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If India win, Twenty20 will get an even greater boost.
by Suresh Menon
Jun 01, 2009
This is how it was in 1987. India were the defending World Cup champions, they were hosts of the new edition, and in the intervening period they had beaten the best. The limited overs game had arrived in the subcontinent along with major sponsorship and great expectations. Writing in a national magazine, Kapil Dev saw no reason why the Lord's triumph could not be duplicated at the Eden Gardens.

There was an upsurge in the shorter game which, in the words of India's first captain in the format, Ajit Wadekar, "No one took seriously" when India first played it.

Two decades later, history is repeating itself. India, who did not take the Twenty20 game seriously surprised everyone, themselves most of all, by winning the inaugural world tournament in South Africa. It was not a format everyone enjoyed - from England, where the Indian team was touring, the senior players withdrew, perhaps still smarting under the national reaction when the team messed up the 50-over World Cup some months earlier. This wasn't their game. In fact, it was widely assumed that this wasn't India's game. Ironically, the senior players became 'icons' and were paid a million dollars for the status in the IPL.

At the inaugural Cup, Yuvraj struck, skipper Dhoni led with the kind of inspiration last seen when Kapil Dev led in 1983, and the impossible came to pass.

Twenty months later (world cups have started coming around with the frequency of the horse ride on a merry-go-round), Dhoni sounds like Kapil when he says that India have the best side and he sees no reason why 2007 cannot be repeated.

If 1983 was a turning point in Indian - and by extension world - cricket, then the impact of the 2007 win might historically be even greater. For one, it brought respectability, and with it, huge money into Twenty20. The IPL, every cricketer's dream tournament for the mortgages it helps to pay and the lifestyle it affords, would not have been established without India's pioneering victory. Kevin Pietersen, the most expensive millionaire at this year's IPL has said recently that he is no good at the Twenty20 game, but that does not matter. Money chases personalities, not players in this post-modern sport.

Had India performed in the Twenty20 as abysmally as they had in the longer version of the shorter game when they lost to Bangladesh and failed to qualify for the knockout, then there would have been no IPL, no immediate change in the sport overall. It is too early to assess Dhoni's role in changing the face of cricket, since we have no idea what that face is going to look like some years from now, but should Twenty20 be the reigning format, then his place in history is assured.

With the success of the two IPL tournaments, the format is set to establish itself. Dhoni leads the best all round side in the tournament, with its combination of experience and confidence. The IPL has allowed the world's leading players to get in some serious practice before the World Cup - something not readily available in some of the participating countries. It has led to some injuries too - but as the IPL has shown, younger and fitter players have a happy knack of coming good when thrown in at the deep end.

So forceful has been India's presence that other teams, notably South Africa, have not had the kind of pressure that the defending champions are under. If India win, Twenty20 will get an even greater boost. Seldom has the money, the marketing, the talent all come together like it has in India's case as they prepare to defend their title.

 
More Views by Suresh Menon
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  Graeme Smith was forthright, uncompromising, unsubtle.
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