Hedges Cup one-day competition in 2002, due to a ban on tobacco advertising, left a gap in English cricket’s domestic calendar.

Stuart Robertson, the marketing manager of the England and Wales Cricket Board, proposed a 20-overs-per-side event, a format already known in amateur and junior cricket.

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The aim was to attract a younger audience who might not have the time to engage with longer formats.

The first official Twenty20 county matches took place in 2003 and proved an instant success in terms of attracting crowds.

More than 27,000 turned up to see Middlesex play Surrey at Lord’s, the largest attendance for any county game at the “home of cricket” outside of a one-day final since 1953.

That success was noted elsewhere, with the frenetic pace and dynamic hitting of batsmen proving popular with spectators worldwide.

Yet there was still a sense this was not “proper cricket”.

The international game

The first international T20 match between New Zealand and Australia at Eden Park, Auckland, in 2005 saw both teams clad in retro 1980s kits, with New Zealand decked out in an exact replica of their “Beige Brigade” colours of that era.

Some players even wore fake beards and moustaches in honour of styles of that time.

“I think it’s difficult to play seriously,” said Australia’s Ricky Ponting, the man-of-the-match.

But the format’s growing popularity was noted by the International Cricket Council and led to the inaugural 2007 men’s T20 World Cup in South Africa. India beat arch-rivals Pakistan in a thrilling final.

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So popular has it become that there are T20 games on most international tours now and fears among traditionalists that the shortest format is thriving at the expense of Test cricket.

The IPL

Just as India’s victory in the 1983 men’s one-day World Cup changed the attitude of cricket’s most populous nation towards the limited-overs game, so was the 2007 title success equally transformative there.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India, looking to capitalise on that success and concerned by the Indian Cricket League, a private T20 event, launched the Indian Premier League in 2008.

Not only did it effectively end the ICL, the new six-week tournament changed cricket’s global environment.

The city-based IPL, where teams were bankrolled by wealthy private owners and with squads based on player auctions, meant leading cricketers could earn vast sums of money in a short space of time.

Traditionally, the way to having a lucrative career was to become an established international in multi-day Test cricket and benefit from the sponsorship deals that followed.

Now, however, there was another route, with the creation of other leagues such as Australia’s Big Bash and England’s Blast creating a global T20 circuit.

The concept has only mushroomed, with the Caribbean, Pakistan and Bangladesh all now in on the act.

The future

The IPL has so changed the game that the ICC has effectively barred international men’s matches during the usual April-May timeframe for the tournament in a bid to ensure top-class cricketers remain available.

Now there is an uneasy co-existence between the formats, with the ICC creating the World Test Championship in a bid to bolster the five-day game.

Some key players, like India’s Virat Kohli, recently proclaimed that Test cricket would always be “the absolute pinnacle of the game”.

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“I will give everything to Test cricket for the time I play, I can assure you of that,” he said, but how long his attitude lasts across cricket remains to be seen.

In a sign of the times, new cashed-up T20 leagues are slated for South Africa, the United States and the United Arab Emirates from 2023, further tempting players with big-money offers.

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