An event that purists tended to view as an unwelcome parody of a great game — the International Cricket Council’s inaugural World Twenty20 tournament in South Africa — has turned out to be a great success. It has demonstrated that intensity and cricketing skill and intelligence can be combined in exciting proportion in the three-hour match format, perhaps better than it can be in the One Day International (ODI) game. India deservedly won a rousing, edge-of-seat thriller in Johannesburg by holding its nerve better than its opponent. It was the sort of final that would make even the most partisan of fans — having watched Misbah-ul-Haq slump on his haunches after his heroic fightback ended six short of the target — feel that a tie would have been a fairer result. By any yardstick, young India and young Pakistan were the best teams on show in South Africa. Pakistan, belying its reputation for unpredictability, was consistency personified and seemed the more balanced side. India, which had to win back-to-back victories against the world’s best to reach the final, was a revelation. Its batting combined firepower with solidity and depth, with clean-hitting and elegant Yuvraj Singh emerging as the tournament’s most destructive match-winner; its underestimated bowling delivered under pressure, with R.P. Singh showing an uncanny ability to strike with perfectly directed lethal swing; and its fielding seemed positively un-Indian. But the biggest revelation was India’s youth power, energised and shaped into a self-confident and happy team by an inspired, intelligent, unselfish, and fearless leader. Few Indian captains before Mahendra Singh Dhoni have led their team with this kind of self-assurance and aplomb in their first major assignment.
Before they landed in South Africa to play a form of cricket that few among them were familiar with, Dhoni’s men may have had few backers. Not only were the three stalwarts — Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, and Sourav Ganguly — absent; the form displayed by India in the ODI series against England had been patchy. What experts as well as lay fans had underestimated was the power and passion of youth. While the experienced players returning to the Indian side after being discarded for poor form — Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh — played with feistiness and determination, newcomers such as Rohit Sharma proved that Dilip Vengsarkar’s much-cited comment, made a few months ago, that there was not a lot of cricketing talent in India at the domestic level did not carry a lot of truth. While success in Twenty20 need not be blown out of proportion, this much is clear: the future of Indian cricket belongs to cricketers with young and willing legs and arms and an uncluttered mind. There are two clear messages from South Africa for the Board of Control for Cricket in India. The first is that the time may be just right to consider easing out the old guard. The other is that the BCCI must not allow this Twenty20 triumph to lead to a slow cannibalisation of Test cricket.