Philip Barker

If the International Olympic Committee (IOC) say yes to its return to the Olympic Games at their Session in Mumbai this October, it will represent a major milestone for cricket, a sport which traces its organised roots back over two hundred years.

Yet 60 years ago, and not for the first time, the sport had also reached a crossroads.

The distinction between amateurs and professionals, or "gentlemen and players" had been abolished sweeping away two centuries of tradition in a game which was very much founded in tradition and lore.

Cricket had enjoyed huge crowds in the years immediately after the Second World War, when over two million attended matches over the course of a single season to watch flamboyant stars such as Denis Compton, but interest had dwindled in the elite game known as "first-class cricket."

Seventeen counties in England were designated "first class" but crowds were dwindling and something was needed to entice spectators to return.

A Cricket Advisory Committee was established and this recommended a shorter form competition.

In the years immediately after the Second World War, stars such as Bill Edrich and Denis Compton attracted huge crowds to watch cricket ©Getty Images
In the years immediately after the Second World War, stars such as Bill Edrich and Denis Compton attracted huge crowds to watch cricket ©Getty Images

Matches were to be completed in one day instead of three.

There had been a trial in the English Midlands in 1962 and discussions began to find financial backing for a nationwide event.

Gillette, a company who made razors and other toiletries, wrote to Lord’s with a "willingness to take an interest in the forthcoming knockout tournament by the award of a challenge trophy and any other appropriate awards covering team and individual performances in the course of the competition."

Gordon Ross, a sports journalist seldom edited a magazine called Playfair Cricket Monthly and was recruited by Gillette as their cricket consultant.

"It was interesting that the word sponsorship was not mentioned," Ross observed later.

"The Cup brought a new dimension and certainly a new type of spectator."

In that first season each team was allowed to bat for 65 overs, but this was later reduced to 60 overs a side. 

A new concept, now widely used, was to choose a player of the match,

Ross, a dapper figure rarely seen without a carnation in his buttonhole, helped Gillette line up their own squad of former international players to act as adjudicators and each man of the match was awarded the princely sum of £50 ($62/€58) at 1963 exchange rates.

The first match was played between the two bottom counties from the previous season’s County Championship.

Lancashire beat Leicestershire by 101 runs and Frank Woolley, a legendary England batsman from the pre First World War era, named Lancashire centurion Peter Marner as the man of the match.

In fact, by a stroke of irony bad weather forced the first one day match into a second day, but no matter, the competition was up and running and as it continued it gained momentum.

The gates at Hove Cricket Ground display the crest of Sussex County Cricket Club which became a powerhouse of limited overs cricket in the early days ©ITG
The gates at Hove Cricket Ground display the crest of Sussex County Cricket Club which became a powerhouse of limited overs cricket in the early days ©ITG

At that time, Sussex had never won a trophy but their captain Ted Dexter seemed determined to win the new knockout cup.

He was known as "Lord Ted" because although he was never ennobled, he had the elegance of an aristocrat.

He struck a glorious century in the semi-final as Sussex beat Northamptonshire.

Earlier in the summer, Dexter had also played a sublime innings of 70 for England in a Test match against the West Indies at Lord’s.

Today that might be re-assessed as nascent "Bazball" which was a desire to be positive at all times.

Dexter's runs came against an attack which included the fearsome fast bowlers Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, both from Barbados and the innings is still remembered by those of a certain age even today.

The match was drawn but England ultimately lost the series to the West Indies.

Dexter was destined to return to Lord’s in September, this time leading his county Sussex against Worcestershire in the Knockout Cup Final, not yet known as the Gillette Cup.

Dexter himself was out when he had scored only three runs.

Thanks to wicketkeeper Jim Parks, who scored 57, Sussex reached 168 but it was hardly a commanding total by today’s standards. 

Sussex then bowled Worcestershire out for 154 to win by 14 runs.

It was Dexter who lifted the trophy, made of sterling silver and nine carat gold on a rosewood plinth.

Many had been critical of Dexter’s defensive tactics in the field earlier in the competition with former Australian all-rounder Keith Miller among them.

After the Final he was joined in criticism of Dexter by Richie Benaud, a highly respected captain of Australia who was also a journalist.

"Sussex won because they employed deliberately negative field placings throughout the Worcestershire innings," Benaud said.

"It would be a pity if every team did this next year and brought about the demise of what could be a very fine competition."

Although in the years that followed, many other captains did indeed push the boundaries in terms of exploiting the regulations to win in ways which were not quite in the spirit of cricket, even if allowed by the letter of the law. 

Benaud was outraged when Australian captain Greg Chappell instructed his brother to bowl underarm with the final ball of a 1981 international against New Zealand to prevent his opponents from trying to hit a six to win the match.

By this time, one-day cricket was an essential part of the sport but it was in 1963 when it first brought new fans to cricket.

"A year ago anyone suggesting that Lord’s, temple of tradition could be transformed into a reasonable replica of Wembley on its Cup Final day would have been sent post haste to the nearest psychiatrists' couch," wrote Peter Wilson in the Daily Mirror.

"This may not have been cricket for the purists - by golly it was just what the doctor ordered."

"It says much for this type of cricket that tremendous interest was stirred up, at Lord’s spectators wore favours and banners were also in evidence, the whole scene resembling an Association Football Cup Final more than the game of cricket," was the assessment of the respected Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, regarded as the supreme record of the sport.

"There is no doubt that providing the competition is conducted wisely it will attract great support in the future and benefit the sport accordingly."

If it does come to pass, cricket's inclusion in the Olympics may well prove to have the same effect.