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Play To Win

The time for the old is up and it should be allowed to rest in peace because the new is too brash and aggressive. The T20 format has nanoed the 5-day game to three and half hours of instant nirvana.

Play To Win
Play To Win

We, the north Indians, have never experienced a summer like this before -- the weather gods have been unbelievably generous. Any threat of sweat-rivulets appearing on the forehead has been thwarted by wafts of Shimla-like cool breeze. The ‘climate change’, at least in these parts of the world, is too good to be true. Like the French say ‘il fait beau’, for us the past six weeks were incredibly delightful -- the mercury rarely touched the dreadful 40s as we feasted on the turbo-charged Indian Premier League. Let us hope the good run with the weather continues as we move on from the IPL to the equally entertaining Euro Cup.

But my fear is whether, with the close of this season's T20 league, I will have to go back to the days when enjoying a game of cricket meant that I spend a whole day -- or maybe two or three, depending on my doggedness level of that week -- to deconstruct the nuances and subtleties of the sport that, by the time it gets completed, may not even throw up a winner. God save me from those gentlemen in white flannels who languidly walk only half the park to reach the 22-yard strip and upon arrival feel vindicated for getting the job done well by just managing to spend the first couple of hours of the game in displaying their skills on how to leave the ball alone. Would we again have to put up plaques for these stroke-less wonders of the game who bored at least two generations in their playing days, showcasing for the hapless spectator their expansive repertoire of cricketing shots and their correctness in executing them rather than scoring runs off them which, by the way, is the primary demand of the game? Will I have to suffer a Brian Lara scoring another 400 meaningless runs that would only elevate himself in the record books but contribute nothing in deciding which team was the winner at the end of five days, fifteen sessions and in the excess of 1920 balls bowled and played, missed or well-left?

Imagine the hopelessness of watching Bishan Singh Bedi clap every time Imran Khan hit him for a six in a test match that India eventually lost. But that was how the game of cricket was played -- by gentlemen. But what about the spectator, who had to frequently put up with such placid showings? The spectator likes to see blood on the floor not camaraderie between rival teams. If the primary objective of competitive team sport is to pitch two rival teams to fight to a finish and thereby keep the audience in its thrall then what meaning is it of a sport that expects its spectator to engage himself in watching a partnership between Anshuman Gaekwad and Ravi Shastri, bat practically the whole day employing just one scoring shot -- the forward defensive push? To witness one great match winning inning in test cricket you would have suffered a hundred worthless innings of little consequence.

The time for the old is up and it should be allowed to rest in peace because the new is too brash and aggressive. The T20 format has nanoed the 5-day game to three and half hours of instant nirvana. You saw hat-tricks taken, maidens bowled, bowlers learning the power of the dot ball, batsmen finding new ways to score, fielders discovering new vigour in chasing the ball. You saw regular close finishes, you saw match saving innings. And above all you saw both the competing teams play with only one objective: play to win the game. Look at all other games that are played internationally. Except for test cricket, in which other game will you find that one of the two teams playing is doing so to achieve a no result?

In a country that has so little to write home about its sporting muscle in any sport that is played internationally, we finally have found a format in a sport in which we can claim some proficiency. The best part is that it also has the energy and the appeal of a global sport.

If cricket has any chance of attaining the status of a global sport, T20 is the only answer. It is fast, furious and merciless. The boys need not grow up to be men to be knighted. In this format, the glorified can hold on to the pedestal only on the basis of how they lasted the three and a half hours. Great bowlers got rewarded handsomely. Strategies worked, deceptions mattered. The bests were among wickets, maidens and dot balls. All stoke-makers made the bookmakers take a re-look at what they are capable of, age notwithstanding. Class showed because it had to be showcased only for twenty overs. Fieldsmen chased the ball like sprinters and perhaps for the first time we had an inkling that no longer we will have to see players of this outdoor sport playing the game in a way that would force them to put on woolens to keep themselves warm while playing the game.

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