WORLD CUP HAS ENHANCED THE REPUTATION OF THE T-20 FORMAT
Six champions in seven editions of the World T-20 underscores the intense competition as well as the unpredictably of the format. Loosely put T-20 is considered a lottery with almost any team having a chance to win on any given day. It is a format in which even one mistake is magnified many times and this is symbolized by Hasan Ali’s dropped catch in the semifinal between Australia and Pakistan and the backlash the cricketer has had to endure on social media. Given the sometimes blink and you miss it action associated with T-20 cricket predicting the winner is most of the time fraught with risk. Matches have been won and lost when such results have been considered a near impossibility and the two semifinals in the just concluded competition epitomize this.
There is no doubt that when it comes to the entertainment quotient, cricket’s shortest format has no equal. So much is packed into such a short time and that is why it has struck a chord with fans of the sport. The IPL and other T-20 leagues round the world have done more than their bit in raising the popularity of the format but to be candid it takes a competition like the World Cup to bring out the best out of the players as the stakes involved are very high.
Fans may or may not remember the events associated with the various T-20 leagues but there are moments in the World Cup that stay in mind. Who for example can forget Misbah ul Huq’s fatal scoop in the final of the inaugural edition in 2007, the calculated assault by Mike Hussey in the semifinal against Pakistan three years later or Carlos Brathwaite’s four successive sixes to win the game and the title in the 2016 final. I have just cited three of the best known but there have been numerous other moments etched in memory. Likewise, the just concluded competition too threw up its quota of memorable moments most provided by Australia who added a maiden T-20 World Cup title to their five victorious ODI World Cup campaigns.
There were a few surprise results which resulted in the fourth and sixth ranked teams contesting the title clash. But the No 1 ranked side England and third ranked Pakistan made the semifinals so there was no major shake-up in the form book. The one serious casualty was India who entered the tournament as the second ranked team and so was marked as one of the favourites but they were eliminated at the group stage. It was a listless campaign with the body language inspiring little confidence. Much was made of the team playing continuous cricket and in a bio bubble but there were players from other teams too who had played non-stop cricket in a bio bubble performing energetically so it was difficult for Indian fans to digest this argument. Ravi Shastri for whom this tournament was the last of his long tenure as head coach spoke much about how the team had been “over achievers” during that time and while there was a grain of truth in what he said the failure to win an ICC trophy stood out like a sore thumb in his – and Virat Kohli’s – resume.
The Indian showing brought back unhappy memories of the 2007 ODI World Cup in the West Indies. On that occasion India went down to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to be knocked out at the preliminary stage of the competition. This time once they had lost to both Pakistan and New Zealand their campaign had screeched to a halt. Consolation wins against Afghanistan, Scotland and Namibia could not get them back on track as the damage had been irreparable. With the group being so lop sided it was clear that two among Pakistan, India and New Zealand would make it to the semifinals and on their lackadaisical showing India did not deserve to make the cut.
At the start of the tournament the other group appeared to be more competitive with all six teams having either a good chance or at least some chance of qualifying for the last four. But things did not work out that way. Two-time champions and defending champs West Indies flattered only to deceive despite having some of the best T-20 players in their ranks, Sri Lanka put up a lacklustre display while Bangladesh without Shakib al Hasan for half their games was never in with a chance. England and Australia were always going to be the front runners but South Africa ranked No 5 put up a better performance than expected before being eliminated on NRR after they too like England and Australia finished with eight points.
The latest edition of the T-20 World Cup did much to enhance the popularity and reputation of the format and already one can hardly wait for the next edition – which happily is next year – to commence.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal)