A Taste of Twenty20

Durban, 22 September 2007, roughly 21h00 local time. Joginder Sharma, who has conceded 31 from his previous two-and-a-half overs, drops short to Mike Hussey. Hussey, in true Twenty-20 fashion, attempts an ungainly hoick across the line. Yuvraj Singh circles the ball at deep midwicket, pouches a match-sealing catch and bellows into the night sky like a rutting stag in the morning dew. Ecstasy echoes around Kingsmead. Harbhajan dances on the boundary; the television director realises he’s missing his usual trick: cut to the khaki-clad foursome that have had as much media exposure as any player over the past two weeks.

Even before the tournament concludes, there is little doubt that the inaugural World Twenty20 Championships have been an instant success. After copping so much (just) flak for the shambles that was the ‘real’ World Cup earlier in the year, the ICC has bitten back through what is clearly the most marketable form of the sport.

But administration can only take the game so far. The World Cup, devoid of fans and intensity, was also equally devoid of high-quality cricket. Here in South Africa, the players have drawn inspiration from the crowds – sizeable even at the less appetising ties – and vice versa. Colour and character have been abundant both on and off the pitch.

Take Sreesanth, moustachioed and sporting designer stubble, who when not found uprooting Australian stumps has spent most of his time staring batsmen in the face. Or Yuvraj, the teenage prince of Nairobi against the same opposition seven years before, lofting sixes into the heavens like a demi-god.

Then there’s Pakistan, Shoaib-less but steeled in lime-green and Sri Lanka, who brought nu rave to the cricket arena with their silver outfit, while Australia pioneered the space age vest-and-Lycra combination.

What of Zimbabwe, toppling the Aussies just a day into the tournament? Bangladesh meanwhile first conspired to send the West Indians home, then turned the daggers on themselves in an entertaining display of hara-kiri against South Africa.

It seems months ago now that Chris Gayle appeared to be spoiling the party when he dumped Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini into the stands at Jo’burg or when Kenya’s first four batsmen registered zeroes against New Zealand.

“Twenty20 was what Sanath Jayasuriya was born for,” echoed the commentary box when Sri Lanka were playing. However after the Pakistanis took a liking to his bowling and he returned figures of 4-0-64-0, the pundits were a little more sparing in their hyperbole. Not that it deterred David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd, who reproduced the form usually seen only in the confines of county cricket to the international stage: only he could make each six seem more impressive than the last.

The images produced by the tournament will linger long in the memory, to be recalled during the drabbest ODI or the washed out day of Test cricket. Kevin Pietersen, switch-hitting the Zimbabweans with ease; Albie Morkel slog-sweeping South Africa to victory over England; Misbah-ul-Haq’s desperate dive for the crease after lifting Pakistan from the dead to tie with India; South Africa batting for a ‘winning defeat’ against India and choking yet again. Cut to the dancers, ad nauseam.

Hopefully Monday’s final will add to the gallery of snapshots, just as the inaugural World Cup in 1975 – it too short but sweet – provokes memories of Gavaskar’s blockathon and Clive Lloyd’s West Indians clinching that first crown. “The stroke of a man knocking a thistle top off with a walking stick,” commented the inimitable John Arlott on the West Indies’ captain in the final. You cannot quite see Lloyd speaking about Mahendra Singh Dhoni or Shahid Afridi in the same way come The Wanderers on Monday nor the trophy being received with Lloyd’s grace and humility. But you are guaranteed 100 metre-plus sixes, demolished stumps, heroic fielding and a generous daubing of colour, Twenty20 style.

Turn up the volume. Watch the sixes fly.

Cut to the dancers.

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