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.

1 comment:

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