Melbourne, Oct.10 : Stuart Robertson, the man credited with inventing Twenty20 cricket, does not believe that he has created a monster that will ruin the traditional spirit of the game.
"Every now and then you get people asking if we're holding a tiger by the tail," Robertson told Cricket Victoria's Lindsay Hassett Club luncheon. "But I don't think we are. Cricket can protect its future."
Twenty20, he says, has had very humble beginnings.
Robertson was the England Cricket Board marketing manager in the early 2000s when he was alerted to a 17 per cent decline in attendance at county matches. The local rights holder Channel Four put up 250,000 pounds to find out why.
This, says Robertson, "was a eureka moment".
Shortened forms of the game had been around for a while, notably Martin Crowe's Cricket Max, which ran domestically in New Zealand for half-a-dozen summers from 1996. They piqued interest, but failed to reach the market Robertson felt was being overlooked.
"The audience at county cricket was largely middle-aged, middle-class white men. We went out and spoke to people who weren't involved in the game - kids, women, families, 16- to-34-year- olds."
Significantly, he says, the researchers spoke to players. "The last thing we wanted to do was bring in a concept that the players thought was a bit of a joke and weren't going to take seriously."
It did not happen overnight. In 2002, a year before the Twenty20 explosion, Hampshire played Middlesex twice in a day, behind closed doors, at the Rose Bowl.
Sceptical English Cricket Board officials looked on. The home team included its physiotherapist.
"People weren't taking it too seriously," Robertson recalls.
The experimental phase included some tricks that finished up on the cutting-room floor.
"But we were very careful to keep the cricket as honest as we could," Robertson says of why the gimmick was dropped. This integrity, he says, set Twenty20 apart from Cricket Max, which split the 20-over allotments into four 10-over innings, and included the likes of a "max zone" where boundaries would be doubled.
"Twenty20 was introduced as a means to an end, and from a marketing point of view there's not much point getting new people to a game they really enjoy, then luring them back to a longer form of the game and it looks nothing like what they saw."