February 17, 2015 marked an important date in the life of cricket’s most nascent form – Twenty20 international cricket completed ten years on that day. The format has exploded and caught the public imagination thanks to the Indian victory at the inaugural T20 World Cup and the consequent invention of the IPL, now in its eighth season. But what of those more innocent times when T20 still had that new format smell and Mohammed Asif was still playing cricket? I present to you an article I had written about the format & its coming World Cup for The Sunday Indian magazine in September 2007. It is always fascinating to see what we thought then, and what came to pass.
Would You Like Fries With The Cricket? By Tareque Laskar
There was a time when getting to 300 runs in a 50 over limited overs cricket match was considered a towering task. Now, as recently as last week a Sri Lankan, Dhanuka Pathirana, smashed the last remaining reservations with a mind numbing 277 off 72 balls (29 sixes and 18 fours) helping his side Austerlands (a minor county in Lancashire’s Saddleworth league) to 366-3 in 20, yes twenty overs! That, in short, is the frenzy of the latest brand of cricket to hit the international block—the ever exciting truncated form known as Twenty20. And the frenzy builds up to a crescendo as we approach the inaugural Twenty20 world cup in South Africa, featuring 12 teams. As you read this, the excitement would have begun to unfold in the fast paced and action packed world of the brave new frontier of cricket playing itself out on the gorgeous grounds in South Africa. Coming as it does only a mere 4 and half months after the ‘real’ world cup, the tournament is whipping up rapture and resentment in equal measure. Experts are split down the middle between those who see it as indulging in excess despite a packed international calendar, and those who consider Twenty20 as the format of the future. The fans wait with an equal measure of anticipation and apathy. There are ones who can’t get enough of the big hitting and the others who feel it’s a travesty of the game. And the analogies don’t seem to stop—the McDonaldisation of cricket, they have called it. And if One Day cricket earned the nickname ‘Pajama Cricket’ Navjot Sidhu called Twenty20 ‘underwear cricket’!
At the time of writing, the number of Twenty20 internationals held stood at a mere 19 since the first match (a fun and frolic filled hit about at Eden Park in Auckland between Australia and New Zealand) back in 2005. Originally a county innovation implemented in 2003 by the England and Wales cricket board that met with rousing success (fulfilling the administrators’ mission to broaden the audience and rekindle fan interest in the county game), the format only grudgingly gained international acceptance.
But soon, it was on its way to becoming serious stuff. England took their Twenty20 match against Australia very seriously in the summer of 2005 and their win turned a remarkable summer on its head as they went on to reclaim the Ashes. India too have had a taste of Twenty20, though only once against South Africa which ended in a win. And if you take a look at the squads of the 12 teams at the competition (10 full ICC members by invitation and the associates went through a qualifying process), the youth factor is prominent. Twenty20 has become ideal grooming ground for youngsters (Zee with its proposed Indian Cricket League also envisions the same, though so far mostly retirees have signed up) both technically as well as psychologically to steel them to face the pressures of bigger games.
Although underestimated, the cerebral aspect of the game in T20 cannot be ignored. The thinking will be pushed to a whole new dimension lending new meaning to the phrase ‘thinking on your feet’. And of course, the regular cricket skills will have to be sharper (hence the youth) especially fielding which most experts reckon will be the thin line dividing the good teams from the great teams in the T20 arena. The craftsmen most under duress would be the bowlers who will be put to the sword as dashing batsmen go hell for leather. But bowlers, especially high impact ones like a Shoaib Akhtar or Mohammed Asif (who’s bowled the only T20 maiden so far) can still swing things with a quick wicket or two. Expecting the batsmen to go after the bowling with a mixture of extravagant and inventive shots would be par for the course, but those who can do it with chutzpah will emerge the batting stars at the tournament.
Whether Twenty20 becomes the new global face of cricket or remains a fad, only time will tell. We do not know as yet if this form becomes a force to reckon with or is reduced to a farce, but one thing is for sure—it’s like the quintessential Hollywood summer blockbuster; leave your intellect behind, fasten your seat belts and get ready to enjoy some blazing action!