Cricket-loving India champions of new generation Twenty20 comp
It is fast, furious and intense and fits into the country’s new credo of high energy, instant gratification, money and success, especially applicable to the young generation, most targeted by marketers in India.
The Indian sub-continent’s most passionate sport, cricket, has emerged in a fresh avatar fitted into a shorter time frame, accompanied by American style flamboyance and razzmatazz such as dancing cheer leaders, fireworks, fast music and more.
Twenty-Twenty cricket is the quick paced shortened and energized version as opposed to the original slam-bang daylong 50-overs-a-side or the 5-day test matches.
The team’s now have to slug it out like boxers or gladiators, going for the big hits, combining technique with raw power, the slog and dollops of luck, all packed into three hours of rapid action.
The uncertainty, with fortunes changing by the ball literally, and non-stop entertainment keeps the audience on the feet through the duration.
Essentially, the change has come about in keeping with dwindling spectator attention span given fast paced lives combined with the need for that adrenalin rush from sport.
Cricket, too had to change.
Indeed, over the last couple of weeks the first world championship and also the first tournament of the kind featuring top teams, in the new format has proved the skeptics wrong.
It has been a resounding success.
The icing has been an India-Pakistan grand finale played this Monday in South Africa that India won after a closely contested match that could have gone either way.
But the winner, was also the game of cricket, re-invented and served spiced up to sell-out crowds and TV audiences around the globe.
The matches were choc-a-bloc, TV ratings zoomed and given the eyeballs, advertisers have gone home happy despite paying broadcasters up to US$25,000 for a 10 second slot.
It is estimated that over the next eight years Twenty20-cricket will earn cricket’s governing body, the International Cricket Council, $1.5 billion from television rights alone.
In India, cricket ratings knocked off established soaps, musical contests and reality shows that have dominated, especially after the early exit of the Indian team from the world championship of the traditional slower form in the recent past.
The illegal satta (gambling) market has also been reporting brisk business.
An earlier India-Pakistan league match witnessed frenzied betting to the tune of a reported Rs 5 billion just in regions around commercial capital Mumbai.
Almost all 20-20 matches were fiercely fought with the result apparent at the end only.
Australia considered almost invincible into the tournament was humbled by the lowly rated Zimbabwe in an earlier round. The result was akin to Brazil or Germany beaten by USA in soccer.
India was almost knocked out and had the only option of winning by big margins to stay afloat. They managed it quite well.
Even as the tournament progressed and India emerged champions of snappy cricket, back home traffic dwindled with reports of appointments canceled all over and the usually efficient and hard working private sector took a pause, to toast the team.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too took time off to watch the final.
The new game seems best practiced by the young and fearless. India was without the big three aging stars, considered the cricketing gods of India, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly. The Indian team with an average age of 24 years was among the youngest.
Yuvraj Singh emerged as the new icon smashing six sixes in an over against England in a do-or-die match, the maximum possible in an over, and that too against a frontline pace bowler.
Such a feat has been achieved only once at the international level in the entire history of the game, and that too against a slow bowler from a team on the fringes of commercial cricket.
Yuvraj also scored the fastest 50 runs off 12 balls compared to the international record of 20 balls in the thousands of matches played till now.
The intensity of the new game will ensure that Yuvraj’s feat, considered near impossible till very recently, will be replicated and possibly improved in the future, given the number of sixes that have rained in the tournament.
Each game averaged 8-10 sixes compared to 3-4 in the most exciting one-day tournament.
Fans have loved it so that observers now say that 20-20 cricket would end up replacing the one day format, though the longest test matches should survive, given the millions of purist followers of the game.
Though cricket is played and followed in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, West Indies, England, it is the zealous Indian following and consequent multinational sponsorships given the big market and reach that has sustained the economics of the game.
Cricket is about the only sport that India has managed to perform consistently at the world stage.
Thus the expectations of fans, across social, caste and religions, borders on the frenzied with cricketers routinely raised to the level of demigods or pilloried after almost every match, depending on the result.
Cricketers and film stars are by far the most adored celebrities in India, minting millions as brand ambassadors of sundry products
Cricketers from diverse backgrounds, also reflect the myriad and often complex structures. Captain M S Dhoni grew up in small town Ranchi, while another hero Iran Pathan studied at a madrassa.
Indeed before 20-20-cricket, Bollywood, India’s huge film industry has been quick to catch the pulse of the new generation. A recent global survey voted Indian youth as the happiest given the high expectations, jobs, income and changing lifestyles.
Bollywood has churned out four super hits in the recent past, Lagaan, Rang de Basanti, Lage Raho Munnabhai and the latest Chak de India.
Each has showcased a never dying attitude, victory for the underdog and fighting against the odds. Lagaan was cleverly woven around a cricket match during India’s colonial past, with a team of peasants taking on the oppressors, the British rulers.
In the latest big hit Chak de India, super star Shahrukh Khan turns a band of rag-tag girls into a world-beating hockey team.
The girls end up beating the Australians in the world cup finals. Importantly, there is no Pakistan to drum up the obvious national fervor. The emphasis is on hard work, tactics and strategy to beat professional teams.
Shahrukh, incidentally, was present at the 20-20 final in Johannesburg, to cheer the Indian team.
Cricket and Bollywood often feed on each other, providing film directors, sponsors and advertisers a potent cocktail of themes or brand images woven around the two genres or stars
It was, thus fitting, that India won. But, tomorrow is another day and Indian cricketers know all too well that the fans are only going to expect more.
There is a dire need to promote other sports to levels of excellence in India so that new heroes emerge.
For now, though, India is very happy with its cricketers.