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Game-changing game by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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June 24, 2009

Game-changing game

'Just when I think I'm out they pull me back in', Michael Corleone's quotable cry of anguish from Godfather III, can very well serve as the official motto of T-20 cricket. The success stories of the both the World Championships (the first in 2007, and the recently concluded one) toe that official line quite steadfastly. The champion team always starts out a battered, ragged bunch, discounted and counted out by all and sundry, about to be pushed to the brink of ignominy, before they regroup magnificently and go on to claim the ultimate prize. A couple of years ago, India put up bravura performance to call themselves the world champions, and now it is Pakistan's turn to be anointed the victors, both the moments coming on the heels of when the future turned near dire and prospects seemed awfully bleak for both the teams. For the great psychological fillip the victories provided for the teams and a turnaround that is all but guaranteed in the aftermath, the T-20 format can certainly be termed as the 'feel good format' of the game. Paupers turn princes, the strong and the mighty are humbled, and ultimately the unassuming one gets the girl. Fairy tales are made of ingredients as these and this time it is Pakistan's turn to enact the role of the wounded warrior, who had nothing to lose. And many a mythology, fantasy, movie attest to the fact that this is exactly the setting for the second coming of the vanquished. All that was missing at the moment Younus Khan lifted the trophy over his head was the sound of cymbals crashing in the background, and the elated audience crying out 'Bravo, Bravo' while wiping away their tears of joy. Where but in this format that is meant for entertainment alone can such a celebration erupt from thoroughly entertained fans. Surely, there are tests that were far more tense and one dayers that were even more thrilling, but this dogged dedication in siding with the underdog is what that truly brings out the cheers even from the hostile sections in the crowd and endears this unruly format even to the hardcore purists. Perhaps this could be the year of the 'underdog' as per the Chinese calendar, going by the sweep of that other underdog, the Slumdog, at the awards ceremony earlier this year. Jai Ho.

Now that the success of the tournament has proven beyond doubt that the format has staked its ground, marked its territory, and has settled down to stay, regardless of India's fortunes (a slight dip of which usually sends shock waves in the advertising fraternity), how do and how can teams prepare for this new game, where reputations and past performances should necessarily be checked out at the dressing room doors before taking to the field? Sure, the vagaries of the one dayers also do not allow for any concessions, presumptions and foregone conclusions, but T-20 raises the ante even higher by squeezing the time line so tight that one single wave can either take the team to safety or scuttle it for good. This situation might not go down well with the titans of the game, as the minnows possess the potential to upset the apple carts of the established on a consistent basis. This is no longer monkey antics, they are no longer spoilsports, these are major upsets and everyone is strong contender, mighty and not alike. The situation is similar to when astroturfs were first introduced in field hockey to knock out the traditionally strong teams, India and Pakistan (who relied primarily on flair, grace and technique), off their high pedestal, by bringing in speed into the equation, something that both the teams had lacked, as the rest of the world raced ahead. Australia, and to a certain extent South Africa, might be feeling what the subcontinental hockey teams felt then, watching their sublime talents trumped by swashbuckling skills of relatively weaker sides. Just like how there is a marked separation between the test and ODI sides for most of the teams, in terms of age, agility and aggression, success in T-20 now calls for teams to add 'instant adjustment' as the prerequisite to apply for the job. Where once individual brilliances ruled the roost in the game with personal records serving as the sole yardsticks, 'value' became the new benchmark when evaluating performances in the new format. A solid half century is not nearly as worth as quick 30, a wicket or two, and a save or three at the boundary rope. Adaptability is the new order of the game. Terms like anchoring and settling are fast becoming anachronistic. No one stellar performance can guarantee a victory anymore.

All this is good news for the format however. Blazing along this new path, T-20 has the potential to survive and thrive as a standalone, self serving and self perpetuating format that doesn't need superstars, and importantly, doesn't need the crutches of tests or ODIs, to supply it a steady stream of distinguished players. Good bits-and-pieces players are all around. As the tournament has shown, a Netherlands player can go head to head with an English player, just as an Irish one is just as competent as his Indian counterpart. This opening up of opportunities to the global pool is what is eventually going to give the market penetration that cricket long hoped for in new territories. The oft heard accusation that T-20 is going to take over tests and ODIs seems less credible if one can recollect similar death threats made against movie theaters when television sets first came around, against proper dining restaurants when fast food joints joined the fray.

The marketplace has certainly become more segmented (and certainly not splintered) and each format should now strive that much harder to keep its fan base from getting poached by its rivals. All this bodes well for the game as it prepares to take its next evolutionary step of drawing in an audience that it has held at an arm's distance thus far. Wisdom lies in embracing the change, even if it means multiple innings in ODIs and fewer number of days for tests. Who knows, that is what might ultimately remove the stigma that has long plagued cricket, that at its worst, the game is boring than baseball and painful than golf, to watch. Not anymore, if fairy tales, like the one just concluded, have it their way!

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The shining silver lining
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Battle of the Bamboozler
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The three sides of a coin
Blast from the past
The other side of a win
Finding Neverland
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Bringing down the house
Every (under)dog had it's day!
Lord of the ring: Return of the King
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Lord of the ring - the departed part - 1
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Roll out the carpet... the green variety that is
Garland the ground staff
How the west was won
A time for Reversal
The sands that blotted sweat and blood
Let the good times roll
The curse of success
It's Official....
Win some, some more
All is well
Expect the unexpected
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It is progress ... DAMN IT!!!
Ghosts of Chinnaswamy
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Resumption of ties
Rock, rock, rock it again!
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