Innovation Zone

Ever changing, ever the same

Sambit Bal

For a sport so deeply rooted in tradition, it is incredible how radically and daringly cricket has innovated. Other games have tinkered with the rules and equipment . off-side rules have changed in football, racquets have changed in tennis and we've got speed chess . but cricket is alone in acquiring completely new forms and yet managing to retain its character. It is a tribute to the scale and versatility of the game that it now accommodates three distinct forms without sacrificing its core: cricket.s central contest remains between the bat and the ball.

Innovation has come in many shapes and from many sources. Some, like the shape and size of the bat, width of the pitch and graduation from underarm to overarm bowling, have evolved naturally; some, like the leg-glance, the googly, or the doosra owe their development to individual genius; some have been driven by technological advances; and some have been marketing-driven, of which there can be no better example than Twenty20.

At every point change has been resisted. Overarm bowling was considered outrageous at first, Ranji's exploration of the leg side was regarded immoral, night cricket was dismissed as trivial, the introduction of technology in decision-making was seen as a threat to primacy of the umpire, and the legitimacy of doosra is still being questioned. But these changes have dragged the game forward, sometimes way beyond the original intent. Kerry Packer was merely trying to fulfil his own commercial ambition with the World Series Cricket, and Stuart Robertson came up with the idea of Twenty20 only to sex up English domestic cricket. It is hard to think of any other innovation that has transformed world cricket more.

This series is a beginning of exploration. Over the next six months, some of sharpest observers in the game will look back on events and ideas that have shaped our beloved sport, sometimes for the worse, but mostly for the better.