At every major International Cricket Council event, whether it’s the World Cup, the World Twenty20, or the Champions Trophy, there’s a minor stampede back in India as sponsors backing the team and the event try and make the most of a fertile window of opportunity. The massive spike in television viewership, the increased attention the game gets online and in the print media mean that this is the time to make the most of an expensive investment. In the last week alone, Indian journalists have been bombarded with emails from public relations professionals, about advertising campaigns that were soon to blitz television screens.
Yes, things have indeed come to such a pass that it’s not enough to watch advertisements on television in between the cricket (or is it the other way around?). We must also be told why these campaigns came to be, who put them together and how they will change the world. One such campaign stars Mahendra Singh Dhoni, appearing on behalf of the “Pouring Partner” of the tournament, Pepsi.
Given the dark clouds that have hung low over Colombo, these rights may more appropriately have been awarded to the South West monsoon. Or not awarded at all, considering that complaints from one team, reportedly Australia, over the quality of bottled water provided at grounds has forced the entire lot to be replaced, despite the ICC finding nothing wrong with what was originally supplied.
But, back to Dhoni and the Pepsi advert. In a sequence that is the perfect endorsement for obnoxious behavior, Ranbir Kapoor, the actor, after messing with people’s minds, delivers the punchline: “Yeh T20 hai boss… na tameez se khela jaata hai… na tameez se dekha jaata hai.” Roughly translated, this means that T20 cricket is not played with the manners and respect that you might expect from the gentleman’s game, nor is it watched that way.
Our expectations of behavior standards in the gentleman’s game have been steadily lowered over the years given that there aren’t many gentlemen playing it at the highest level any more. That said, the allusion to Twenty20 cricket setting aside accepted norms has scarcely rung true in the 12 matches of the just-concluded league phase.
If anything, this has been a tournament that should keep the purist from frothing over his pint, for it’s not been freakish unorthodoxy or innovative strokeplay that has held sway. For each of the teams who have made it through to the Super Eights, there has been a player who has done the ordinary basics extraordinarily well.
Australia have been well served by Shane Watson, that rare breed of cricketer who opens both the batting and bowling. At the crease, Watson has looked to hit bowlers back down the ground, whether in the air or along the turf. When taking on the spinners, and this has been mostly against the offies, Watson has aimed to hit with the turn, and given his brute power, the tactic has resulted in the ball landing in the stands over long-on or midwicket more often than not.
With the ball, Watson has not tried to show off an array of clever slower deliveries – although he does mix his pace up well enough – but rather, kept the ball full and straight, counting on movement, natural variation and errors from the batsmen to get him wickets.
India, who have an array of extremely different batsmen to call upon, have seen runs come from the blade of Virat Kohli, whose calling card is that he does not really change the way he plays his strokes irrespective of the format. It’s not as though he is trying to send the ball over the keeper’s head in T20s and reverting to the forward defensive in Tests.
Instead, Kohil plays good cricketing shots, and merely varies the amount of risk he takes depending on the format. In Test matches, he generally waits for the genuinely loose ball to unfurl his silken cover-drive. Making some concessions to the shortest format, he attempts the stroke even when not quite to the pitch, hitting through the line and on the up.
What’s come as the biggest surprise in this old-school revival is the batting of Pakistan’s Nasir Jamshed. Nearing his 23rd birthday, the Lahore-based Jamshed has already been in the eye of many mini storms, and those that follow Pakistan cricket closely suggest that he can be a bit of a wild character. Jamshed, however, has been the epitome of tameez when batting.
A left-hand bat with the unusual characteristic of looking compact and efficient when defending or looking for ones and twos, he still manages to be flamboyant when he unveils a big shot. Jamshed has been a revelation. In his two visits to the crease, he has confounded bowlers with strokes so beautiful in their execution they look like they’ve come straight out of the coaching manual, although no one really teaches you how to hit offspin inside-out over extra-cover for six.
Perhaps, then, despite what Pepsi is keen to have us believe, there is place for respect, tradition, orthodoxy, manners and just plain old-fashioned goodness in T20 cricket. I was never a big fan of cola anyway, what with healthcare professionals telling us about its impact on our health. Give me a beer any day, and a cricketer who knows the value of a straight bat.