Here are the top ten highlights from the just concluded ICC World Twenty 20 Cup, an event that somewhat altered the manner in which T20 cricket is likely to be played in future. Bowlers felt more at home and fielders sparkled but in the end it still remains a batsman’s game.
1. Pakistani resurgence- The Pakistan side came into the World Cup totally under prepared and short of international match practice. A heavy defeat by arch-rivals India in a practice match must have dented their confidence a great deal, and renewed memories of the heart-breaking loss to India in the 2007 final. But despite some hiccups in early matches, they went from strength to strength with Shahid Afridi not only mesmerizing opposing batsmen with his accurate leg spinners but also exploding with the bat when it really mattered- in the final and the semi final. Umar Gul and the rediscovered Abdul Razzak formed a potent pace attack, and Saeed Ajmal proved to be an exciting new spinner.
2. Lankan brilliance– Sri Lanka looked the most balanced side in the tournament and played some dazzling cricket, with Tilakratne Dilshan looking simply superb at the top of the order. They lost early wickets in the final and though skipper Kumar Sangakarra kept his composure to help put up a fighting score on the board, they simply did not have enough runs on the board. Till then they had not lost a single match and and their 4 Ms- Malinga, Muralidharan, Mendis and Matthews had bowled brilliantly. Sangakarra led the side as if he had been doing it all his life and in batting he and Dilshan were well supported by Jayasuriya and Jayawardene.
3. South Africa choke again- They might deny it over and over again, but the fact remains that until they win a World Cup, they will always be known as the best team never to do so! The South Africans were on song and looked really formidable against all opposition until they were defeated by the eventual champions, Pakistan. AB Devilliers has declared that he wants to be the best in the world and he was in awesome touch just as he was in the IPL, but he fell cheaply when it really mattered- in the semis. Jacques Kallis too showed his class and seems to have blended his game beautifully to this shortest of formats. Wayne Parnell looks a good prospect for them in the pace department.
4. Windy Windies- One never could be sure whether the West Indies would blow hot or cold in the event. Their annihilation of Australia on the very first day was magnificent, and Chris Gayle’s batting was a sight to behold. They found some new hopes in Lendl Simmons and Xavier Marshall, and shocked India too, along the way, but they still lack depth in their batting and bowling to be world champions in this era. They would have to find players of caliber to replace the classy Shivnaraine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan sooner than later.
5. Chin music for India- One used to hear about Indian batsmen being a bit scared when facing up to really quick bowling, but that was in the pre-helmet days. Even at that time, Sunil Gavaskar, Gundappa Vishwanath and Mohinder Amarnath took on the fastest bowlers with guts and class. At Lords against England and earlier against the Windies in their crucial super league matches, India just could not find answers to deliveries that were aimed at their chins. The need to score quickly while negotiating bouncers bowled at over 90 miles and hour was too much for them to handle. Defending champions India let the Cup slip too easily from their grasp, and Dhoni’s men would look to come back with a vengeance in next year’s Cup.
6. The Australians were at their poorest- Never before had an Australian team exited a major cricketing event as quietly and quickly as this one did. The whole world knows that they are not the force they were a few years back, and that they have lost players like Gilchrist, Hayden, McGrath and Warne in the recent past, but no one expected them to capitulate as easily as they did. Skipper Ricky Ponting admitted that they haven’t got the hang of the T-20 format yet, and that other teams have adapted much better. The Aussies had better pull up their socks very soon, for T-20 is likely to be more and more prolific on the cricketing calendar in the years to come.
7. Reluctant Hosts- The event was hosted admirably by the English Cricket Board, but their team was almost reluctant to win matches. They lost to the Dutch and to the West Indians in matches that they should have won. The Dutch could not believe their luck as England wasted several chances to run their batsmen out, and were generally butter-fingered in the field. Their win against India was their finest hour, for they played in front of a crowd that was predominantly Indian, and even booed them- at Lords of all places! Ravi Bopara looked their best batsman, while their star Kevin Pieterson looked moody at best. Skipper Paul Collingwood batted too low in the order, and their bowlers were on song only against India.
8. The “Dilshan”- Everyone who has played a bit of cricket knows that it is virtually impossible to hit yorker length balls over the wicket-keeper’s head for 4 or 6 runs, but Tilakratne Dilshan did that with astonishing regularity in this tournament. He batted like a true champion at the top of the order and took the Lankans to win after win, before running out of steam in the final. Dilshan was deservedly declared the man of the series.
9. Captain Cool- The new Captain cool is Younis Khan who led his side with grit and determination, without ever looking hassled and allowed himself a smile only when it was all over- the Cup was Pskistan’s! He batted well too, and in most matches marshaled the middle order brilliantly to take his team to seemingly improbable targets.
10. Unpredictability- If any expert claims that he can predict the outcome of even half the matches played in the T-20 format, he is talking through his hat. There is very little to choose among international sides and the shortest format allows no breathing space for the side that has a bad day. Any team can lose to any other, and in this tournament fancied sides lost match after match.
Vivek Atray is a freelance cricket writer.