The sixth edition of the T-20 Cricket World Cup Tournament is underway in India. I did not expect to be watching this tournament. I had lost interest in following all cricket there is, simply because there is too much of it.
But, because this one is beamed late in the night into Singapore homes and a good way to unwind somewhat mindlessly, I decided to follow them. I must happily concede that I have been enjoying the matches.
First, I loved Chris Gayle’s 11 sixes against England and their new dance of celebration.
Then, came the low-scoring nail-biter between Australia and New Zealand. Happy to see NZ win, no doubt.
I am not a big fan of England. I do not root (pun intended) for them. I am being polite here. But, the way they beat South Africa by scoring 237 runs was truly magnificent. Joe Root was special. They thoroughly deserved it.
As I was watching this match, my mind wandered back to 2005, the year of a memorable Ashes Cricket Series between Australia and England. I could not immediately recall the names of the English pacers including that of their famous all-rounder at that time. Thanks to the Internet, it was no issue. I was struggling to recall the names of Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison.
I then came across as the series of articles ‘Daily Mail’ had done on Flintoff last October. I read only one of them. I found it fascinating. Here are some sentences from that:
‘When you search for things you are not always happy with what you find,’ he said. ‘In the early years of retirement that was what drove me. It was escapism.
‘The mask became the man and it was exhausting,’ he writes.
The India-Pakistan match was, well, the show of the tournament for India. Mamata Banerjee’s screaming at the top of her voice, as she opened the match, in her own English was somewhat hard to take.
Quite why and how Afridi let the pressure slip after having India reeling at 23/3 is somewhat hard to explain.
On that day, Kohli was in a different zone. That should have helped him to erase the memories of his 11-ball inglorious stay at the crease in the World Cup ODI finals in Melbourne last year.
Sri Lanka – West Indies match was a bummer. Sri Lanka was way below par. They are missing good leadership, perhaps. Something is missing.
New Zealand vs. Pakistan – it was a match that I could not complete watching. When I went to sleep, Pakistan were, in reply to NZ, at 24/0 in two overs. Good start. But, they had gone on to lose the match. If Australia beat them, they are out of the tournament. Then, it will be up to Australia and India to slug it out for the second spot. Hard to pick the eventual winner of that contest. Both teams are playing below par.
In a way, the slower pitches that this tournament has featured are useful for the game of cricket. They have elevated the status of the bowlers from being mere whipping boys for the batsmen. They are no longer passengers. They have played a key role in matches.
The ‘dumbification’ of cricket with too much pre-eminence and leeway given to batsmen is par for the course in modern times where anything is nothing if it is not a viewing spectacle that provides cheap thrills.
These times are about superficial over the subliminal in everything we so. There should be no surprises that cricket has not been exempt from this trend.
Was at a book launch function last evening in Singapore. A research fellow at ISAS, Ronojoy Sen, was releasing his book, ‘A Nation at Play – India’s sporting history’. He came across as an unassuming, thoughtful and a good researcher.
One Mr. Manu Sawhney formerly of ESPN-Star, current CEO of Singapore Sports Hub, was the keynote speaker. It was interesting to listen to him about how the fees had changed. From USD8mn for a four-year right in the early 1990s, now it is USD17mn per match, regardless of the form of cricket – test, 50-over ODI or T-20.
No surprises that TV, instead of telecasting the cricket that is played, dictates how the game should be played. We, humans, are always good at elevating the ‘means’ to ‘ends’ and reducing the ‘ends’ to irrelevance. These are, btw, not comments on him. Perhaps, it is not just cricket that has been afflicted.
Of course, while I view IPL T-20 cricket league phenomenon with disdain, I must concede that the copycats it has spawned in other sports in India has been welcome. Many livelihoods have been improved beyond imagination and a sporting culture is taking root in the country. Whether it is Kabaddi, Badminton, Football or Hockey league, all these games have been granted new leases of life in India. Especially, Kabaddi. Very welcome indeed.
In this context, I came across this wonderful article from ‘The Week’ on the revival of board games in India. These are subtle but extremely effective ways to maintain and preserve our traditions and civilisations. When we play these games with children, we bond and we share other stories about age-old customs, practices and other Puranic stories too.
Pl. read the article and support those who have found a way to pursue these besides their other avocations. My Namaskarams to them.
Now, we come to the final (as of now) match that I watched: India vs. Bangladesh. Quite how and why Bangladesh lost the match would take some explanation. They had done everything right even right into the last over of their innings. They never allowed any Indian batsman to get away with the game. They took a stunning catch when Pandya looked like he would take India beyond 160.
Then, they chased well. What was the turning point? Was it Bumrah’s comeback overs? Should Bumrah have been named the ‘Man of The Match’? Or, was it Dhoni’s lightning stumping? Or, was it the masterstroke that made him keep a slip fielder for Ashwin? Was it Yuvraj’s save of a certain four? For my money, the player of the match should have been Ravinder Jadeja or Dhoni. Jadeja scored 12 runs, took two wickets and took a very good catch in the final over.
It was hard not to feel for Bangladesh. They had played very well, planned and executed well. They deserved to win. It was sad to see some spectators crying and one player too, as he walked off the field. Could the Indian players have commiserated more with them? I do not know. I think they should have tried.
Perhaps, this comment in Cricinfo reflects some justifiable frustration at their loss.
Two days later, I watched the South Africa – West Indies match. West Indies made heavy weather of the modest target that South Africa had set. In fact, they made such a meal of it that the equation came down to 20 runs off the last two overs. South Africa could not contain the West Indies. The latter won. As I watched the final overs of the West Indies batting, a thought came to my head. Do these tense situations help to bring out the worst or the best in players?
Very few appear capable of handling the pressure without losing their intrinsic composure. Others want to brazen it out by closing their eyes to the situation and simply lashing out at the ball, hoping that it would somehow connect and relieve them of their troubles. There is hope and denial in that; not so much planning. Joe Root, Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni seem the honourable exceptions. Of course, AB de Villiers is one of them too. When he was around, Steve Waugh of Australia was another. In the past, Australian Michael Bevan stood out for his calmness in challenging circumstances. I would reckon that it played a big role in him helping Australia win out of impossible situations.
Lest someone think a cool and collected head writes these lines, perish the thought. It is easier to be a critic than a doer.
Enjoy the rest of the tournament.