September 27, 2007

On Top Of The World!

By H Natarajan

Such is the humungous reverence for Lord Ganesha - something that cuts across religions barriers – one would have expected the front pages of all Indian newspapers to splash giant photos of the visarjan (immersion) and stories relating to it. But the impact of the Twenty20 World Cup triumph and the homecoming of India’s cricketing heroes from South Africa overwhelmingly dominated Page 1 – and several pages inside on Wednesday. And even before the aircraft carrying the demi-Gods landed in Mumbai, every TV channel went live ahead of the extensive coverage of the open-top bus ride of the champion team. And what a sight it was! A sea of humanity thronged the entire route from the airport to Wankhede Stadium, in a manner that has not been seen in India in several decades, to see the heroes ride in a special, open-top BEST bus.

The gains from the Twenty20 triumph is much more than is apparent. The victory has been a team effort and it has been fashioned with a degree of conviction by beating England, South Africa, Australia and Pakistan in a row. It can’t get tougher.

The margin for error is very little in Twenty20 and the opportunity is far limited than in any other form of cricket to stage a comeback. Yet, to the eternal credit of India, India showed character in swinging the scales in several key matches.

The personality of an inspirational leader often rubs off on his team and that in the case of Mahendra Singh Dhoni that was quite evident. For a man whose middle name is aggression, Dhoni is remarkably cool – especially in pressure situations. This admirable trait has played a huge contributory role in India winning – especially the last two games. Not for a moment he gave the impression that he was leading the country for the first time and a team that had a handful of seniors. He commanded instant respect. There is also something humane about him – be it instantly apologizing to the batsmen stunned by an unintentional beamer or giving away his victorious short to a young boy soon after the final – that has endeared him to the masses. But it’s still early days for him as a captain. It was painful to watch him scamper from one end of the ground to another in those crucial, closing moments to advise his bowlers. Wicket-keeping is a very demanding job and sometime down the line he may well have to give up captaincy or keeping.

It was a triumph of youth in the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup. The one thing that was unmistakably evident in this Indian team was that its fearlessness – something that personifies the captain. Be it RP Singh, S Sreesanth, Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma or even a tyro like Joginder Singh, who emerged triumphant when bowling the nerve-wracking final overs in the semis and final with the expectations of millions Indians on his shoulders.

What is most commendable was that the team was shorn of three stalwarts in Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly besides Zaheer Khan. The fact that Harbhajan and Virender Sehwag had limited success and Ajit Agarkar was a disappointment, indicates the fact that this team, with a plethora of youngsters in their early 20s, radiates much promise for the future.

But one should not be carried away by the euphoria and clamor for sweeping induction of youngsters to replace the senior lot in Test cricket. Twenty20, ODIs and Tests are different ball games – especially Test cricket. The elongated version of the game requires a different mindset, different skill set and different temperament, something that is not evident in any of the younger, inexperienced batsmen in this team.

The Twenty20 triumph is another big blow for the breakaway Indian Cricket League (ICL). The first serious blow was struck by the BBCI with the announcement of a counter league (International Premier League) that offered bigger prize money and attracted bigger names like Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. With India winning the Twenty20 World Cup, the delirious celebrations all over the country – not to ignore the financial windfall – may well have come as a carpet kiss for the ICL. Many of the young players it attracted, and were hopeful of attracting in future, would now realize that there is nothing like winning in national colors. The BCCI invited the 1983 World Cup heroes to join the official celebration in honor of the in South Africa winning team. But at the time of writing it’s not known how many of the 1983 World Cup winning team made it. It would not have been an easy decision for them after many of that team, led by Kapil Dev, pitched their support for the ICL.

As for now, it’s party time!