Indulging the Twenty20 debate

I have been reading a lot these days about the so-called success of this format and how it may be the “future of cricket”.

Appropos the following posts:

Vision: Twenty20 (Or, cricket as it can be) — Smoke Signals

India ‘secures future of Twenty20’ — Mukul Kesavan

While all the above pieces are written beautifully, I am afraid I do not share their optimism. Not yet, anyway.

Twenty20 is such a craze today because India won the World Cup in this format.

All the chatter about “quality pitches”, “canny bowlers on equal keel with rampaging batsmen”, “triumph of youth and exuberance” is just a side-show. All this talk would probably have been inconsequential if the final was played between Australia and South Africa (as an aside, most of what Australia seems boring, but everything that South Africa does is boring).

For those of us who have been following cricket for the last decade and a half, it is time to question if we are cricket fans in general or Indian cricket fans. Do we really love the game or do we just want to watch India win ?

The average Indian cricket fan in the 90’s was afflicted by a dangerous virus: lets call it the “switch-off-the-TV-when-Sachin-gets-out” syndrome. Over the years, this virus has survived under various strains: “let-us-demolish-a-cricketer’s-home-when-we-lose-a-match” syndrome,
“let-us-criticize-the-team’s-performance-in-Parliament-instead-of-worrying-about-the-nation” syndrome etc. And it has done well…

So, let us not jump the gun on Twenty20. Its future (in India, atleast) depends on what happens in the next version in 2009.

In fact the above rant is superfluous. Mukul Kesavan himself has written the definitive piece on this …read here.

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Harsha Bhogle clone at Neo Sports

There is this gentleman (the anchor) on Neo Sports who is desperately trying to sound like Harsha Bhogle.

And, he is making a mess of it (like I did there…starting a sentence with “And”) !

… Can someone please tell me if this is just my perception ?

India are champs…Part 5…that fateful last over…

Nicely written piece by Harsha Bhogle here…put me on track to write about something that kept running in my mind — why did Misbah get out ?

Sympathy is a word that has often been used with Misbah-ul-Huq, a fine player who twice brought Pakistan to the brink of victory. He even picked a good shot but found Joginder Sharma didn’t have the pace on the ball to take it beyond the edge of the circle. Misbah will know, more than anyone in world sport at the moment, that the ability to finish games separates the great players from the good. A lot of teams can bring a ball to within three yards of the goal but it requires a great striker to put it at the back of the net. Strikers are valued because they finish moves, great golfers are those that play the 18th as well as the previous 17, even the boxer who dominates a bout needs a finishing punch. Misbah didn’t have it.

While I believe that Misbah did seem to lack the killer instinct, I also believe there are things that need to be looked into. There are lessons in this episode for all those batsmen who, in future, will have to finish off games in the final over.

I have seen quite a few last-over finishes and I have a theory about these things: batsmen will try and finish off the match as early as possible when it goes down to the last over. They will risk playing low-percentage shots, they will go for singles (or twos) that seemed impossible only an over ago. They simply cannot bear to wait. Remember Lance Kluesener in the 1999 World Cup Semi-Final against Australia ?

South Africa needed one run to win with three balls to go. He was in terrific form, having just hit Damien Fleming (one of Australia’s top bowlers in that tournament) for consecutive boundaries. He was SA’s star performer in that tournament.

So, with three balls to go and the Australians at his mercy, what did he do? He went for the most impossible single I have ever seen in international cricket !

People have asked why. He could have waited for 2 more balls. He could have hit the ball past the in-field….in the end, he tried to scamper a single…damp squib !

Coming back to the T20 final, to understand Misbah’s cute shot, we need to go back a week to the league encounter between the two sides. Pakistan needed 1 run off two balls with Misbah on strike. He tried to push the first of those two balls to the offside for that single, failed. Last ball, he did not want to take chances. He went at the ball with his eyes closed. Unfortunately for him, he did not connect and, to add salt to his wounds, was late on the single.

So, here is Misbah in the finals in a similar situation against the same adversary. Chance to make amends. 4 balls to go, 6 to get. He could have waited a couple of balls before launching again into the hapless Joginder Sharma. Or, he could have pinched the gaps for a couple of two’s ….he was seeing the ball well. Sharma was not exactly high on confidence and it was only a matter of time before he bowled that “hit-me” ball again.

But Misbah cannot get his mind off the previous encounter. No, he cannot wait this time, he decides. it has to be now.

Where can I get a four and finish this off for good ? Ohh…fine-leg up, deflection ? scoop ? … deflection may not get the ball past fine-leg at Sharma’s pace…scoop it is then… !

The one thing I was thinking before that shot was played was: no matter what, I don’t think he will hit the ball in the air, especially with only one wicket in hand (the Everton Weekes mode of thinking).

Just goes to show what pressure and past failures can do to a fine mind.

In closing, I like to think of Misbah as some kind of “reverse-Miandad”. What Miandad did to India all those years ago with that last-ball six, Misbah is doing to Pakistan with his “semi-finishes” against India !

Related Posts:

Ongoing “India are champs” series:

India are champs…Part 4…social repurcussions…

India are champs … Part 3 … questions..

India are champs … Part 2 ..Shoaib Malik’s comments

India are champs … Twenty20 Final Highlights

India are champs … Part 1

links for 2007-09-28

links for 2007-09-27

India are champs…Part 4…social repurcussions…

This was bound to happen:

Irked by the “step-motherly treatment” meted out to the Indian hockey players by the central and four state governments, when compared to the sops given to cricketers after their win in the Twenty20 World Cup, the team members have decided to go on a ‘hunger strike’.

Isn’t it ridiculous that the government decides that it can take the taxpayers’ money and do whatever it wants with it ? Look at this, for example. The state governments think nothing of pouring 5,10, even 21 Lakhs into these players.

It is not a question of whether these players deserve to be rewarded or not. The point is, the taxpayer is not supposed to foot the bill for this largesse from the government. India Uncut makes this argument far more compellingly:

If Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sheila Dikshit wish to use India’s victory to make a statement, they should spend their own money. All poor people in this country, from maids to chaprasis to cycle-rickshaw drivers, pay taxes every time they buy anything. It is ludicrous that their hard-earned money, coercively collected by the state, should be spent on cricketers with endorsements that are worth crores.

Well, that is point number 1.

Point number 2 is that Indian Hockey needs to get a life. You cannot spend the careers of thousands of promising hockey players begging for attention, begging for recognition from the government. It is not because the general public has some aversion to hockey that we are in this state today. The coaches, the players et al have to look at the way the game is run, at the way the players are selected.

If there are no stars in the Indian Hockey team, it is because the IHF treats the players like dirt. “Where is Dhanraj Pillay” is a good question to start the search into why hockey is a forgotten sport in India.

Point number 3: I have written before, on this blog, that the job of the government is to provide infrastructure, to put the framework in place, so to speak. We do not want the government to get into the nitty gritty of everyday life. We do not want the government to manage our lives (read “run our lives”) for us.

The job of the government, here, would have been to put the infrastructure for cricket, hockey, badminton, tennis etc in place (the stadiums, the training facilities, the support staff etc) and get out of the way. Let the market economies decide which sport gets top billing. (If it so turns out that cricket outshines every other sport in India, it is just plain unfortunate. You have to accept it and move on. You cannot force the public to watch such and such a game, just like you cannot force-feed such and such movies to us.)

The unfortunate point is that cricket is the star of the show. The government needs votes. So, it will go after the star…never mind the fact that it has hardly done anything for cricket either. (rewarding players with cash does not help the game. However much you bring in the “incentive” angle, I will not agree to that) . It is vote-bank politics at its best (worst ?)

Asking the government to give cash to achievers in other sports is not the answer. Hockey should ask for better facilities, better administration. In fact, hockey should ask the government to leave them alone so they might improve !

Related Posts:

Ongoing “India are champs” series:

India are champs…Part 5…that fateful last over…

India are champs … Part 3 … questions..

India are champs … Part 2 ..Shoaib Malik’s comments

India are champs … Twenty20 Final Highlights

India are champs … Part 1

links for 2007-09-26