India hit, hit, hit all the way
As the Twenty20 World Cup vrooms into its final lap, the verdict is self-evident: it's a roaring hit, not just among casual sports watchers but also among die-hard cricket lovers.
Its magic is there for all to see and feel; it, of course, looks even more thrilling and almost perfect in a place like South Africa. Add beautiful and strategically-dressed dancers, good music and easily available beer and it becomes a winning combination anywhere.
However, beyond all this and state-of-the-art stadiums and eye-raising crowds, there is something more engaging: the cricket itself. The core of the game, it must be clear, remains the same: one team still tries to score runs while the other still tries to stop it.
It's just that the duration has been cut down: it's like reducing all the ups and downs and periods of nothing happening in your life (Test cricket) to a few good weeks with their accompanying successes and heartbreaks (One-dayers) to the most enjoyable day in your life.
The greatest fear among aficionados has always been that One-dayers will kill the finer nuances and subtleties of cricket; you can imagine how petrified they might be of its newest avatar. The fact is, as a prophet might say, nothing really dies in this world: it just transforms into something else, often something even better.
Who can ever claim that the game has become easier just because they have to hit from the word go? In fact, if anything it has become sharper; skills have become even more important and technique (yes technique) even more crucial. The sloggers will get a few right but the winners will still be the methodical hitters.
Most importantly, there is no scope for errors anymore; even one false move or one poor spell can mean doom. Isn't that what sport is all about, at least in its purest form? Isn't that what you want to from start to finish?
That's precisely why the 100 metre sprint is the blue riband event in athletics. The 1500 metre race might be the toughest since it brings in tactics and requires both speed and endurance in equal measure; the marathon demands even more from the human body too.
But the diluting factor in both is that there is scope for recovering, for overcoming a fault. And everybody doesn't have the patience or inclination to read or enjoy each and every twist in them. In the sprint, even a false start usually means the end; nothing can be crueller than that.
Amazingly, Twenty20 at least provides an opportunity to stage a fightback. You can bowl badly and still win; you can get bundled out for a small score and still be in the game. You still have to be careful against the new ball; you still have to guard against collapses. And there's every possibility of choking even while chasing a small target.
The real charm lies in the fact that the same over can be a death-wish for one team and a lifeline for the other. A match, however badly or well-poised, can turn dramatically in just six balls. The players can't afford to relax even for a moment. Especially because at this point even they don't know what is a safe total and what is unattainable?
Twenty20's real test lies ahead. What will it displace in the long term? Will it be so exciting in bilateral events too? Indeed, how will it fare in India where the stadiums are like dilapidated relics and the fans still quite primitive?