May 25, 2020
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Grace Endures

No one-off this. For, T20 is a mini essay on basics—with a flourish.

Grace Endures
Grace Endures
Mahendra Singh Dhoni may have said he loves to live in the present but he has also seen the future. "T20 cricket will catch up in India," the Indian captain gushed after his team won the the ICC World Twenty20 crown. "People in India love sixes and fours...the excitement of it all. We did have a domestic T20 tournament but I think it will now catch up and people will turn up in good numbers. It is going to be huge in India."

It's not as if all agree with Dhoni. But even those who differ aren't categorical. Australian coach Tim Nielsen, for instance, hopes T20 doesn't become cricket's future—yet isn't averse to its existence altogether. "It is difficult to tell where Twenty20 will go. It will be interesting to see how one-off T20 games are delivered and how the players accept them," he notes. Nielsen may have a point there, what with the International Cricket Council placing an embargo on its members not playing more than three home matches and four away games a year. "We will play a lot of one-day cricket because of its (relatively longer) history. It would be hard for T20 to take over too quickly," Nielsen says, but doesn't show any alacrity to write it off altogether. "We have a real job to make sure that it maintains its vitality and vibrant quality among the cricketing public, and can drag in new people to the gates. If we can do that, I think T20 will slot well with one-day and Test cricket."

Such comments only go to show there is a certain degree of consensus that T20 cricket will bring new dynamics into the game. Australian wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist says T20 is a "positive" for the game. "On face value, I think it's going to improve one-day cricket, create more interest in the game," he maintains. "Only that we are still wondering how it will change each team's approach in the 50-over game." Gilchrist isn't sure T20 will do much to Test cricket—the ultimate format of the game every cricketer wants to play. About T20's own future, Gilchrist hedges his bets: "It will be interesting to see the one-off T20 games now, if there is nothing really up for grabs (no cup to take, nor a series to win)."

Indeed, traditionalists can start breathing easy: T20 is not about to corrupt cricket technique. If anything, it has placed a premium on those who have a sound grip on technique and are prepared to stick to the basics. It was interesting to watch how batsmen and bowlers alike had to draw from their skills to make an impact. We saw England's Kevin Pietersen employ the powerful reverse sweep—well, it is a left-hander's sweep that he played—but it's a stroke that has been around in ODIs for some years now, an accepted coinage. At the ICC World Cup 2007, we also watched Bangladesh's Mohammed Ashraful paddle the ball over the wicket-keeper—and very creatively at that, much to India's chagrin. Even so, orthodoxy continues to find its productive role. No batsman who was strolling all over the crease was able to connect the ball as sweetly as one who preferred being still and read the ball as it left the bowler's hands. As ex-cricketer Ajay Jadeja noted recently, teams are learning that T20 is not about blindly slogging as many runs as possible—you need to be brainy and adaptable too. In fact, copybook shots dominated the ICC World T20. Equally notable was that among bowlers, spinners like Shahid Afridi, Daniel Vettori and Harbhajan Singh more than held their own while the quicker bowlers made a huge impact with variations.

"T20 has proved to be not a young man's game but a good cricketer's game," says Sussex coach Mark Robinson in the official souvenir. "Of course, you have got to have the enthusiasm to throw yourself around but it's more than that. It's about players with highly developed multi-dimensional skills. " This was the fact Dhoni cited to justify the exclusion of leg-spinner Piyush Chawla from the squad against New Zealand. "If Piyush plays, we are one batsman short, someone who can slog at the end," he said. "We are relying on batsmen or bowlers who can bat. Pathan, Harbhajan and Agarkar can contribute with the bat."

Bowl out was a novelty one saw at ICC T20

Arguably, T20 is a demanding game, offering little room for errors. It certainly isn't for those who are not thinking on their feet. That said, Gilchrist doesn't believe that captaining a side in T20 is more demanding than ODIs. "It all goes pretty quick," he says. "Three hours is only half-a-game that we are used to. I thought Dhoni captained beautifully against us, chose the right times to bowl those bowlers in the last three or four overs. It didn't look like he was finding it a strain. It moves quickly but you have to think on your feet. (Yet) it is not overly draining compared to the longer versions of the game."

Clearly, T20 is fated to be more than an occasional circus that rolls into town for the kids. But the challenge before administrators is to use T20 to improve the structure of the longer form of limited-overs and Test cricket. To its credit, the ICC is not rushing headlong into T20. For the moment, it is content with having claimed ownership of an exciting new product. Says its CEO Malcolm Speed: "We are keen that it is used by counties, provinces and states to draw people to domestic cricket. We will have the next ICC World Twenty20 event in England in '09. The executive board will then decide on how T20 would go forward. We are committed to the Champions Trophy in 2008 and '10."

He believes the ICC needs to blend the three to ensure the pie gets bigger and is divided among the three forms of the game. "Our priority will be to preserve Test cricket," says Speed. "We need to make sure that Test cricket remains the iconic form of the game. And 50-over cricket is the financial driver of the game. It's one of the challenges we face to make sure the three forms of the game remain vibrant. It's a terrific problem to have."

The ICC, with a disastrous and boring World Cup 2007 behind it, is delighted beyond words at the quality of competition witnessed in T20. "We thought it would be well received in South Africa. But it has exceeded our expectations...the reception by the public, the media and the players," Speed says.

T20 also promises to bring in countries not known for their passion for the game. As Speed points out, "It has appealed to a larger fan-base and has been widely covered in China—and the US, where cricket is already a niche sport. T20 is the perfect vehicle for cricket to develop in new go after those markets. T20 is a great opportunity to do that."

As for the cheerleaders, opinions may vary. Pakistan great Imran Khan finds them a "distraction"—when the game "itself is good intoxication." Now, that's one more vote for T20.

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