|The most important date in cricket history over the past half-century was July 19th, 1967. Different events and dates have had a different impact - I'd contend that without what happened on that day forty years ago - cricket would be a minority sport, unrecognizable to what it is today.
First, some background. Like so much else in entertainment, the modern era really began for cricket in the 1960's. The cricket authorities were aware that the product was lacking something - trials were made with 4 stumps, the call went out for 'brighter cricket' without any clear gameplan as to how it was to be achieved, to the extent that a selector was overheard at a test match telling a marginal player to 'have a go', and 'give the crowd something to watch'...
Then, in quick succession, the amateur/professional differential was abolished, which meant counties were forced to look to alternative revenue streams in order to keep themselves on a secure financial footing rather than relying on a host of unpaid, and often substandard, amateurs to fill their sides. Then in 1963, the West Indies tourists turned up and blew the cobwebs off of a game that was starting to atrophy - proving that you could be massively attractive, and successful. Most significantly, in the same year, the first first-class one-day competition was launched - original know as the 'knock out trophy' (catchy huh!!) it soon became the Gillette Cup in 1963.
Slowly but surely, the first class counties began to benefit from an alternative revenue stream to the traditional membership and bodies through the turnstile - figures that were declining inexorably from their immediate post-war peak.
Additionally the prizes started to be spread around. Up to then, the six test host counties had won all but six of the county championships since proper records began in 1890. The first seven years of the Gillette Cup brought wins for Sussex (first ever trophies) Worcester and Kent (first trophy for 54 years) , and since then, the rewards have continued to be shared round. There have been more trophies at stake, and counties have used one-day success as a springboard for growth - and in some cases, survival.
So now we come to July 19th 1967.
On that hot day, Kent met Sussex in the cup semi final. Over 20,000 were shoehorned into Canterbury - the biggest crowd since the 1948 Australia visit. People who were there tell me that it was absolute chaos. There were still queues outside the ground two hours after the start of play as the local organsiation struggled to cope with an attendance double the expected size. The one person rubbing his hands together was the club treasurer. His enthusiasm was passed on to the Kent Committee - a mixture of peers of the realm, retired servicemen and Telegraph journalist, EW Swanton. More importantly, Kent was effectively Colin Cowdrey's personal team. He'd carried the county virtually single handed for the past fifteen years, and was also an absolute pillar of the English cricketing establishment. Cowdrey saw the big crowds, enthusiasm and revenue stream as a good thing, so the establishment started to fall into line. It helped that Kent won that day, thanks to a sublime innings from MCC himself, and they then went on to win the final at Lords.
Had a derisory crowd turned up, had Sussex won easily, or had the Kent committee reacted negatively to the whole affair and the growth of one-day cricket could have been stunted at an early age. Possibly not 'strangled at birth' - there were probably enough roots to ensure some sort of long term survival. But the backing of a leading cricketing figure and a supposed reactionary county like Kent meant that the way was open for the one-day game to take off and develop in the coming years.
With official support now at slightly higher level than grudging - a lot of the reactionary guard in the counties gave way and committees could start to spread their wings - develop financial plans based on one-day income, and look to improve their side, and facilities, accordingly.
More money meant counties could recruit bigger stars from overseas. Pertinently, Kent used the money from the 1967-cup run to go out and get Asif Iqbal - who arguably turned into the best overseas import ever. Hampshire planned ahead and got Barry Richards & Gordon Greenidge to help them win the title in 1973, and then added Andy Roberts to that victorious side for the 1974 season! Gloucester became Proctershire for the best part of a decade - and added Sadiq and Zaheer for good measure. Other counties took advantage of South Africa's justified pariah status and signed up players who would have walked into any other national side - Ken McEwan (Essex) Brian Davison (Leicestershire) & Peter Kirsten (Derbyshire) Notts got Sobers and almost half the West Indies side turned up at Edgbaston! None of that would have been possible without one-day domestic cricket.
Overseas stars paid their way in increased gate receipts. For example, growing up close to London in the mid 70's, my mates and I could have conversations like: -
- Hampshire are at the Oval - let's go and see Roberts bowl or Richards and Greenidge bat against Intikhab.
- Hang on though - Glamorgan are playing Middlesex at Lords - I want to see Majid Khan.
- Forget that, I'm going to Chelmsford to watch Keith Boyce bowling to Sadiq, Zaheer and Procter.
For the first time counties were recruiting commercial and marketing managers. Watch any old test match highlights from before 1970. Advertising hoardings, now ubiquitous, were notable by their absence. That changed as one-day cricket brought a whole new television audience to the game. Then there was sponsorship. When TV advertising of cigarettes was banned in 1965, Gillette, Benson & Hedges and John Player had a lot of spare money in their marketing budgets, which cricket was only too willing to snap up. Televised cricket meant they could still get their product name in front of the cameras - advertising by the back door. Companies couldn't directly run ads, but a seven hour programme every Sunday on BBC2 called 'John Player League Cricket' got the message home better than any advertising consultant!
The biggest driver to a cricket revolution was ultimately television. it took time, but the John Player League, at a then ridiculously truncated 40 overs a side (!!) was ideal to fill a hole in the Sunday afternoon schedules - and fill it very cheaply. Two commentators, a few cameras and an OB unit and they were there. The wall to wall TV coverage we enjoy, one day internationals, 20/20, can all trace roots back to then - and ultimately that day in July 1967 when English cricket irrevocably accepted the one day game.
(Click here to know more about Mark)