T-20 – Express Cricket…Unplugged
In a year that saw easily the worst world cup played thus far, it took a rather unlikely hero to redeem some lost pride for cricket. Cricket puritans (me included) might write off Twenty-20 as a marketing gimmick aimed at making the bucks that is nowhere near either the One-Day format of the game or the more elaborate five-day test matches, still, make no mistake, Twenty-20 Cricket is here to stay. The inaugural Twenty-20 World Cup at South Africa is testimony to that.
Starting off as cricket’s answer to the much-shorter and immensely-more popular football games, Twenty-20 cricket was aimed at drawing more masses to cricket, thanks to its no-holds-barred-smack-‘em’ out approach.
With twenty overs a side and rules loaded in favor of batsmen, Twenty-20 cricket was intended to be the perfect answer to sports-lovers who crave for action right from the word ‘Go’. And action it was aplenty at South Africa, with the inaugural Twenty-20 World Cup turning out to be a much bigger success than the more elaborate Cricket World Cup held earlier this year in the West Indies.
Call it better organization or astute publicity or slick marketing, the Twenty-20 World Cup was indeed a runaway success, judging by the size of the crowds it drew to the matches, and the immense television viewership, not to mention the online streaming coverage.
And what a cracker of a tournament it was! Expectedly and deservedly, Australia began as favorites, and much was also expected from teams like Sri Lanka, New Zealand and South Africa. England had just won a one-day series back home, and West Indies were looking good too.
And we also had minnows-turned-giant-killers like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh to add to the entertainment, apart from persistent minnows Kenya and Scotland. Did I miss out someone? Oh yeah, Pakistan and India, those oh-so-enigmatic folks who bombed earlier this year at the bigger World Cup, and few gave them even an outside chance.
Pakistan, ever the capable team, with the capacity to pull off something big at any part of the world, and India, with its big guns having opted out, was fielding young blood for the World Cup. With nothing to lose but everything to gain, the tournament started, and it could not have asked for a better start than the game between South Africa and West Indies, with Chris Gayle blasting his way to the first ever Twenty-20 century.
His efforts went in vain, as South Africa easily overwhelmed the Windies’ score. There were a couple of upsets early on, with Australia (who were accused of being arrogant and taking things too likely, thanks to Ricky Ponting shooting his mouth off) being humbled by Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, not too surprisingly, defeating West Indies. Sri Lanka and New Zealand played outstanding cricket for most of the first round, to easily qualify for the Super 8’s.
The India-Pakistan encounter was a classic, ending in a tie. It was rather unfortunate that such a thrilling game with two equally matched teams had to end with India being adjudged winner after the Bowl-Out, another pathetic rip-off from Football’s Penalty Shootout.
Nevertheless, the matches gained in intensity as the tournament proceeded, with Australia, India, New Zealand, and Pakistan reaching the semifinal stage, with India reaching the semifinals last, after defeating South Africa in a must-win game that knocked them out, rather sadly for the home team.
Everyone expected a trans-continental clash in both semifinals, but it was not to be, as Pakistan took on New Zealand and India took on Australia. While Pakistan steamrollered New Zealand in the first semifinal, India edged home in a humdinger in the other semifinal against Australia. Clearly, India were playing some of their best cricket in recent times, thanks to the young guns of the team and their fearless spirit, led by an ice-cool captain in M.S.Dhoni.
It was the dream final everyone hoped for, but nobody expected – India Versus Pakistan in a World Cup final. So what if it was just the Twenty-20, a World Cup, nevertheless! And Merlin’s Beard, it turned out to be one of the best ever finals played in a major tournament. In a classic contest of nerves, India just about managed to hold their nerve in the end.
It was a fitting conclusion to an awesome series, with India beating Pakistan by 5 runs to lift the first ever Twenty-20 World Cup. Pakistan were deserving runners-up, though not by far. Twenty-20 cricket could not have asked for a better opening.