Few expected GT20 to take off last year. Fewer still would have predicted the success of the tournament, given the hurdles the organizers had to overcome.
Sports tournaments with global ambitions take years to get off the ground. For GT20, along with Cricket Canada, to put together a competition of this scale in barely four months was little short of a minor miracle. The hectic preparations would culminate in an unforgettable two weeks in June and July, when the action-packed six-team T20 tournament surpassed all expectations.
For the first time in the history of cricket in the region (and it is a storied history no doubt) some of the biggest names in cricket – including Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, Steve Smith, David Warner, Darren Sammy and Dwayne Bravo – took the field along with those from Canada and other Associate Nations. This terrific mix of global stars and emerging players turned out to be a heady concoction for all concerned. It provided budding cricketers a grand stage to showcase their skills, and gain valuable lessons from the best in the game. It also turned into a treat for local fans, who got a rare chance to watch the greats from close range.
One of the highlights of the inaugural GT20 was the presence of Steve Smith and David Warner, the two great Australian batsmen who were serving a one-year ban away from the international game. Smith returned to professional cricket with a crackling 61 off 41 balls and spoke highly of the tournament’s potential.
Both Smith and Warner were overshadowed by West Indies’ Lendl Simmons, who ended the tournament as the highest scorer and finished with the most sixes.
Chris Gayle had a quiet tournament by his standards – 144 runs in eight matches – but he lit up the final with a mind-blowing catch in the slips. He let out a full-length dive to his left, lunged for the ball, parried it… but somehow managed to grab it with his right hand when he was falling to the ground. His team-mates were dumbfounded. The commentator on air, Dean Jones, was gobsmacked. The video went viral online, joining the vast folklore surrounding the ‘Universe Boss’.
Despite the presence of the international stars it was an unheralded Canadian allrounder who sparkled in the final. Saad bin Zafar smashed a 48-ball 79 and guided the Vancouver Knights in a tricky chase against West Indies B. Zafar had played only two first-class matches up till then, and hadn’t passed 36 in either of those. He was deservedly chaired by his team-mates for his finest performance.
The popularity of the tournament was underlined by the 35.45 million global television viewers and 19.51 million viewers across multiple digital platforms. There was a buzz on social media throughout the duration of the tournament – as underscored by the 325,000 likes on Facebook, 16.5 followers on Twitter and a further 34,800 followers on Instagram.
“In the end everyone was a winner here,” Brian Lara, the West Indies legend, said. “Canadian Cricket got immediate recognition, cricket was top class, young boys got to play alongside the greats and fans had a great time. Cricket in North America needed something like this and got it in the form of GT20.”