India played with freshness and freedom in 2007 before struggling in subsequent editions

India was the quickest off the blocks. Then, the others caught up before speeding ahead. The stirring triumph of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men in the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007 had drama, excitement and heroes.

Nothing illustrated this more than a marauding Yuvraj Singh’s sensational six sixes in an over off Stuart Broad at Durban or the terrific finish to the competition at Johannesburg; S. Sreesanth held on to a swirling ball at short fine leg to dismiss the influential Misbah-ul-Haq off the rather innocuous Joginder Sharma.

Twenty20 cricket was still in its infancy and a young Indian team played without the burden of expectations. The fielding was vibrant in South Africa, creating critical chances. And an inspired India seized the opportunities with pacemen Irfan Pathan, Sreesanth and R.P. Singh excelling.

That was a team which played with freshness and freedom, bucking the odds in tough games such as the semifinal against Australia in Durban.

Dynamics

India also appeared to have understood the dynamics of Twenty20 cricket better. Batting successfully was not about big hitting alone and Gautam Gambhir rotated the strike, ran hard, and pierced the gaps to lend stability to the innings.

The side also comprehended the fact that length balls — so handy in other formats — could be pummelled to distant corners in Twenty20 cricket. The pacemen sent down plenty of back-of-a-length deliveries and toe-crushers to deny batsmen the room to free their arms. The yorker just outside the off-stump was a particularly useful delivery.

The edition in South Africa also exploded some myths about the relevance of spin in the game’s shortest format. Spinners were not cannon fodder as some expected. Rather, by mixing their pace and trajectory, they were able to deny pace and momentum to the batsmen. The spinners contained and struck; flight was used cleverly.

Harbhajan Singh bowled with imagination in the competition, changing the angle and disrupting the rhythm of the batsmen.

In an innings of just 20 overs, batsmen had very little time to adjust from pace to spin with the clock ticking.

That was a phase when India was ahead in the Twenty20 curve. It must also be mentioned here that many of the leading countries were not serious about this format in 2007.

Different dimension

It was only after India’s triumph in the competition, the enormous interest it generated back home and the birth of the cash-rich IPL that the format gained in significance. There was now a different dimension to Twenty20 cricket, although the purists were rather alarmed at the development.

The burgeoning format was now in every coach’s shot book and, predictably, the teams looked at video analysis to pick chinks in the Indian armour.

The lifting deliveries, not bouncing over the shoulder but forcing the batsmen to play off their chest, was the answer. In the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 in the Old Blighty, the West Indian and English pacemen exploited this failing of the Indian batsmen.

When the Indians, pinned down by the short-pitched stuff, went for the pull or the hook without displaying the right technique, they invariably perished to catches in the deep.

On the back-foot

The Indian batting juggernaut was now on the back-foot. India failed to make the last four stage in England. In the next edition in the West Indies, India succumbed to similar tactics by the West Indian and Australian pacemen.

It had, by now, fallen behind in the Twenty20 race although, rather paradoxically, it annually organised the biggest tournament in this format. On the Bangladesh pitches, though, the threat from the lifters could be minimal. India has the opportunity to hit back.

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