The 20-20 World Cup: a survey of the tournament

September 30, 2007

I was very skeptical about this tournament when it began earlier this month, curiosly prickled upon watching the innaugural match of the home side against West Indies and glued to it after watching only a few matches.

The T-20 has been called a lottery by Kevin Peitersen and although it may be called that at times, it is also a test of talent and grit. You can win/lose a T-20 match in just one over, a stark contrast to its 50 over sibling which allows the teams to  consolidate, change gears, re-think strategy, etc. I think the best thing that came out of this for the cricketing world in general is that it proved that the game can win in this format and true talent could outshine the bigger names. Good old fashioned cricketing skills: good batting, fielding, bowling, and standard strategy is all you need to succeed in this version. What seemed to be a batsman’s game turned out as much a bowler’s game. It’s not like you cannot pace the innings in a T-20 game; a classic example of this is how India batted their way to victory in almost every game. Slogging alone cannot take you through: Bangladesh and Sri Lanka might have learnt this the hard way.

Enough about the format, here are some quickies on the some aspects of this tournament:

1. Fearless cricket: Young and fearless goes the adage; India and Bangladesh stand out for just that. Many Indian fans watched gaping as the Bangladeshi top order fearlessly (though recklessly) ripped the South African bowling the dead-rubber game. Although they lost wickets quickly, their positive spirit was apparent; they only needed to perfect some of the basics to build a successful team. If Indian fans who watched the Bangladesh-South Africa match were wondering “Why are’nt our batsmen so fearless or attacking”, they were answered very shortly. In this tournament, India, I think are the perfect examples of fearless cricket with the right proportions of caution, recklessness, agility and last not definitely not least, “never-say-die” atttitude.

2. Batting: There’s no dispute that this was a batsman’s game. Strokeplay will reward, calculated risks pay dividends, and old-fashioned running between wickets can win matches. Some of the impressive batsmen from this tourament: Mathew Hayden, Mohammed Ashraful, Kumar Sangakkara, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Chris Gayle, Brenden McCullum.

3. Bowling: Wicket taking can win matches here, and this semblance to Test cricket made the watching the T-20 matches very thrilling. Good old fashioned line and length, swing and change of pace makes a huge difference. Best bolwing from this tournament: RP Singh, Mohammed Asif, Umar Gul, Daniel Vettori, Stuart Clark, Irfan Patan, Sreeshant.

4. Fielding: India, South Africa, and Sri Lanka did well in this department. Best fielding display: Karthik’s blinder of a catch at slip in the match against South Africa, Uthappa’s direct hit to cause the run-out of Imran Nazir in the T-20 Final.

5. Umpiring: was top notch for this tournament. I don’t remember seeing any controversial lbws, or any rightful appeal turned down. Best Umpire for this tournament: Simon Taufel.

6. Commentary: almost as entertaining as the games themselves. Best commentary range: Ravi Shastri, David “Bumble” Lloyd and Harsh Bhogle for excitement, Nasser Hussain for honest and fair commentary. Other noteworthy mention: Ian Chappel for his snideness.

7. Teams to watch out for: Bangladesh, definitely. This group of youngsters have talent; they only need more practice. India on the other hand seem to a new, positive face now; although this tournament may not be the best yardstick to judge a cricket team, success in this format surely must count for something. The new Indian team has given a nation faith that their favorite game will be in good hands after the Tendulkar-Ganguly-Dravid trio bow out of the cricketing arena.

T-20 Final: Some great moments

September 29, 2007

Allright, I realize this post comes a little late, but I really can’t resist this. So here are some of my picks for great moments from the T-20 World Cup Final (in no-specific order). I rate these as great moments because of emotional appeal and/or match-swinging action so typical of an India-Pakistan match.  

1. Anthems of India and Pak being played
2. Yousuf Pathan walking out to bat for the first time in T-20
3. Yousuf Pathan’s 6 off Asif
4. Gul’s getting Dhoni
5. Sharma’s six in the death overs (it might have been a four, if it hadn’t been for the Pak fielder).
6. The first Pak wicket
7. Nazir’s runout 
8. Shahid Afridi’s wicket
9. Irfan Pathan’s double wicket over
10. Misbah’s consecutive 6s in the 17th over
11. Joginder Sharma being given the last over
12. Sreesanth’s catch to India’s sensational “almost not there” victory
13. Team India’s reaction to the victory
14. MSD gifting his shirt to a young fan: what was interesting here is how the media portrayed this later comparing it to Ganguly’s shirt waving on the Lord’s balcony after winning the NatWest series. This was not the adrenaline filled fist pumping action, but seemed to be a calm yet emotional moment for Dhoni. What was more touching was to see him help the lad put it on. A class act by a young leader!
15. Shoaib Malik’s apology to fans. (It seemed to be an honest and honorable one, but what I thought was unnecessary was the way he pulled the religion card. Pakistan still think they are a Muslim nation and that all Muslims belong there, don’t they?)
16. MSD’s bordering arrogant “We deserve a big celebration”. (But I guess he can be forgiven for he had just won the World Cup; however, I don’t think he would have even remote expected the celebration and welcome they were to recieve in Mumbai on arrival).
17. Ravi Shastri’s commentarry (the final over) and the teary eyed man at the presentation ceremony!

India win cricket World Cup: anecdotes from an electrifying final

September 25, 2007

Long time since I blogged; reason: 20-20 World Cup. Initially I was very skeptical about this (see my post earlier this month), however, many matches turned out to be good entertainers. This post is dedicated to the finale, so detailed T-20 tournament comments will follow in another post.

 So, it was 4:30 PM IST when offices around where I work started to empty; “It’s at five” said some passers by as they nervously checked their watches and buzzed off on their vehicles; there were traffic jams on the road; people rushing to get home or to a TV. If you ask why, then I dont fancy I can explain it to you. What else could get all these people so excited other than an India-Pakistan cricket match; and its not a one-off match, a league match, or just any tournament; this was the 20-20 World Cup Final and there is no denying that fans of neither countries would not have expected to see this; at least not when they arrived in South Africa for this “little giggle” as Aussie Captain Ricky Ponting puts it.

As millions of supporters for both teams watched, hearts beating audibly, the anthems of the countries played, as the slightly teary eyed team sang along. The toss had been won by India, and Mahendra Singh “MSD” Dhoni opted to bat first and post a total of around 180 on the Wanderers ground that has seen 400+ runs being succesfully chased. But that not to be. The drama began a little earlier, when Virendar Sehwag, the explosive Indian opened was declared unfit; it started to unfold when Yousuf Patan, walked out to open the Indian innings on T-20 debut!

India had a good first three overs, before Pakistan started to put the breaks. The men in blue could get mostly only singles and those that got near the boundary were well fielded. The loss of wickets without too many runs on the board, saw Yuvaraj Singh, the danger man in the Indian lineup, come in early and knock the ball around for singles rather than hitting over the top. As the run rate only inched up by tenths each over, Yuvraj went for the kill only to sacrifice himself to Umar Gul, the pick of the Pak bowlers. As more hearts raced, Dhoni came and went without much ado; another star batsman falling to Gul. Credit must be given to Gambir, who hung around long enough to take charge and dance down the wicket to hit a few very useful boundaries. The last few overs saw some useful runs from Rohit Sharma who finished unbeaten for 30 from just 16 balls. India had finished their 20 for just 157 runs. This seemed OK to the Indian fan, who at one point (after the wickets of Yuvraj and Dhoni) were wondering if India would get to 140.

Pakistan seemed to quite pleased with themselves, having restricted to India to 3 less than their target of 160 and started to smell victory and to break a 16 year jinx of losing to India in a World Cup match; and what an occasion for that! The Indians interestingly were not distraught, neither were they jubilant. What was apparent however was their hunger for victory and “never-say-die” attitude.

As the Pak batsmen took their ground and the first ball of RP Singh, went for a wide, my heart started to beat a little faster; some jubilation was found in the 1st over as RP scalped Hafeez seeing Pak one down for only 2. So I sat up with a brave heart, only to see Sreesant give away many from mediocrely pitched balls. The next over, saw another wicket fall to RP Singh and Kamran Akmal, promoted up the Pak batting order was walking back with only single figures to his name.

Then the see-saw began to sway back and forth taking a million hearts affluter with its sway. This India-Pakistan match was not for the faint hearted. Superstitions seems to running wild now; I refused to move from my seat, for it seemed to bring good luck. As Pakistan wickets fell, I heard the entire neighborhood scream “Yay” and I could swear that my exclaimation of “Yessssss” on Afridi’s wicket was one of the loudest! India seemed to have victory in their grasp now.

 However, so typical of an India-Pakistan match, just when you would think one team had the upper hand, another would recover and grab the hand with a jab. This time it was Misbah Ul Haq and Sohail Tanvir who togather scored over 30 runs in two over seeing Pak from 100-7 to 131-7. Hearts started to thump as Sreeshant came in to bowl the penultimate over. More runs followed, but Sreeshant got Tanvir, the ball after he was hit for a 6 and dismissed him with an expletive which I can imagine coming from the mouths of many Indian fans!

The last over, who would bowl? Pak needed 12 runs, with only 1 wicket in hand. Another surprize came in when Jogindar Sharma, the rookie bowler was brought on. Some wondered if the Sharma misfortune from the Sharjah cup years ago, would be seen again. First ball, wide; second 6. India seemed to lose hope. Something needed to happen, a wicket, definitely; it didnt matter how. Pakistan were one stroke away from breaking their 16 year jinx again thier arch-rivals in the World Cup final. India were about the bowl the four most important balls for many years to come. This was the very ground they played in the 2003 World Cup Final and lost. Now, it seemed like history might repeat itself. Sharma ran down and bowled the thrid ball of the 19th over and Misbah walked forward to execute a cute paddle shot to see Pakistan only 1 run away if not through. But a strange form of luck seemed to be with Sreeshant, as he pouched the catch of the World Cup and a distraugh and shocked Misbah collapsed on the field. India had won the T-20 final by 5 runs!

Shock and disbelief seemed to be the emotion on the field and off for many fans from both sides. Had India really won this time in a tournament final? Had Pakistan really lost this?

No words can describe this moment; one that many Indians would give anything for. To see the World Cup lifted in their lifetime; a historic moment that would be cherished by every Indian cricket fan for a lifetime.

In retrospect, T-20 has been much more than just a giggle; it seemed to be a test of temperment, team-spirit, nerves, skill, and self-belief. Two fearless teams with nothing to lose reached the final after being laughed off for being in the “underdog” group; the one with more presence of mind won. The test of nerves proved India T-20 Champions and let that not take away anything from the talent of these young lads. I have much more to say about the final, the reactions of the players, the tournament and what it will bring, but I’m afraid will have to wait a few days. Until then, pump your fists and sing along “Chak de, India!”

Another Cricket World Cup?

September 11, 2007

And so we are there at this 20-20 world cup. Somehow it doesn’t feel like the World Cup, at least to me. The format is a little bizarre, a bowler nightmare and also a perhaps a nightmare to teams like India, England and New Zealand who don’t chase very well. For a side like India, with the fielding being how it has been, their chances are bound to be further reduced.

Moving on, I think we will see sides like Bangladesh and Scotland getting the attention that they deserve; they both upset monsters India and Pakistan in the traditional World Cup in March and due to their capabilities of having a few very good overs, are likely to pull off some interesting “upsets”, if we are allowed to use the term in this form of the game; and I say that because, I think all teams have a equal chance here; experience of the game or the format won’t matter too much: for there is little time for tactics, strategy and things as such in a game whose format is very much “right-here-right-now”.

 As for the change in the rule with respect to the free-hits, I think we will see very little when experienced-quality sides like South Africa, Australia and their likes clash and are likely to see free-hits conceded by the “less regimented” sides like India, Pakistan and England. Don’t expect Bangladesh and Scotland to concede the free-hits, they might have had more practice geared towards the 20-20!

The series opener today will see South Africa and West Indies clash and think West Indies might bag this one!

I’ll sign off after a quick ‘un today, 20-20 style! Happy Slog-viewing!

Of nail-biting thrillers and retirement rumors

September 7, 2007

What was nail-biting? Well what else could have been the past few days? The 6th ODI in the NatWest series was an edge-of-seat-don’t-switch-places finish.

Unpredicatability showed its dreamy face every now and then. In the beginning, India dominated: got early wickets, fielded well (probably the best in this series), and didn’t give anything away. Apart from all of that, there seemed to be a lot of spirit in the team: a thirst to win, not just to stay alive in the series. All was well until the youthful 20-20 specialists walked on the crease. Luke Wright was mighty surprize, but was India’s dismay; Owais Shah started out rather edgily, but went for the kill after his half-century; Mascarenas murdered the part-time bowling of Yuvraj, making a mockery of his bowling by logding 5 from the over for 6 a piece, and of Dravid’s captaincy which saw Yuvraj bowling the last over, when Powar, a much-better option had another one left. The last 100 runs of the England innings came from the last 8 overs. With 317 to win, and India’s abysmal record of chasing, the series seemed to be over, almost un-wrenchably gripped in England’s hands.

To be fair, one thing must be said about India’s chasing record: they may fail to chase 250 against South Africa one day, 230 again England on another, but successfuly chase 330+ against South Africe and 326 against England on another. Rare are such occasions, but they speak volumes about the abilities of the star-studded Indian batting line up.

Tendulkar and Ganguly set the tone of the chase. The boundary that came off Ganguly’s bat from the 1st over made his intensions clear; even the most depressed Indian supporter would have sat up from the slumped posture he might have been in, awakened by the flicker of hope that maybe, just maybe, it might happen this time. Tendulkar played one the most aggressive innings in the recent past, which was reminiscent of his youthful days of power and exuberance; this onslaught of the duo saw them go past another century partnership.

India were 150 without loss in under 30 overs and things seemed to going fine, until Pietersen took a brilliant catch to dismiss Ganguly. Tendulkar followed shortly thereafter, falling to Panesar, again only a few runs short of his century. Perhaps that was due to his cramps, or the loss of concentration on its account, but Panesar’s reaction to Tendulkar’s wicket told a story: there was no Bhangra dance, just a sigh of ‘Thank-you-God’ relief, a testament to who Tendulkar really is, and what he can do to a bowler. Three other batsmen came, made their contributions and went.

Dhoni and Uthappa were the crease, needing over 70 runs in less than 50 balls. Nail-bitters digged deeper into what was left of thier nails. Dhoni seemed to pull off every cheeky and cute shot, but fell due to a rather poor one. Uthappa was joined by Agarkar; and it was chaos galore: run-out chances became extra runs, misfields let to boundaries, but the young Uthappa kept his cool and stayed ground when Agarkar leapt off his for a non-existant run only to run himself out. Zaheer followed with 10 needed on 7 balls and returned falling to another run out. It seemed as though Uthappa would run out of partners from mere run-outs! The last over began, with an ask of 8: the first ball of it was a dot ball, the second a boundary, and not a straight forward one; it was a cutest of paddle shots played to fine leg after much ‘thinking-on-the-feet’ by Uthappa; 3 balls remained, 4 runs required; fielder came up at fine leg,; Uthappa was on strike; Broad to Uthappa; Uthappa stepped down the track, and hit the ball down the ground which missed a desperate England fielder and ran away for four. The winning stroke was hit was a hero was born!

The presentation ceremony saw an ungaurded Dravid and an emotional Tendulkar. Questions must be asked here. Was Tendulkar emotional only because of India’s victory or was there more to it? Did he think he might not be able to play the decided at Lords? Did he think he was nearing the end of his ODI career? It was rather saddenning to see him struggle up to the dressing room after his wicket fell earlier in the day. What was even more bizzare was the retirement speculation that followed the historic victory. Cricinfo reported here that Tendulkar might retire from the shortened version of the game at home after the series against Australia and Pakistan; this was followed by another report where Tendulkar allegedly denies the rumors, and then another stating that the denial was by the India administration manager, not Tendulkar.

 I think it is not just sad, but bad to report such rumours when the man is in sublime form. Should Tendulkar retire now or not? I think he has at least couple of years of it left, but he is the best judge of that; not Greg Chappell, not Ian Chappell, not you, not me and definitely not the media. It remains to be seen if Tendulkar reaches the milestone 50 ODI centuries or 100 ODI half centuries; only God and the master himself can tell.