October 7, 2007

The new version of cricket has so much to offer that even the one day version of the game is going to lose its sheen in due course.

The new version of cricket has so much to offer that even the one day version of the game is going to lose its sheen in due course. And the five day version? It’s history, already!

What Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men achieved at Johannesburg on 24th of September, 2007, has an interesting parallel with what Clive Lloyd and his men did way back in 1975. The West Indian team, under the leadership of Clive Lloyd, proved that it is not only possible to beat the whites in their own game, but to change the very version of the game for good. It was the West Indians who made the one day cricket a game of passion, aggression, ecstasy, dejection and probably every possible human emotion worth talking about. In fact, their historic win literally took the charm of the five day test matches away; and cricket, which was known as the gentleman’s game, became a game of adrenalin ever after! They continued their campaign for two consecutive world cups, becoming the toast of the world, giving the blacks and browns a sense of pride and passion through their decimation of the British, the Australians and the Kiwis. And then came 1983. When almost everyone had surrendered to the conclusion that West Indies would repeat their feat, in came a young man named Kapil Dev and his team of unknown untested men, changing the history of the game forever. The unexpected and huge win against the invincible West Indies by Kapil and his crusaders set such an unprecedented crescendo that a mere sport transformed into a national religion in the sub-continent.

But somewhere down the line, the effect of 1983 became a thing of the past and India was increasingly becoming a team of chokers who made a habit of perennially losing the winning games. It went on like this for more than a decade, the presence of the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and occasional victories notwithstanding. And what followed after that was complete disaster. Indian cricket had barely come out of betting allegations when another, and probably the biggest disaster, struck Indian cricket – and that was Greg Chappel! He and his sadistic ego were more interested in proving that Greg was bigger than the game itself. It was incredible that under his egoistic mentorship, players like Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan, who could single handedly devastate any opponent (they proved the same in the recent T20 World Cup), were reduced to complete failures. His mad experiments drained the Indian team that visited the last World Cup (by all counts, the best Indian team) of all confidence and conviction. And the outcome was the shameful disaster in the tournament.

In fact, Greg Chappel’s spell on Indian cricket was so very damaging that it completely eroded the audience’s interest from the game. With that background, when the current team went for the competition, audiences at large were least interested. So, in the final over, as Sreesanth, running back from his short fine leg position, caught the historic missed paddled shot from the Pakistani anchorman, Misbah, the overwhelming frenzied screech from thousands of Indians sitting in Wanderers, Johannesburg, not only reached the by-lanes of Ranchi and Baroda but also ensured that the colossal win and the resultant frenzy thus helped T20 mark a new chapter in the history of cricket. And mark my words, the new version of the game has so much to offer that even the one day version of the game is going to lose its sheen in the course of time. And the five day version is history already! In fact, my conclusion is on account of three reasons. First, like the one day game, which is about emotions, the new Twenty-20 version of the game is also about immaculate precision and nerve, where the margin of error is almost negligible, making it even more competitive. Secondly, it matches the lifestyle of the current generation – it is fast, sleek and complete value for money! In all, it just takes three hours; and even within those three hours, it is packed with electrifying excitement. And thirdly, owing to the fact that South Asia is where cricket is the most established sport and drives the global business of cricket, the final stage to recreate history could not have been bigger and better – a World Cup finals between arch cricketing rivals India and Pakistan!

Finally, let me talk about the team that recreated this bit of cricketing history. In fact, all credit to Dhoni and his astute captaincy. When on field, he reminds me of Kapil Dev – the same aggression while batting and the very same innocent, non-caring raw energy while leading from the front. It was amazing to observe the ease with which each and every player excelled in each department of the game. Every player in the winning squad had a definite role to play. Even debutants like Rohit Sharma and Joginder Sharma excelled and performed like pros, in the process setting new cricketing benchmarks. All thanks to the team for restoring back the enigma called cricket amongst billion fans across the globe!

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