Thursday, September 27, 2007

Twenty - Twenty

Fast paced, hectic, entertaining and cricket - I can now say all these in the same breath. Right from the word go, the T20 World Series has been exciting, to say the least. And a match that lasts no longer than three hours means no more bunking work to sit glued to the telly, watching a one day match. The new format of the game has succeeded in doing what its cousins - the limited over one day match and the longer five day test matches - have failed to do: appeal to a wider audience that is bored by 10 fielders lazing on a green oval and two bandaged men with planks of wood ambling from crease to crease. If someone like me, who thought that first slip and second slip referred to layers of innerwear, got hooked on, you can imagine.

The very first match of the series - featuring a ballistic Chris Gayle and a possible victory squandered by West Indies by poor bowling and sloppy fielding - got me interested. The action: the entire innings is played like slog overs, the excitement: it is difficult to predict a winner until the last few overs, if not the last, the shorter duration: 40 overs bowled in about three hours - the equivalent of a five set tennis match or a longish hindi movie, all add to its attractiveness. That this format would be a winner was clear from the first innings in which Chris Gayle blasted away, setting the direction for all future matches and players. For that single feat, he deserves the title of Man of the format.

There could be allegations of match fixing, particularly in high octane matches like the India - Pakistan clashes, particularly for close finishes such as the group level India - Pak match that we won in a bowl out. Even if the match was fixed, it would have taken some skill on part of the match fixers, and the players even, to get the match to as close a finish as the bowl out. Nevertheless, the format IS and will be a huge success and is here to stay.

The best part about the Indian team - underdogs who went on to claim the title - is that they achieved this feat without any of the larger-than-life players a.k.a. Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid et al. This fact probably worked in favour of the young team (average age - 24 years!), which had nothing to lose and everything to gain. None other than probably Sehwag and to a small extent Yuvraj, had a reputation to keep. Therefore, everyone played as a team, and beautifully so. Batsmen at the crease supported the one in form by putting him on strike, fielders supported the excellent bowling with great catches (Dinesh Karthik), direct hits (Robin Uthappa) and great saves. Apart from dependable bowlers like Harbhajan and Irfan who had fantastic spells, the tournament brought out fabulous young talent in Sreesanth and RP Singh. The batsmen were not far behind. Yuvraj with the scintillating six sixes, Rohit Sharma and Gautam Gambhir who carried the innings on their shoulders when the line up tottered at times and Uthappa who was fantastic both on the crease and off it. His impromptu ballet style bow to the crowds on getting the stumps in the bowl out against Pakistan is unforgettable. Not to forget the able captaining by the young Mahendra Singh Dhoni - who kept a cool head, supported the younger players with sage advice - the magic words he had with Jogendra Sharma in the last over of the Australia semi-final had this talented bowler snatching two wickets for a measly five runs in THE over that mattered, displayed intelliegent strategy - using Jogendra Sharma again in the last over of the final, and humility. He is probably the only player who has credited the support staff in his post victory speech. He gave all credit to the team and recognised the never appreciated support staff. That IS remarkable.

In the end, these lads played for the love of cricket, played a good game and had a good time. Yuvraj rushing into the ground at the end of the India - England group match and the India - Australia semi-final and Harbhajan's bhangra in the last over of the semi-final and his jig after the victory in the final are etched in memory forever.

Hats off to these young lads who have made us proud.

PS: I now know the difference between first slip and second slip

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