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Monday, September 24, 2007


CRICKET Twenty20 India - 0
Thousands of sub-continental cricket fanatics were on the high veld here with all their flag-waving, jingoism and obsession for the game.

In the end, skipper MS Dhoni's men triumphed over Pakistan in a nerve-shredding match by five runs.

Master blaster Yuvraj Singh did not hit a single six as opener Gautam Gambhir provided the ballast to India's total of 157-5 with 75 including one six that crashed into the electronic scoreboard.

In reply Pakistan lost wickets at regular intervals with none of their middle-order big guns making a telling contribution.

Their demise was complete when Misbah- ul-Haq's attempt to flick Johinder Sharma over fine leg was caught by Sri Sreesanth.

This event has been an unqualified success in contrast to the poor format and meaningless matches during the 50-over World Cup this year. Dhoni said: "I will treasure this for the rest of my life."

India crushed all the preconceived ideas about Twenty20 — they had played just one match in the format before this event.

Dhoni won the toss but only Gambhir looked fluent against Pakistan's attack.

Yuvraj struggled with an elbow problem and his 14 runs came from a pedestrian 19 balls.

But Rohit Sharma caned 30 runs from 16 deliveries at the end of India's innings.

In Pakistan's reply, Imran Nazir belted 21 from Sreesanth's opening over before RP Singh took two important early wickets. Then match-of-the-match Irfan Pathan grabbed three more.

But Misbah whacked Harbhajan Singh for two sixes and No 9 Tanvir Sohail twice deposited Sreesanth over the boundary.

Misbah hit another six early in Sharma's final over before perishing. Cue the most manic celebrations imaginable.


India ran out winners by 5 runs in the finals of the Twenty20 World Cup, in a game which belied the adage that "youth knows no fear". As the match progressed, it was increasingly dominated by one player after another wilting under pressure. Shahid Afridi might be the sole exception, for his dismissal was not down to fear or pressure, but to Afridi. He will have the tournament's Most Valuable Player award to show for his effort in South Africa - albeit a Pyrrhic MVP if such a thing is possible. In a career built on spurts of crazy talent and crazed brainwaves, this was yet another celebrated episode.

It was cricket as it was meant to be played, I guess - on the village green. Batsmen getting out caught at mid off and in the deep of medium pacers and bowlers bowling it all over the place. And in the end, India were left standing, mainly because Pakistan shot themselves in the foot too many times to give them any chance of ending up on two feet. Misbah Ul Haq was the lone exception, and he seemed to be the only batsman with any sense of perspective. After Shanthakumaran Sreesanth had yet another mercurial bout (they should invent a 'Sreesanthometer' to measure his blow-hot-blow-cold efforts) and delivered unmitigated rubbish in his first over, to basically hand the match to Pakistan (after that 20 run over, all they needed was 7.5 an over for 18 overs with 10 wickets in hand, something which an ODI side of today would be disappointed to fail at), the Pakistan batsmen outdid him. Imran Nazir showed why he hasn't made his career in the more serious forms of the game. Younis Khan played a disappointing shot - you would expect a batsman of his quality to not lose his head in that fashion.

India for their part, Sreesanth apart, were admirably restrained. Accurate medium pace, bowled deliberately (read - where they wanted to land it), reminiscent of Kapil's devils of 1983 seemed to be the order of the day. In the end, they delivered fewer bad balls. Irfan Pathan showed why he is so highly thought of with a cerebral display of control in the big game. With the bat, India had what Pakistan didn't - one batsman batting through and ensuring a total on the board.

All in all, it was a game which revealed Twenty20 for what it is - if you ignore the contest between bat and ball, which in Twenty20 is pretty random, things happen quite fast - fast enough to suit the impatience of the television viewer. The pace is just right to ensure that there are very few lulls between bouts of "excitement". Even a ball which is played normally for a single or for no runs invites a response. It is like watching just the slog overs of an ODI game, or the last session of an exciting Test match. It is like watching Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, waiting with bated breath for the next melodramatic moment, except, unlike that shocking waste of everything, you don't know what the next week's story will be.

India won though. After the early exit from the World Cup and all the rubbish the ensued, all of India's cricketers have shamed the Indian cricketing public by going about their business in exemplary fashion. First, the first choice team beat South Africa in England, and then beat England in England. The Natwest result was a disappointing reverse, and the players will know that they lost a series they should have won. Now, the man whose house (under construction) was vandalized on television after that World Cup, has taken on the leadership of the side, and led well. They won a tournament beating the best teams in the world. It is why our cricketers are special. I feel culpable and guilty about the way India's cricketers were treated after the World Cup. I had no part in what happened, and I wrote about it a great deal then, but I still feel culpable. Here are excellent sportsmen, who have worked exceedingly hard all their lives to achieve a level of excellence which enables them to compete on equal terms with the best in the world, and all they find at the end of it all is the fickle interest of an ignorant, inadequate mass - consisting not just of poor people who's only pleasure is to watch a game of cricket at the end of a hard days back breaking labour, but of educated professionals and businessmen - middle class people like you and me - who love nothing more than to win our victories off the backs of young sportsmen. We abuse them for earning good money, and we abuse them if they don't win.

In a tournament where the cricket was completely random, fate has handed India's young players a just reward. In my view, we owe them an apology, not our congratulations. Dhoni doesn't need his home rebuilt, but the absolute assurance that it will never happen again. If he cannot be assured of this, then fast forward two years from now, and Dhoni in 2010 will be today's Dravid
CRICKET Twenty20 India - 0

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