SA hosts a cricket revolution

28 September 2007

South Africa – “the rainbow nation” – has one of the more colourful national flags, and the abiding memory of the inaugural Twenty20 World Championships will be one of colour, with fans from far and wide becoming part of the spectacle as sports and entertainment collided in a wildly successful first edition of the shortest form of international cricket.

The organisers, by making dancers and DJs an integral feature at every match, created a vibe and energy that was sorely missed at the World Cup in the West Indies earlier in the year.

The combination of sport and entertainment was reflected in the excitement of the supporters, and it rubbed off on the players as they interacted with the crowds to a far greater degree than had previously been seen in other forms of cricket.

The best of cricket
It was as if both the fans and the players brought out the best in each other, and thus the best of cricket emerged in a tournament that many feel will transform the way cricket is viewed in future.

Some have expressed the opinion that the game, through T20 cricket, is undergoing a revolution in much the same way as the sport was forever changed by Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket in the 1970s, which saw the introduction of coloured clothing for the players, and significantly increased salaries.

In many ways, Twenty20 cricket is tailored to today’s world, a fast-moving world of instant gratification. It’s like a meal that is ready in two minutes from a drive-through restaurant; it satisfies and is enjoyable.

An instant highlights package
It takes three hours to complete a game and, because of its limited nature – 20 overs per side – the players have to take greater risks. Taking greater risks results in big rewards (and big failures), but there it is, an instant highlights’ package with just enough meat to it that skill wins out over luck.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) needed the inaugural T20 World Championships to make a good impression – they say first impressions count – and their choice of South Africa as the venue for the event paid off . BIG TIME.

After the completion of the tournament, ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed called it a “great event” and paid tribute to tournament director Steve Elworthy for the manner in which it was run.

Hosted with style
Speed said South Africa hosted the championships with style and added that the intense fare dished up on the fields by the teams, along with their spirited efforts, contributed in a big way to some great matches.

Some cynics feared that the T20 game would be an uneven contest favouring bowlers over batsmen, but it didn’t turn out that way. Many concerns expressed before the tournament were quieted, and in most cases, it seems, those cynics were turned into converts and supporters of Twenty 20 cricket.

South Africa was given the stage to promote the game and the production passed with flying colours.

The final
As it was, with South Africa having missed out on the semi-finals by losing to India, the cricket Gods offered up the next best thing as the Indians qualified to face Pakistan in the final, in a meeting of traditional rivals.

Almost nothing had separated the two teams when they met earlier in the tournament as India edged Pakistan on a bowl out after the sides had both totaled 151. The title deciding clash was almost as close.

As had been the case when India played in Durban, one could have been forgiven for feeling as if Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team was playing on home soil. The Wanderers was awash with Indian flags and shirts as Pakistan took to the field after India had won the toss and elected to bat.

Good effort
Led by opener Gautam Gambhir, who hit 75 off only 54 deliveries, India tallied 157 for 5 in their 20 overs. It was a good effort, but the Indians struggled to break free and post an imposing challenge to Pakistan’s batsmen.

Apart from Gambhir, only Rohit Sharma, with an unbeaten 30, made it beyond the mid-teens.

Umar Gul was the pick of the Pakistani bowlers, capturing 3 for 28 in his four overs as India averaged 7.85 runs per over.

The Pakistanis, in reply, found themselves hamstrung by the regular loss of wickets. After 16 overs, they had reached 104 for 7 and it looked as India was on its way to a comfortable victory.

Swinging momentum
However, it is the nature of T20 cricket that a couple of big blows can change the complexion of the game and so it proved as Misbah ul-Haq went after Harbhajan Singh in the 17th over. He smashed the second, fifth and sixth balls over midwicket for six as Harbhajan conceded 19 runs.

The assault on the off-spinner left Pakistan on 123 for 7, needing 35 for victory with three overs in hand. With Misbah striking the ball cleanly, it was anybody’s game.

Sreesanth came back into the attack at the start of the 18th over and was immediately dispatched over long-on for six by Sohail Tanvir. Sreesanth, an excitable cricketer, then sent down a wide, followed by a leg bye, no run, and a single.

With his fifth delivery, the bowler strayed onto Tanvir’s pads and the batsman helped himself to another six, lofting the ball over square leg.

Clearing the boundaries
At 138 for 7, and with Tanvir and Misbah suddenly clearing the boundaries with regularity, it appeared as if Pakistan had seized the initiative back from India. The next ball, however, the momentum swung back India’s way as Sreesanth yorked Tanvir, knocking over his off stump.

Pakistan needed 20 runs to win from two overs, with the dangerous Misbah ul-Haq still at the crease. Dhoni brought back RP Singh into the attack. The left-arm paceman, India’s most successful bowler during the tournament, conceded only one run, a leg bye, and a bye in his first four balls, ratcheting up the pressure on Pakistan.

It paid off when, with his fifth ball, he knocked back Umar Gul’s leg stump. Now, the Indians looked well and truly in command. However, a four struck by Mohammed Asif off the first ball he faced, raised doubts in the minds of India’s supporters as Pakistan finished the over on 145 for 9.

Final over
When Joginder Sharma took the ball for the last over of the final, the Pakistanis needed 13 runs to win, while India required just one more wicket.

Sharma barely found the pitch with his first ball, bowling a wide way outside the off stump, which meant Pakistan required two runs a ball to win.

Misbah failed to score from the next delivery, but the second ball of the over was a full toss outside off-stump and he took full advantage of it, smashing it straight back down the ground for six.

A six was needed for Pakistan to win.

Sharma’s next ball was full and on the stumps. Misbah went for a scoop over short fine-leg, but the ball went straight up into the air and Sreesanth took the catch to give India a tension-filled victory by five runs.

Brilliant game
A brilliant game, worthy of a World Championships final, had brought the curtain down on a wonderfully successful event. India’s players and their fans celebrated wildly as the triumphant team took a lap of honour of “The Bull Ring”.

The Pakistan and Indian players then met to congratulate one another before India took off on further celebrations. It was an appropriate end to a “great event”.

Irfan Pathan was named man of the match for his haul of 3 for 16 in four overs, while there was some consolation for Pakistan as Shahid Afridi was named man of the series.

A major boost
India’s victory is sure to be a major boost for T20 cricket; the country has the world’s largest and most rabid fan base and with the Indians now world champions of the game it is sure to enjoy a huge surge in popularity.

As an opportunity to showcase South Africa’s ability to host a major sporting event, the tournament met and then surpassed all expectations.

It raises hopes and fuels optimism that the Fifa World Cup in 2010 will follow in the footsteps of other South African successes, such as the Rugby World Cup in 1995, the African Cup of Nations in 1996, and the Cricket World Cup in 2003.

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