Excitement is the name of the game

The purists might squirm, but Twenty20 cricket is bound to catch on, writes S. Dinakar.

On a jazzy night at the Wanderers, India finally won a game in South Africa. Its debut in Twenty20 cricket was auspicious indeed. "This is an exciting form of the game. Very fast paced. It could catch on in India," said stand-in captain Virender Sehwag.

Twenty20 has enormous possibilities in India. The crowd would relish the batsmen playing big shots. It is another matter that the bowlers would be marginalised further. There are some who consider Twenty20 as cricket's worst nightmare. Others see it as a form of celebration, as cricket's future.

The format was born out of a feeling that one-day cricket was getting too monotonous and predictable. Limited overs cricket's latest offshoot, it was believed, would give the game a new dimension.

Path-breaking or not, it at least gave a beleaguered team something to smile about. The Indians celebrated, at last.

Dinesh Karthik was the match-winner. The wicket-keeper batsman's footwork is organised. He, thus, collects his runs smartly without resorting to crude methods. He despatched left-arm spinner Robin Peterson over mid-wicket for a six off the first ball of the 20th over. India, chasing 127, had required nine off the last over.

After Karthik's strike off the first ball, there was hardly any doubt about the outcome. His fluent 31 was further indication of the fact that he has a future as a batsman.

"I was told by the team-management that batting was my priority on this tour. Now, I have six slots to aim at," said a confident Karthik.

Sehwag blitzed away at the start, finding gaps and hitting the ropes. Dinesh Mongia, who has experience in this format thanks to his county stint, consolidated with some firm on-side strokes and a telling six over cover off Albie Morkel. He top-scored with 38.

Then, Karthik piloted India home with six wickets remaining.

South Africa was without a few of its key players such as Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock, Mark Boucher, Makhaya Ntini, and Andre Nel. Youngsters like Albie Morkel and Johan van der Wath, both pace bowling all-rounders, did showcase their talent; the former slog-swept Harbhajan Singh out of the ground for one of the biggest sixes at the venue. "We have depth in our cricket," said selection panel chief Haroon Lorgat.

Swing bowler Charl Langeveldt bowled well, as did Van der Wath, still it was not quite like Ntini, Pollock and Nel firing at the Indians.

Earlier, Zaheer Khan bowled quite beautifully, seaming the ball both ways. He once again consumed Graeme Smith, who opted to bat. Ajit Agarkar struck early too, and South Africa lost four quick wickets. Justin Kemp, the impressive Morkel and Van der Wath enabled the host reach a fighting total, although India came back well towards the end. The Indian fielding, however, was patchy.

South Africa will be hosting the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in September 2007 — Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban have been selected as venues — and much importance is being attached to this format here.

India could have a more experienced side in this form of the game by then. Twenty20 is bound to catch on. This is cricket, Bollywood style. The purists will squirm.

THE SCORES

Twenty20 International, Johannesburg, December 1, 2006. India won by six wickets.

South Africa: G. Smith lbw b Zaheer 16; L. Bosman c Tendulkar b Zaheer 1; H. Gibbs c Raina b Agarkar 7; J. Kemp lbw b Tendulkar 22; A. B. De Villiers c Dhoni b Agarkar 6; J. Morkel c Mongia b Sreesanth 27; J. Van der Wath c Raina b Harbhajan 21; R. Peterson (run out) 8; T. Henderson (run out) 0; R. Telemachus (not out) 5; C. Langeveldt (not out) 0; Extras (lb-4, w-8, nb-1) 13. Total (for nine wkts. in 20 overs) 126.

Fall of wkts: 1-19, 2-31, 3-34, 4-41, 5-64, 6-101, 7-120, 8- 120, 9-123.

India bowling: Zaheer 4-0- 15-2; Sreesanth 4-0-33-1; Agarkar 2.3-1-10-2; Pathan 4- 0-30-0; Tendulkar 2.3-0-12-1; Harbhajan 3-0-22-1.

India: V. Sehwag (run out) 34; S. Tendulkar b Langeveldt 10; D. Mongia c Langeveldt b Peterson 38; M. Dhoni b Langeveldt 0; D. Karthik (not out) 31; S. Raina (not out) 3; Extras (lb-7, w-3, nb-1) 11. Total (for four wkts. in 19.5 overs) 127.

Fall of wkts: 1-17, 2-60, 3-71, 4-108.

South Africa bowling: Van der Wath 4-0-18-0; Langeveldt 4-0-20-2; Telemachus 4-0-28-0; Henderson 4-0-31-0; Morkel 2-0-12-0; Peterson 1.5-0-11-1.