Twenty20, TN's cup of tea

The victorious Tamil Nadu team.-VIVEK BENDRE

The BCCI's first Twenty20 championship showed where cricket as entertainment is headed. With even one-day cricket becoming predictable, Twenty20 or half-a-day cricket — if we can call it that, with the matches ending in approximately three hours — provides excitement from the word, `Go'. Nandakumar Marar takes a look at the championship.

Tamil Nadu, coached by W. V. Raman, displayed command over the nuances of Twenty20 cricket, where players have to think on their feet from start to finish.

Punjab thought it had the multi-talented players to rule in the first Twenty20 Inter-Zonal Championship for the Mushtaq Ali Trophy, till TN chased down 134 with two balls to spare. The title was decided by a savage six over mid-wicket by Yo Mahesh off Yuvraj Singh. The final under lights at the Brabourne Stadium was a low-scoring match by Twenty20 standards, but it turned out to be a thriller.

The crowds, for whose benefit this fanfare was started, were missing in terms of numbers for the day games — soaring heat in Ahmedabad and extreme humidity in Mumbai kept people away when the inter-zonals were played. The night games saw kids on summer vacation raising the noise levels in the stands. India's early exit from the World Cup resulted in the stars turning out for their respective states, a bonus for the BCCI, for which this was a maiden foray into cricket's latest variant.

Fickle Ahmedabad fans staged protests at the airport and outside the team hotel to express their ire against India's dismal show in the West Indies. But cricket followers from the same city also turned up at the Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera, in numbers to cheer Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Zaheer Khan.

Mumbai fans saw Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh trying their hand at Twenty20. The matches will pull in more crowds if efforts are made to throw in music and competitions for spectators.

Bengal coach Paras Mhambrey touched upon the scheduling and entertainment aspect when asked about measures to make this version more popular. "Players will like to take part in Twenty20 at the start of the season, than at the end of a long, tiring one. I know the Board had limitations this time, in view of the forthcoming Twenty20 World Cup," he said.

"Twenty20 is all about attracting spectators so an effort has to be made to create an exciting atmosphere, which will make players respond with more entertaining cricket. Music in the stands, Kwikcricket for kids during breaks in play are attractions tried out in England," he added.

The inter-zonals in Ahmedabad were hit by torrid heat. This drained players' energy and forced them to play before almost empty stands as the people kept away. Tendulkar (Mumbai) had his moments in the sun, Ganguly looked out of sorts. Dinesh Karthik (TN) and Manoj Tiwary (Bengal) played a huge role as enterprising batsmen and hands-on captains, though the brilliance displayed by TN's V. Devendran, S. Anirudh, M. Vijay, C. Ganapathy, Punjab's Karan Goel and Vipul Sharma in pressure situations during the final showed the relevance of lesser-known players who could adapt to changing situations.

The tournament also saw new faces like Rana Choudhury rising to the occasion with consistent displays in the zonals and inter-zonals. The Bengal left-hander can stake his claim for a place in the state ODI squad after explosive knocks (57 runs off 31 balls vs TN and 67 off 36 vs Haryana) in back-to-back games in Ahmedabad. Powerful, clean hitting was his forte with sixes over cover and heaves over long on. His move for a transfer from Bihar to Bengal in quest of a cricket career is paying off. Mumbai's Musavir Khote is another player with special skills for cricket's new version. Indian Railways' Shreyas Khanolkar also made an impact.

Spinners and slow bowlers will have a bigger role to play in containing aggressive batsmen as Twenty20 becomes popular in India. Teams chasing 140-plus targets in 20 overs will come under pressure when run-rates climb beyond seven an over. Trigger-happy batsmen under pressure present a lot of wicket-taking opportunities to skilful spinners.

Haryana's leg-break bowler Amit Mishra and Mumbai's left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdulla were among the wicket-takers. Slow-bowlers, Bengal's Tiwary and Mumbai's Rohit Sharma, were difficult to score off. Sharma also became the first century-maker in domestic Twenty20 cricket (101 not out, 45 balls, 13 fours, five sixes). This was against Gujarat. Among the wicket-keepers, Dinesh Karthik and Punjab's Pankaj Dharmani excelled.

The debate on whether Twenty20 is loaded in favour of the batsmen or bowlers continues. TN captain Karthik, India's most influential player in this version at the moment, stressed that teams batting first and packed with big-hitters call the shots. Bengal skipper Tiwary believes bowlers can become match-winners while defending totals, provided fielding support is assured.

Either way, whether hitting fours or taking wickets, fun for fans is the bottomline as cricket packages itself in this new 20:20 avatar, providing a result in 40 overs or just three hours. The traditionalists can fume, but the game needs a spark to overcome the monotony of one-day cricket.

THE SCORES

Final: Punjab 134 for eight in 20 overs (Ravneet Ricky 24, Karan Goel 26, C. Ganapathy two for 34, S. Prasanna two for 12) lost to Tamil Nadu 135 for eight in 19.4 overs (V. Devendran 24, S. Vidyut 27, V. R. V. Singh two for 32, Karan Goel four for 13).