It is excitable, unruly, unsubtle and fun
|Twenty20 attracts to a point because it’s not supposed to be taken too seriously. Losing doesn’t hurt as much and pleasure is found not only in winning. It’s like beach football, writes Rohit Brijnath.|
Kevin Pietersen has called the Twenty20 version a “lottery.” Twenty20 cricket is too loud for anyone to be quiet about it. It is cricket on nandrolone (muscular and raucous and breaking every law known to purists), it is a game on a high, it is a contest of celebration and commiseration and nothing in between. Everyone floats on a river of adrenalin, pumped, excited, nerves taut, dancers leaping, DJ’s rocking, fans screaming, cricketers hammering, writers pounding.
Traditionalists are reaching for their heart medicine for the last time they heard such a delirious din it was from the folks attending that other paragon of civilised entertainment, world wrestling. Maybe some older folks are hesitant to admit to enjoying Twenty20 for it might reveal them as non-serious, or worse, lacking appreciation of the true virtues of sport, found only in Test cricket. Young people seem to relish it, this could be their game, cricket’s version of rap music.
Of course, there was no way I was going to like Twenty20 which has all the subtlety of a bumper-dragging, smoke-belching dump truck. We relish the sweaty, gladiatorial, body-thumping aspect of sport, but also its delicacies. A big-hitting tennis rally, and then a sighing drop shot; the surging powerful run of the footballer and then his gossamer chip over the goalkeeper; the thumping hit of the hockey player, accompanied by the mosaic of his dribble.
Twenty20 was invented by someone who grew up with ‘Rollerball’ posters in his room, and whose idea of understatement is Clint Eastwood with a six-gun and a scowl.
It’s a game that is the remarkable mix of many stolen parts: it has borrowed the idea that plot is irrelevant from Van Damme movies, it’s scrounged the concept of “music at changeovers” from the U.S. Open tennis, it’s spawned its own version of basketball’s dancing girls, it’s crude version of football’s penalty shoot-out, it’s got a hockey-style on-ground bench, and bears a resemblance to golf with its bizarre rules (what in God’s name is the free hit, some might well ask?). All that’s left is for Twenty20 to become a contact sport.
So how to say this: it’s actually rather enjoyable. Perhaps because it’s new. Possibly because we haven’t had a chance to get sick of it like 50-over cricket. Probably because India was winning. Maybe because it makes me feel younger.
Twenty20 is the future, but it’s also the past. The game we embrace now is the one we left behind. Every shot played by Yuvraj that night against England was only an echo of our boyhood, when the water tank at the end of the lane was six, you couldn’t hit square because you might interfere with Mr. Ghosh’s breakfast, and if you took more than two singles in a row you were a nerd. Gully cricket wasn’t about accumulation but explosions, and everyone sang from the same songsheet: “hit out or get out, yaar.” We played Twenty20 before it was invented.
The vices of Twenty20 (a game without thought, absent of variety, leaving no memory, I know the list because I’ve used it to decry the over-played, unmemorable 50-over cricket of recent times) are valid, but its virtues should not go unrecognised.
Its intensity is unrelenting, its no-dawdling pace so wonderfully un-cricketing, its lack of snobbery invigorating, its demand for nerve exhilarating, its improvisation intriguing.
Twenty20 attracts to a point because it’s not supposed to be taken too seriously. Losing doesn’t hurt as much and pleasure is found not only in winning. It’s like beach football. Countries want to win, but victory is not quite proof of world footballing superiority. It is not replacing Test cricket, it is not a threat, just a sideshow that lasts precisely as long as a Bollywood masala film.
Sport is supposed to build character, keep us fit, encourage discipline, teach teamwork, promote healthy competition. But it’s also supposed to be fun, it’s about abandon, about wide smiles and high spirits. To look at the Indian bench, at times, was to see a foreign, forgotten picture. They were happy (of course they were also winning).
Still, so serious has cricket become that we have whipped the pleasure out of young men with our expectations, and this was refreshing. No, it was better, it was restoring, even if it doesn’t last (and it won’t last because we’ll start judging cricketers on Twenty20 skills, whatever they may be, and that will be it).
Ricky Ponting has written of luck’s disproportionately large role. Kevin Pietersen has called it a “lottery.” Both are right. This is a pastime really, not a sport. Twenty20 is a video game come to life, a contest perfect for its time.
It is amusing entertainment, worth staying up for on weekend nights. Especially when TV is showing another Van Damme re-run.