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T20 Cricket Explained: History, rules and format

Twenty20 cricket only came into being at the start of the millennium but it has fast become big business.

Cricket fans old and new have been captivated by the shortest format of the game and T20 now dominates the global cricketing landscape with some of the best players travelling the world to play in cash-rich franchise leagues.

Its appeal has also broadened to the international stage with Twenty20 contests a staple of bi-lateral series, while the USA and West Indies will host the ninth edition of the men's T20 World Cup this year.

T20 History

The first professional 20-over competition was introduced by the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) in 2003 following the abolition of the 50-over Benson & Hedges Cup.

The ECB were keen to appeal to a new generation of cricket fans with an exciting, fast-paced format which younger audiences and sponsors would find more accessible and entertaining.

Marketing manager Stuart Robinson proposed the idea of a 20-over competition, a development of a format invented by former New Zealand captain Martin Crowe, to county cricket chiefs in 2001 and counties voted 11-7 in favour of establishing the competition from the 2003 English domestic season.

The Twenty20 Cup was an instant hit and it wasn't long before other cricket boards adopted the 20-over format.

The first international game of T20 was played between Australia and New Zealand on 17th February 2005 and an inaugural World T20 was held in South Africa two years later, when India were crowned the first 20-over world champions.

Twenty20 cricket has continued to flourish with the advent of global franchise leagues, including the Indian Premier League which is now in its 14th season.

Widely viewed as the biggest and best T20 competition on the planet, some of cricket's best players head to India for two months and are paid handsomely for their talents.

Australia's Big Bash League, the Caribbean Premier League, Pakistan Super League and T20 Blast in England also attract cricketing stars from around the globe.

The women's game has also warmly embraced 20-over cricket and alongside ICC-organised global tournaments, a women's T20 competition was held at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

How long is a T20 match? 

T20 cricket's appeal is in its simplicity.

Each team in a T20 match has one innings of a maximum 20 overs (120 legal deliveries).

Each innings is scheduled to be completed within 75 minutes meaning, that with an interval between each innings, a full match usually takes around three hours.

T20 rules

As with any format, the general laws of the game of cricket set out by the Marylebone Cricket Club apply to Twenty20 cricket.

Each innings of a T20 match is scheduled to be no longer than 75 minutes. If a fielding side has not begun the 20th over before the 75-minute time limit a bonus of six runs per over is given to the batting side for every over bowled after the cut-off.

Bowlers can bowl a maximum of four overs per 20-over game. In the case of an interrupted match, a bowler's limit is no more than one-fifth of the total overs.

In addition to extra runs, a 'free hit' is awarded when a bowler delivers a no-ball for overstepping the popping crease. In such circumstances the batter can only be dismissed via a run out, obstructing the field or hitting the ball twice.

All other conventional modes of dismissal, such as bowled, caught, etc, do not count.

There a number of fielding-specific rules that must be also adhered to in T20 cricket:

  • No more than five fielders can be on the leg side at any time
  • The first six overs of a match are known as the powerplay when a maximum of two fielders can be outside the 30-yard circle
  • Once the powerplay overs are complete, a maximum of five fielders can be outside the fielding ring
    Some competitions, such as the Big Bash League in Australia, have modified versions of the powerplay rules

Once a wicket has fallen, batters have 90 seconds to be in position for the next delivery. 

Tied matches go to a Super Over, where the side who scores the most runs in a single over are deemed the winners.

During a Super Over each team nominates three batters and one bowler. A team's Super Over is classed as complete after six balls, the loss of two wickets or if they have reached their target.

2024 T20 World Cup format

The ninth edition of the T20 World Cup will be the biggest yet with 20 teams set to compete in the United States and West Indies this summer.

The 20 teams are split into four groups of five with the top two in each section qualifying for the Super 8s following a single round-robin. 

The eight qualifiers for the Super 8s are then split into two groups of four. Each group participant plays each other once with the top two in each group progressing the knockout stage, which consists of two semi-finals and the final.

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