November 18, 2008

The Dark Knight

It has been a very long time, exactly 7 months to be precise. Along with great changes in the cricketing world there were also personal changes which made me stay away from my blog. Something which I am very regretful about is not being able to write about the events in the IPL, which I can hopefully cover in brief in a later post. There were also the Kitply Cup, the Asia Cup and India’s tour of Sri Lanka. While we lost in the finals of the Kitply Cup and the Asia Cup, we won the ODI series in Sri Lanka after having lost the 3 test match series against the same team 2-1. The recently concluded Border-Gavaskar Trophy (India vs. Australia test series) and the ongoing India-England ODI series will also be covered in the near future.

As all of you know, two of India’s cricket greats called it a day during the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. While Sourav Ganguly announced his retirement before the start of the series, Anil Kumble retired immediately after the third test which was held at New Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, which is the same stadium in which Kumble took an amazing 10/74 against Pakistan in 1999. In this post I will cover Sourav Ganguly, not only because he is my favourite Indian cricketer but also because of the man’s enigmatic approach to the game.

Let’s rewind back to 1996, when a young Ganguly made his test debut along with Rahul Dravid in the second test at Lord’s, the Mecca of cricket, in a 3 test match series during India’s tour of England. India had to salvage its pride after having been comprehensively beaten in the first test. Ganguly, who made his ODI debut in Australia in 1992, knew it was his only opportunity for making it big as after his ODI debut he had been languishing for 4 long years. He came into bat when India was in a precarious position and with Dravid set up a partnership which helped India draw the match. While Dravid was unfortunate to fall in the 90s, Ganguly hammered a graceful 131, which till date remains the highest score by an Indian on test debut. He also hit a century in the next test and was awarded the Man of the Series. The man from Kolkata was on a roll.

These powerful performances also helped him get a place in the ODI side and soon he was the opening batsman. He, along with Sachin Tendulkar went on to become what was unarguably the finest and most destructive opening combination in the history of ODIs. In the 1999 World Cup, he played one of the finest ODI knocks ever against Sri Lanka at Taunton. He scored a brilliant 183 against an attack which had the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas. Dravid, who scored 145, partnered Ganguly in a massive 318 run stand. It was the first time out of two instances when an ODI partnership has gone beyond 300. (Dravid was involved in the other one as well) Ganguly’s 7 sixes in the match were all massive especially one of Muralitharan, which he hit out of the ground. His innings is India’s the second highest score in World Cup history and was then the highest individual score by an Indian in ODIs.

In 1999-2000, Mohd. Azharuddin and Tendulkar were unsuccessful captains in the 1999 World Cup and India’s tour of Australia. After losing to being whitewashed 2-0 by the touring South Africans is February 2000, Tendulkar relinquished captaincy. Ganguly was appointed as captain and he led India to a 3-2 ODI series victory against the South Africans. But the problems were far from over as the match-fixing scandal left Indian cricket in tatters. Ganguly had a tough task as India failed in the Asia Cup 2000, winning only a single game, against minnows Bangladesh, a match in which Ganguly scored an unbeaten 135. After a break of four months or so, India had its next tournament in October 2000; it was the ICC Knockout Trophy in Kenya, also known as the “Mini” World Cup. India’s team ranking in ODIs was so low that it had to play a pre-quarter final against Kenya while teams like Australia were in the quarter final without having played a match. For the tournament, Ganguly decided to field two newcomers- Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan. As expected, India won their fixture against Kenya and though Yuvraj didn’t get to bat, Zaheer got 3 wickets, which was a decent first outing. India’s opponent in the quarter final was Australia, which was the highest ranked team even then. India batted first and after a solid opening stand of 50+ by Tendulkar and Ganguly, India faltered. 19 year old Yuvraj came in to bat for the first time at the international stage and he was facing the mighty Aussies but that didn’t seem to stop him from hammering 84. This superb knock was followed by his brilliant fielding with two great diving catches and a superb direct throw to account for Michael Bevan, who is still regarded one of the finest finishers in ODIs. That, along with another wonderful bowling performance by Zaheer helped India defeat the Aussies and reach the semi final where they had to face South Africa. Ganguly led from front in the semi final against the Proteas as he played one of his greatest knocks, an unbeaten 143. I still remember the way he treated Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock and Nicky Boje- pure class. India thrashed the South Africans but lost the final to New Zealand despite a wonderful 117 by Ganguly, who along with Tendulkar had yet another century stand for the first wicket.

In 2001, Steve Waugh’s Aussie “Invincibles” came to India for a 3 match test series after having won 15 consecutive tests, just 2 short of beating West Indies’ record of 16 consecutive wins. India was thrashed in the first test at Mumbai and Australia were level with the West Indies on the record front. The second test was played at one of the world’s finest cricket stadiums which without a doubt is also India’s best- the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Australia started pretty strongly till another of Ganguly’s “recruits”- off-spinner Harbhajan Singh took an astonishing hat-trick, the first by an Indian in tests. That, however, didn’t stop Steve Waugh from scoring a century and helping the Aussies cross 400. When India came out to bat, the Australian bowlers produced a stellar bowling display and the Indians could only score 171 with V.V.S. Laxman scoring 59. India had followed-on and was sent into bat again in the third day. A loss looked imminent. Ganguly and Laxman had a good partnership and when Ganguly fell after having scored 48, the scoreboard read 232/4 and Dravid came out to bat. Laxman had scored his century by the end of the day’s play. What happened on the fourth day was something that nobody would have expected. Laxman and Dravid scripted one of test cricket’s greatest batting revivals and didn’t get out for the entire day! By the time they got out the next day, Laxman had scored 281 which was then the highest score by an Indian in test while Dravid scored a solid 180. While the entire country was heaving a sigh of relief as the match would now be draw, Ganguly decided to declare with the score being 657/7. The entire nation was shocked. People were wondering why any captain would declare when the match was headed towards a draw, a result which would not only stop the rampaging Aussies but also save the Indians the humiliation of a loss. The total was something the Aussies could easily chase down and cricket fans were extremely annoyed with Ganguly for declaring so that the Aussies could win. However, they didn’t know that the Indian skipper had other ideas.

The events that transpired over the next two sessions of play that day were absolutely magical. The way Ganguly maneuvered Harbhajan and Tendulkar to pick wickets was amazing. India won the test and hearts all over. It was just the second time in a long time that a team had won after following-on. India also won the third test in Chennai. Sourav Ganguly had done the seemingly impossible task of beating the best team in the world by snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. It wasn’t only his on-field tactics that shook the Aussies. He walked out late for the toss and, if he won it, he would walk off on his own after letting the TV interviewer know what India choose to do. Once, after being pulled up by the match referee, he turned up five minutes before the toss- in his tracksuit top. Steve Waugh writes in his book, "You had to give him an 'A' for effort in his attempt to annoy us, and in particular me. It worked to a certain extent." That was the series which gave rise to the “Big 4” theory. The Legend of Sourav Ganguly had only just begun.

The same year, Ganguly scored a superb 98 not out to guide India to its first test series win in Sri Lanka. England came to India in December 2001 and were beaten 1-0 in a three match test series. This was followed by a 6 match ODI series. India had the advantage being 3-1 up in 4 matches. England, however, put up commendable performances to tie the series 3-3. The last game which was played at Mumbai saw India chasing 256. Ganguly scored a wonderful 80 but his dismissal triggered a collapse and when Javagal Srinath was last man out while there were 6 to get in 2 balls, the bowler who got the wicket- Andrew Flintoff went berserk and pulled his shirt off. Ganguly didn’t like that one bit.

In July 2002, India reached the final of the Natwest tri-series in England. The third team involved was Sri Lanka. The final was between India and England and India had to chase a huge 321 at Lord’s. Ganguly opened with Virender Sehwag who for once had to see Ganguly hammer the bowlers. The massive six which he hit over cover off Flintoff’s bowling is still on my mind. India knocked the first 100 runs in very quick time. Just when things were looking good, Ganguly fell to Alex Tudor for 60 in just 43 balls. India kept losing wickets till Yuvraj built up a partnership with another of Ganguly’s men- Mohd. Kaif. The two of them especially Kaif tormented the English bowlers and India won in the last over of the match. Ganguly went crazy in the pavilion and ripped his shirt off to celebrate the moment and in his excitement forgetting the fact that he was at Lord’s, a ground which makes the game of cricket divine, the very same one on which Kapil Dev’s men won the 1983 World Cup. This is what Sidharth Monga of Cricinfo says about the incident, “Indians, not the least Bengalis, are supposed to be studious, meek, wristy, oriental artists. They are not supposed to make opposition captains wait at the toss, make fielders tie their shoelaces and, worst of all, sledge. There the Indian captain is, at Lord's, no less, waving the shirt he wore a moment ago, shouting four-letter words again and again. With Ganguly, India's aggression goes naked, one of the turning points in the nation's cricketing history.

That day a new cricket team was born, the team which went on to be called “The Men in Blue” and “Team India”, a new breed of players who along with their captain became the toast of the nation.

The Natwest series was followed by the famous Headingley test in which India won against England by an innings. It was probably the only match in which all three- Dravid, Ganguly and Tendulkar scored centuries. Ganguly and Tendulkar, in particular went crazy towards the end of the second day. With light fading, it is usually the batsmen who want to go back, but these two hit the bowlers all over the park and after numerous complaints from the bowlers, the umpires called it stumps when they too couldn’t see the ball. Geoffrey Boycott called it “Murder in the Dark”

India was a troubled team after a bad tour of New Zealand while they went to play the 2003 vWorld Cup in South Africa. This affected their performance in their first two league games- against Holland and then Australia. While we won the match against Holland despite a batting failure, we were thrashed by Australia. After this, all hell broke loose back in India. Effigies of Ganguly were burnt, Mohd. Kaif’s house was attacked and many other incidents on similar lines took place and these went on to show to the cricketing community how “Cricket Crazy” the nation was. Ganguly’s men had to pull up their socks and what followed after these two losses was absolute carnage especially on the batting front with Tendulkar and Ganguly flourishing. While Tendulkar ended the tournament as its highest run getter and got the Man of the Tournament award, Ganguly scored 3 centuries to be the second highest run scorer. India won every match until the final frontier- the final, which was against Australia, who won their second consecutive World Cup.

When India toured Australia in December 2003, Ganguly was a much hated man in Australia because of his tactics to annoy their team. One major weakness of Ganguly while batting was his inability to face the short ball. There was a time when he could play these deliveries but then he had lost the knack for doing so. The first test was played at the Gabba in Brisbane, one of the fastest pitches in the world and also one which generated a lot of bounce. Australia batted first and were bowled out for 323 after being 262/2 at one stage. India started well but lost three quick wickets, including Dravid and Tendulkar in the space of four balls from Gillespie. In walked Ganguly, carrying a history of grief against the quick stuff, to face the test of his life. His first scoring shot was an edged three to third man, and he swished and missed once against Gillespie a couple of overs later. But for the next few hours there were fours hit all around the wicket, there were sizzling drives and cuts, neat deflections to the leg, and swivelled pulls to balls that were dug into his ribs. It was a gutsy, stirring, emotion- filled hundred, which took the Australians by surprise. Ganguly had been identified as a soft target but, when he was sixth out, India led by six runs and the entire stadium rose to salute him. Sambit Bal writes, “Not only the Australian team, the whole nation, it seems, is after him, and this is test of the captain's mettle. The innings has it all- urgency, emotion, disdain- and sets the pace for the series.” India and Australia tied the four test match series 1-1.

2004 was a year which saw the beginning of the end of Ganguly. After he dropped out of the squad for the Nagpur test at the last minute, people assumed he did so because of the fast and bouncy track that awaited him. India went on to lose the match as the Aussies won their first test series in India after a long time. By mid-2005, his internal skirmish with the then coach Greg Chappell became well known and Ganguly was unceremoniously dropped from the national side and Dravid was made the captain. For the next year or so, the man struggled to prove himself and when he was called back, India were in dire straits after being whitewashed by South Africa at home in the ODI series. The one word that describes the Ganguly who has made a comeback to the Indian side is serene. Batsmen were falling around him, but Ganguly scored a fluent half century and India, inspired by the return of the prodigal son, went on to win the match.

After the failure in World Cup 2007, Dravid resigned from the skipper’s post although there was a good tour of England in between and Anil Kumble was made the test captain. In the meantime, a Ganguly selection called Mahendra Singh Dhoni led a young and resurgent Indian outfit to victory in the ICC World Twenty20 2007 and Dhoni was promptly made the captain of the ODI side. Ganguly had a decent ODI series against Australia but faltered against Pakistan. He, however, had no idea that it was to be his last ODI series ever.

The test matches with Pakistan were, however, a different story. India’s 1-0 win in the three match series was all about Ganguly’s batting. He played superbly and scored two centuries including his maiden double hundred, a magnificent 239 which was scored after India was in trouble at 61/4 in the third test at Bangalore. He scored a brilliant 91 in the second innings. It was the most number of runs made by an Indian in a match i.e. 330. At that time, a popular statement going around was, “If Sourav Ganguly is in form, there's no point bowling to him.” He was deservingly given both- the Man of the Match as well as the Man of the Series. Even his tour to Australia wasn’t all that bad. Sadly, he was dropped from the ODI team and his position in tests was also under scrutiny. This, despite the fact that he had mustered 1200+ forms in both forms of the game in 2007.

He scored a brilliant 87 in the Kanpur test against South Africa, to help India tie the series 1-1. He also was quite successful as a batsman in the IPL hitting three superb half centuries but after a failure in the Sri Lanka series, he was dropped from the Irani Cup (the last Ranji trophy winner- Delhi against the Rest of India) side although he did play better than Tendulkar and Dravid. Finally, not being able to take it anymore, Ganguly announced his retirement in October this year saying that the test series against Australia would be his last.

There was a lot to look forward to considering it was the man’s last series and he didn’t disappoint. Scored a century in the Mohali test and 85 in the first innings of his last test- the one at Nagpur, the very same place where his decline began and against the very same opposition. Sadly, he scored a golden duck in the second innings and that didn’t make people mock him! Instead, people respected him even more by comparing him to the legendary Sir. Donald Bradman who also ended his career with a duck. As a mark of respect, Mahendra Singh Dhoni who was made the test captain after Kumble retired at the end of the Delhi test, gave Ganguly the captaincy in the dying moments of the game on November 10, exactly 10 years after he first captained India in a test match. What better tribute could the man, who according to Damien Fleming, “triggered the rivalry between India and Australia and took it to a whole new level.” Get? “If you see the series in India in 2001 and in Australia two years later, he gave it back to the champions with his shrewd captaincy,” said Fleming. The series win is an example of how one man’s passion changes the way a team plays. It was the best possible exit for Dada, who ended the series as its seventh highest run scorer with 324 runs at an impressive average of 54.

It was the end of the career of a cricketer who was considered the “God of the off side” and was one of the most inspirational leaders of all time, one who reinvented the squad and gave us players like Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Harbhajan, Pathan, Zaheer and Dhoni. His records- both as a batsman and a captain speak volumes for themselves as Peter Roebuck writes, “If Anil Kumble was the colossus, Sachin Tendulkar the champion, Rahul Dravid the craftsman, VVS Laxman the sorcerer, then Ganguly was the inspiration.” He also writes, “Throughout he (Ganguly) has toyed with his fate, tempting it to turn its back on him so that once again he could surprise the world with a stunning restoration. Something in him rebelled against the mundane and the sensible. He needed his life to be full of disasters and rescues This is what Ganguly said about his last innings duck, "I don’t know whether one duck made my career more dramatic. It was dramatic in any case."

Thus ended the career of Indian cricket’s Dark Knight- a player who was loved and hated in almost equal measure. Cricinfo’s commentary after his dismissal summarizes his career, “A super career has come to an end. Hundred on debut, golden duck in the end…A rainbow in between. Dada, the most fascinating modern Indian cricketer, has played his last innings.

April 18, 2008

First Day First Show of the Indian Premier League- Cricket’s “Cinderella Hour”

It has been more than a month since I last posted. I really wanted to write about the VB Series Finals which India won, Sehwag’s magnificent 319 against the South Africans at Chennai, India’s batting disaster at Ahmedabad and their avenging victory at Kanpur. I also wanted to write about the series saving efforts of Sourav Ganguly but college exams prevented me from doing this. As I am also preparing for a major career oriented exam in May, I obviously won’t have much time here.

At around 6 pm local time at Bangalore, Cricket is going to see a new chapter, something which is going to create history. After all the hype, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is going to commence with a bang. There will be a short yet entertaining opening ceremony with acrobats and a performance by the popular music composer trio- Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa before the opening match which is between the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Bangalore Royal Challengers. The 12 cheerleaders of the Washington Redskins, known as the “First Ladies of American Football” will also entertain the crowd. Superstars Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta, who are also team co-owners will be present too. There will also be speeches by ICC President- Ray Mali , BCCI President- Sharad Pawar and IPL Chairman- Lalit Modi.

After the short opening ceremony the organizers plan to switch off the floodlights, thus plunging the stadium into darkness. “Then,” as the CEO of the Bangalore team told Cricinfo, "the spotlights will come on, and focus on the two skippers as they walk out for the toss”

Both the skippers- Kolkata’s Sourav Ganguly and Bangalore’s Rahul Dravid, had their test debut in the same match against England at Lords in 1996. They rescued India when the team was in trouble. Dravid got out in the 90s while Ganguly hit a brilliant 131 which happens to be the highest score by an Indian player on test debut. Both have also led the Indian side. While Ganguly has been India’s most successful captain, Dravid will be rather infamously remembered for leading the team when they were knocked out of the 2007 World Cup in the first round itself. The question being asked is whether or not Ganguly can beat Dravid in his own backyard. That is a question whose answer we will get by around 11 pm. The Kolkata Knight Riders are the favourites to win the tournament opener with odds of 1.66 while the Bangalore Royal Challengers have odds of 2.10.

I expect a very close match. Though the Knight Riders are the stronger team on paper, the Royal Challengers can give them a run for their money. A lot has been said about the Bangalore team and most of it has been negative. I, for instance, have heard people say that the Royal Challengers aren’t a team who can play Twenty20 Cricket in the right way because of their team composition. That may be partly true but then one should always remember that anything can happen in Twenty20 Cricket.

If you look at the Royal Challengers, Rahul Dravid will play a major role in today’s game. Though we can’t expect much from him, he will be a player to look out for. Many people were surprised when he hit a half-century in just 23 balls against New Zealand 5 years ago. I am looking forward to see Zaheer Khan open the bowling for Bangalore with Praveen Kumar. I am not to sure about how Wasim Jaffer will adapt to the T20 format. Another player to look out for will be India’s Under-19 skipper Virat Kohli. I am not too sure about the other local players as I hardly know them. It will be interesting to see their team composition as only 4 overseas players can play in a match. I expect Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher, Cameron White and Ashley Noffke to make the cut. Boucher is the obvious choice for wicket-keeper and is a very handy batsman too. Kallis will be another major player. I don’t know much about Noffke, who has replaced the injured Nathan Bracken. Bangalore’s trump card has to be Cameron White. White is a specialist in this format of the game and has a record 55-ball Twenty20 century on the English county circuit and with a batting average of 43.90 in this format he's clearly one to watch. He has hit 62 fours and 49 sixes in 546 balls faced in Twenty20 cricket - that's a four or a six every 4.92 balls!

Coming to the star studded team of the Kolkata Knight Riders, I surely expect Sourav Ganguly to lead from front. I am very eager to see him open the batting with Chris Gayle. The last time Chris Gayle played in the first match of a Twenty20 tournament, he blasted a 57-ball 117 against South Africa in the ICC World Twenty20 last year; the 10 sixes he struck is the highest in a Twenty20 innings. Ricky Ponting at No. 3 followed by the explosive Brendon McCullum will be major batsmen too. Ishant Sharma, who has undoubtedly been India’s find of the season will be the bowler that the Royal Challengers need to be wary of. Murali Kartik too will be interesting to watch as he has a T20 career economy rate of 5.90 which is very good in this format.

As of now, I can only wonder what is to happen this evening as 8 pm or as Cricinfo called it- “Cinderella Hour” approaches. Its quite obvious now that Cricket is never going to be the same.

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February 29, 2008

Revisiting the ICC World Twenty20 2007

I had no intention of posting today but just couldn’t resist writing on February 29 as I certainly don’t want to wait for 4 more years to avail the opportunity. I was thinking about what to write the entire morning as nothing of interest in the game of cricket was underway. After my last post I also didn’t want to sit and criticize the Australian clowns who are playing the Lankans now in a match whose result is purely academic. Then the thought of writing about the best cricketing incidents of 2007 came to my mind, but I decided not to go with it as it would be too time consuming. I also couldn’t write about last year’s World Cup as it was probably the most boring World Cup in the history of the game and it was very controversial too, because of the untimely demise of Pakistan’s coach Bob Woolmer. That was when I thought of writing about a cricketing event in 2007 which took the cricket fraternity by storm- the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 which was hosted by South Africa. The success of this event was overwhelming even though purists slammed it saying that it would destroy the game completely. The tournament, which was popularly known as the Twenty20 World Cup, was just 13 days long, and it brought the ICC more revenue than the month and a half long World Cup in the West Indies.

The first match of the tournament was played between the World Cup hosts West Indies and the Twenty20 hosts South Africa on September 11, 2007. This match was one of the best matches of the tournament. South Africa won the toss and elected to field first and when the West Indies started batting, South African skipper Graeme Smith realized that his decision was completely wrong. The Windies had got off to a flier and reached 50 without losing a wicket in just 5.2 overs! The carnage wasn’t over as Chris Gayle blasted the South African bowlers all over the place and the Windies brought up their 100 in just 9.4 overs out of which Gayle had notched up 64. The first wicket fell at 145 when D.S. Smith departed for 35. Gayle reached his century, the first in international Twenty20 history off just 50 balls. He got out in the 17th over for a magnificent 117 in 57 deliveries with 7 fours and 10 huge sixes. Windies ended their 20 overs with 205/6. South Africa needed to accelerate from the beginning if they wanted to win and they did just that as the openers knocked off the first 50 runs in just 4.5 overs. In spite of losing 2 wickets, the Proteas also reached 100 in 9.4 overs. Gibbs and Kemp hammered the bowling and the South Africans won in the 17.4 overs. Gayle’s brilliant effort went in vain but that knock is certainly unforgettable.

The next match worthy of mention is the India-Pakistan league encounter. Pakistan won the toss and elected to field and the Indians were in deep trouble at 36/4 with Mohd. Asif taking all 4 wickets. Robin Uthappa played one of the best T20 innings under pressure to get India out of trouble. He had scored 50 in 39 balls by the time he was the fifth man out for 82. Dhoni and Pathan hung on and helped in taking India to 141/9. Pakistan was also in a spot of bother at 87/5 but Misbah-ul-Haq played spectacularly and Pakistan had 5 runs to win off 3 balls and had 3 wickets in hand, Misbah was facing Sreesanth and he smashed the ball straight to the boundary for four and brought up his half century. Now it was 1 to win off 2. Sreesanth bowled a well directed bouncer off which Misbah couldn’t take a run. That made it 1 run to win of 1 ball. Sreesanth then fired in a yorker which was played well by Misbah who then scampered for a run and was short of the crease as Uthappa had thrown the ball to Sreesanth who then went on to dislodge the bails. Misbah was run out for 53 off 35 balls and the match was a tie! But T20 rules need a bowl-out to take place in the event of a tie so that there is a winner at the end of the match. India held its nerve and won the bowl-out 3-0 as the Pakistanis missed the stumps on all occasions! India had defeated arch-rival Pakistan in an intense match and the media just couldn’t forget this moment as Dhoni won his first international game as captain.

The India vs. New Zealand match was a good one too. New Zealand was put into bat by the Indians and they blasted 190 runs in their 20 overs. The Indian openers started well but the middle-order couldn’t hold on and India lost the match by 10 runs. Gautam Gambhir played well for 51 off 33 and so did his opening partner Sehwag who scored 40 off just 17 balls and was the first Indian wicket to fall.

Then there was the match played between Australia and Zimbabwe in which Zimbabwe won! I haven’t been able to write about that match as I don’t have many details about it. There is also the Australia-Bangladesh match which wasn’t very interesting as Australia chased down Bangladesh’s 123 easily. The match, however, had a typical T20 knock by Adam Gilchrist who blasted the Bangladeshi attack for 4 sixes and just 1 four in a 28 ball 43, a superb effort if you ask me.

Another interesting match was the one in which Pakistan thrashed Australia by 6 wickets. Australia scored 164/7 in their 20 overs. Pakistan successfully chased the score in 19.1 overs thanks mainly to captain Shoaib Malik and Misbah-ul-Haq who both made unbeaten half centuries. Malik scored 52 off 38 while Misbah scored 66 in just 42 balls. Misbah’s knock was one of my favourite individual batting efforts in the tournament. Another wonderful innings was by Justin Kemp of South Africa against New Zealand who hit 6 sixes and 6 fours to score an unbeaten 89 off 56 while helping South Africa chase down New Zealand’s 153.

One of the most famous matches has to be the India-England encounter as it was a treat to cricket lovers all over the world. We all know what happened in this match but I will start from the beginning. India won the toss and chose to bat. The Indian openers- Sehwag and Gambhir started cautiously before milking the bowling and had an opening partnership of 136. Sehwag scored 68 off 59 with 4 fours and 3 sixes and Gambhir scored 58 off 41 with 7 fours and a six. Both got out in successive overs and Uthappa followed them back to the pavilion. When Uthappa departed in the seventeenth over, the scorecard read 155/3 and Yuvraj Singh joined Dhoni at the crease. At the end of the eighteenth over Yuvraj had a tiff with Flintoff, at this point Yuvraj was batting on 14 runs in 6 balls, out of which 12 runs had come with the help of 3 fours. When Stuart Broad came into bowl the penultimate over of the Indian innings, Yuvraj greeted him by whacking the first ball for a huge six on the on-side. The next ball too was flicked for six. He hit the third and fourth balls for two huge sixes on the off-side. The last two balls were hit for hit for massive sixes as well, both being on the on-side. Yuvraj Singh had become the first player in the history of Twenty20 cricket to hit 6 sixes in an over and the fourth to do so in senior cricket, the others being Gary Sobers, Ravi Shastri (who was commentating while Yuvraj achieved the feat) and Herschelle Gibbs (who did it against Holland in the World Cup). Yuvraj also scored the fastest 50 T20 cricket in the process, in fact it was the fastest 50 in any form of the game. Before he got out in the last over of the innings he hit one more six, this time off Flintoff before falling to the same bowler for a brilliant 58 off just 16 balls with 3 fours and 7 towering sixes. He batted for only 15 minutes and his strike rate was a phenomenal 352.50 as India finished with a mammoth 218/4 in their stipulated 20 overs. Ravi Shastri’s statement during the course of his commentary aptly sums up Yuvraj’s heroic effort, “He came in like thunder and leaves with lighting.” The Englishmen came quite close as they ended on 200 as India won by 18 runs.

India’s next match was against the South Africans, who till then were unbeaten in the tournament. India’s hero against England- Yuvraj was unable to play the match due to injury. India chose to bat after winning the toss and were in a lot of trouble the score being 33/3 in 5.1 overs. India lost their fourth wicket in the eleventh over when Uthappa tried to loft Morne Morkel over the top but managed to hit the ball straight to Graeme Smith, the score at that point was 61/4. From here, Dhoni and newcomer Rohit Sharma built a crucial partnership which was broken in the last over of the innings. The fifth wicket partnership between the two was worth 85 runs. The partnership ended when Dhoni was run out for a 33 ball 45. Rohit Sharma held his nerve to hit the last ball of the innings for six to bring up his 50 off 40 balls and also take India to a respectable 153/5. I was backing the South African team to win the game as they are one of my favourite teams. I wanted the result to be such that both India and South Africa qualify for the semi-finals which would mean that New Zealand would be knocked out of the tournament. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be as India shocked the Proteas and not only won the game but in the process knocked the Proteas out of the tournament to set up a semi-final clash with the Australians. R.P. Singh bowled remarkably well in this match by picking up 4 wickets for just 13 runs in his 4 overs.

The first semi-final played between Pakistan and New Zealand was pretty much a one sided affair as Pakistan thrashed the Kiwis and reached the finals. However, the second semi-final played between India and Australia was a wonderful match that will never be forgotten. The intensity with which the match was played by both teams was something completely indescribable. India won the toss and elected to bat. India started very cautiously and were 41/2 in the eighth over. Yuvraj, who had missed the last match against the South Africans walked into bat and the entire equation of the match changed. He got off the mark with a six off Stuart Clark, who till then had been the tournament’s best bowler. In the tenth over he hit Brett Lee for the longest six of the tournament, a hit that was 119m long! Uthappa too joined the party but was run out immediately after hitting two consecutive sixes, their partnership was worth 84. Uthappa scored 34 off 28. Yuvraj however continued his assault on the Aussie bowlers bringing up his half century in just 20 balls. By the time he departed in the fifteenth over, India had already made 155 runs. He scored a wonderful 70 runs off only 30 balls with 5 fours and 5 sixes. Dhoni accelerated towards the end scoring 36 off 18 before he was run out in the penultimate ball of the innings. India had scored 188/5 at the end of their 20 overs. The total was a good one but the Aussies were in no mood to give up, Adam Gilchrist hammered 2 huge sixes of R.P. Singh and was looking dangerous when Sreesanth removed him with a brilliant delivery that knocked back Gilchrist’s stumps. Hodge too didn’t last long and the Australian scoreboard read 68/2 in the ninth over. Symonds joined Hayden at the crease and the two men combined to hammer the hapless Indian bowlers all over the place. Sehwag bowled one over and was hit for 20 runs. When there was no option, skipper Dhoni gave the ball to Sreesanth who still had one over to bowl. He struck immediately by claiming the wicket of Hayden to whom he bowled an absolutely fantastic delivery to shatter Hayden’s stumps. In his 4 overs Sreesanth picked up 2 wickets for just 12 runs, in one of the most economic and spirited bowling performances in the history of international T20 cricket. As far as I know, I don’t think any bowler has managed to get Gilchrist and Hayden bowled in the same match. This was clearly the turning point as the Indian bowlers made inroads from this point and India won the match by 15 runs setting up an India-Pakistan final, something that no one would have imagined when this tournament began.

It was September 24, 2007 as India faced Pakistan in the final of the ICC World Twenty20. The two teams playing were the same two big teams which had been knocked out in the preliminary round of the World Cup in the West Indies and here there were now playing the final of what many called the Twenty20 World Cup. India won the toss as usual and elected to bat. As Sehwag was injured, Yusuf Pathan (Irfan Pathan’s elder brother) got to make his international debut as he came out to open with Gambhir. He was almost run out without facing a ball but that wasn’t to be, he then went on to hit a six off Mohd. Asif in the first over itself but fell to the same bowler after scoring 15 runs in 8 balls. Other than Gautam Gambhir no one could face the Pakistani bowlers with ease. Umar Gul was in very good form after having taken the wickets of Yuvraj and Dhoni. He also got the wicket of Gambhir for a well made 75 of 54 balls with 8 fours and 2 sixes. Gambhir has been the best Indian T20 batsman with 4 half centuries. Rohit Sharma accelerated towards the end and took India to 157/5 of the stipulated 20 overs. Sharma was unbeaten on 30 off 16 balls. R.P. Singh was bowling brilliantly and got the first breakthrough in the first over itself. Imran Nazir hammered Sreesanth all over the place in the second over but R.P. Singh got Kamran Akmal bowled for a duck in the third over. Akmal got out while attempting to play the pull shot (something which he calls his favourite shot, but I would call his weakness) Just when people thought that Pakistan were in a winning position, India managed to restrict them to 77/6 when Shahid Afridi, who was named the Player of the Tournament fell for a first ball duck as he tried to hit Irfan Pathan out of the ground but only managed to find Sreesanth. But Misbah had other plans as he played very sensibly and kept decreasing the required run-rate. Sohail Tanvir too joined him by scoring 12 runs off 4 balls, the scoring shots for him were 2 huge sixes off Sreesanth who managed to get his wicket too. Seeing that no other player was playing to get Pakistan victory, Misbah decided to take matters into his own hand and hit Harbhajan for 3 sixes in an over. It all came down to the last over- Pakistan had 13 runs to win with a wicket in hand and Dhoni gave the ball to Joginder Sharma who had also bowled the last over against the Aussies. He may have done the trick against the Aussies, but giving him the ball now was a gamble as Misbah was on strike. Joginder started of with a wide and then bowled a dot ball. Pakistan now had 12 runs to win off 5 balls and Misbah was batting on 37. Joginder bowled a full toss and Misbah smashed the ball for a huge six. The pressure was clearly on Joginder as he began his run up to bowl the next delivery. Once the ball came to Misbah, he moved across and scooped it behind the wicket, the ball went up in the air and everyone who was watching the match had their eyes on the ball, which I thought was going for either a four or a six. I was watching the match at a friend’s place and just then I thought what would happen if a fielder came under the ball. Just then, Sreesanth came under the ball and managed to take what was probably the toughest catch in his life. The catch wasn’t difficult, in fact it was a very straightforward one, but Sreesanth would obviously be thinking of many things like what would happen if he spills the catch and it would have been really difficult to concentrate knowing that people all over the world were watching the ball fall down towards him. It was a fantastic finish to a wonderful tournament. I can’t recollect a final match of a tournament being so thrilling. The only instance that I can recollect is India’s victory over England in the Natwest Trophy final at Lords in 2002 when Sourav Ganguly’s men chased down a score in excess of 320 within 50 overs thanks to Mohd. Kaif, Yuvraj and Ganguly himself. India’s victory at the ICC World Twenty20 was on a different level altogether.

Who would have thought that a team which till the beginning of this tournament has played only one international T20 match would turn out to be the best T20 team in the world? Irfan Pathan was the Man of the Final for his brilliant bowling as he took 3 wickets for just 16 runs in his 4 overs. The team was given a grand welcome when they came back to India (wasn’t that obvious) It is rather strange if you think that India won an ICC tournament without the “Big 3”- Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid playing. Yusuf Pathan, who just played in the final, will have a medal for having been part of a team which won an ICC tournament but the “Big 3” who have contributed a lot to Indian cricket and in fact cricket as a whole don’t have any such accolade. It would be ridiculous to say that these players don’t deserve to keep playing after India’s Twenty20 triumph as ODIs and Tests are a different ball game altogether. That, however, doesn’t mean that the T20 triumph isn’t a big thing, it is and I feel proud to have written a post which reminded me of India’s road to the final and ultimately, their victory in a form of cricket, which till a year back the BCCI thought wasn’t important at all.