Twenty20: A breathless rush!

The basic core of Twenty20 — frenetic cricket, massive sixes and an unabated three-hour thrill-a-minute ride — is perhaps the best that prime-time television can ask. With cricket authorities still having mixed emotions about trying for an Olympic debut, televised T20 leagues also remain the lone hope to capture a wider audience far beyond the realm of the Commonwealth nations that currently play the game.

Fans across the cricket world were happy when West Indies won the global T20 event in 2012. Such is the joy that Caribbean players bring to cricket, especially the abridged version.   -  AP

This is the season of Twenty20 excess. Caught in that spirit, even the Asia Cup, traditionally a tournament involving One-Day Internationals, slipped into Twenty20 mode in Dhaka! The continental event is expected to embrace its original ODI avatar in the future, but for now it is seen as the ideal path leading towards the imminent ICC World Twenty20.

The game’s shortest format is definitely having a bull-run as once the global event concludes in India, the nation will gear up for its hyped-up summer-fix: the Indian Premier League. Surely the cup of Twenty20 is brimming and for a version that is the youngest in cricket’s evolution, these months of March, April and May, promise the good-times.

In pictures >World T20 Venues

Like all trends that get their share of bouquets and brickbats, the rise of Twenty20, has had its split of popularity and notoriety. The basic core of Twenty20 — frenetic cricket, massive sixes and an unabated three-hour thrill-a-minute ride — is perhaps the best that prime-time television can ask. It may not be time yet to say ‘move-over-staid-serials’ but Twenty20 leagues offer a better value for every advertising buck spent on 30-second commercials.

With cricket authorities still having mixed emotions about trying for an Olympic debut, televised T20 leagues remain the lone hope to capture a wider audience far beyond the realm of the Commonwealth nations that currently play the game. Many years back, much before his fall from grace, the then IPL supremo Lalit Modi mentioned in a packed hall inside one of Bangalore’s premier hotels, “We will have a huge IPL viewership and we have tied up various service providers and the game will be taken to places like Russia.”

Yet, Twenty20 isn’t just about entertainment and big money. It is also about the way in which its practitioners take those skill-sets into the other formats. ODIs speeded up run-gathering, encouraged bowling that chokes and gave a huge shout-out to acrobatic fielding. The gains were also reaped in Tests where teams racked up 300 plus scores in a single day, bowling units had that one practitioner — either spinner or dibbly-dobbler, who could dry up runs in the middle stages, and more contests had results than the dull five-day draw.

 

In a similar way, Twenty20 too passed on its incremental benefits to ODIs. Insane required-rates of 12 per over in the slog, is often scoffed at as squads have chased much more in the most abridged version. Batsmen, used to teeing off from the beginning in the leagues, carry on that sense of adventure into ODIs with Rohit Sharma being the prime example and double centuries are no longer an exception in the 50-over outings.

In Pictures: >Key Players from Group 1

Batting mayhem may reign over Twenty20, but spinners too find a way to cope. For instance, R. Ashwin never gets flustered when he sees Chris Gayle at the opposite end and the former has often scalped the latter.

But it is not roses all the way, there are thorns too. The spot-fixing scourge and hovering bookies have combined to strike at the game’s heart and the sooner the players learn to resist illegal financial temptations, the better it is for the sport.

On the technical side, compression, the basic preamble of Twenty20, does mask errors and amplify advantage. The best bowler gets just four overs, a batsman plagued by inadequacies that scuttle his stint in Tests, often becomes the knight in shining armour as he biffs a few sixes and snatches an improbable win. However, that is the nature of the beast.

Twenty20 leagues also help fuel the twin factors of fantasy and nostalgia. You want to see Gayle, AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli rub shoulders in the same team? Then look no further than Royal Challengers Bangalore. Are you a devotee of Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Shane Warne and wish they still played? Then look no further than the Master’s league.

In Pictures: >Key Players from Group 2

It is a fact that Twenty20, despite its leaning towards younger limbs, has often offered a space for older men. In the IPL, spinner Pravin Tambe at 44, still finds takers. He may not last the rigours of first-class cricket, but he surely can cope with Twenty20. No wonder many cricketers bid adieu to Tests and still ply their wares in Twenty20 and Sri Lanka’s captain Lasith Malinga is an obvious name that springs up in this context.

Importantly and from a purely socio-economic perspective, Twenty20 leagues, especially the IPL, have helped unknown players gain financial muscle and stability. Cricketers ranging from Palani Amarnath to K. C. Cariappa, could help their respective families and these are heart-warming stories.

The forthcoming ICC World Twenty20 may well throw up some soup for the soul. Remember, Afghanistan is part of the qualifiers mix and in case it does get through, it will be a tale to chronicle.

Closer home, it may well be time for the fans to express their gratitude to M. S. Dhoni. The man from Ranchi, who led the Men in Blue to a title triumph in the inaugural edition in South Africa back in 2007, is surely inching closer to his cricketing twilight in the national colours and though he is not a fan of any emotional outpouring, the desi followers still owe much to him.

The usual suspects — India, South Africa and Australia — may remain favourites, but dark-horses Sri Lanka and New Zealand or even an explosive Pakistan can upset the established order. If India, then a rookie team under a skipper with a long mane, could do it in 2007, others also can replicate the deed.

The ICC World Twenty20 also offers redemption, even if it turns out to be a brief affair. Pakistan (2009), England (2010) and the West Indies (2012) have all had their successful trysts with the trophy and on each occasion, it was a moment rich in hope. Pakistan seemed to have finally lived up to its rich vein of talent; England — thanks to Kevin Pietersen — proved that it can also dish out flair; and the West Indies gave most of us, the children of the 1970s and 1980s, a sense of vindication for loving the team merely for the memories bequeathed by masters like Sir Vivian Richards and Michael Holding, to name a few.

There is also a fringe benefit, a fat one at that, which might accrue to unknown players, who excel in the event. In the next IPL auction, they will command a price that will fulfil many of their dreams. But before the cheques come home, it is time to put your feet up and imbibe the madness that Twenty20 often is. And if you are still game for more fun, then hang in there for the subsequent IPL season where over-excited commentators and hyper team-owners, add their own dash of drama.