The Fabian socialist that George Bernard Shaw was, defined cricket as a game played by eleven fools and watched by eleven thousand fools! In our country where cricket is almost a national obsession and some of the cricketers are like gods, there are at least some people who not only do not watch the game but also consider the game as a national waste of time and energy and also accuse the “gentleman’s game” of killing other sports.
The media, both traditional and the newer ones have played a crucial role in the popularization of the game. As a child I used to wonder why the newspapers were devoting so much space to this game and why some of the periodicals like the now extinct “Illustrated Weekly of India” had pages of action photographs of test cricket matches played at home and abroad. As I grew up I realized that cricket was all about scores, statistics, records, endless anecdotes and expert comments. Radio as the only instant medium would carry live “ball–by-ball” commentary and the commentators had star status. With the advent of the transistor era in the mid nineteen sixties the games popularity had increased. Television and satellite television ensured there were tremendous money making possibilities through ads and celebrity endorsements and sponsorships and cricket emerged as a major industry more than just a sport. Players, who earlier played for the love of the sports and got very moderate remunerations too started minting money and cricket today is another career option for young people.
Earlier when only test matches were played, critics used to argue that a match takes five days and often ends in a boring and meandering draw with hardly any excitement or thrill. The shorter versions of the game-One Day Internationals or T20 Internationals have answered such critics. Critics of the game have been silenced by the nail biting ends of matches- match 3 and 4 of the just concluded 5 T20 series in New Zealand between India and the Black Caps are shining examples. And lo! What excitement and thrill were generated in the “Super- Over“ of both matches. Before getting into the India- New Zealand series it is worth recalling some interesting features.
This is not the first time that results were decided in the Super Over or Overs in T20 internationals. The first time ever when the result of a T20 international match was decided through a tie-breaker or a Super Over following scores being level at the end of the regulation time was the one between West Indies and New Zealand played on 26 December 2008. Both teams scored 155 runs each in the stipulated 20 overs. After two Super Overs West Indies won with the score of 25 for 1 and New Zealand lost scoring only 15 for 2.
Interestingly New Zealand has probably been involved in the maximum number of ties in T-20 internationals including the two matches in the just concluded India- New Zealand five match series. But they won only one of them- the match against Australia played in Christchurch on 28 February 2010. In this match Australia scored 6 for I as against New Zealand’s 9 for no loss in 0.4 over. Interestingly, the Kiwis lost eight such ties, if my calculation is correct; this seems to be quite an unbeatable record in itself!
New Zealand seems to always have a slip between the proverbial cup and the lip. They were lucky to beat a much fancied India in the last One Day International World Cup in England last year to enter the finals as back to back finalists. India had lost the opening batsmen and prolific run getters Rohit Sharma, K L Rahul and Virat Kohli scoring just one run each. However, an ever dependable Mahendra Singh Dhoni who was steadying the innings had to leave under rather strange if not controversial circumstances; that is why I have said that they were lucky in that match played at Old Trafford, Manchester. What actually happened is that Dhoni batting on 50 was declared out on what was allegedly a ‘no ball’ as New Zealand had violated field restrictions, if reports are to be believed; there was at least one extra fielder and India should have been awarded a “free hit” which would have, probably changed the result!
But their “luck” ran out in the finals against hosts England. New Zealand bowled out England for 241 in 50 overs and batting second they managed 241 for eight wickets. Thus the scores were tied and this resulted in the inevitable Super Over. However the Super Over also ended in a tie with both teams scoring 15 runs each. Instead of a second super over being played, much to the chagrin of the Black Caps, the match was awarded to England on the basis of a count of boundaries as per an ICC rule on page 143. England had scored 26 boundaries as against New Zealand’s 17. And England won their first ever World Cup Title!
Luck did not favour New Zealand again in the white washed series which ended last Sunday at Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui. They were beaten convincingly by Virat Kohli’s Team India in the first two matches. If in the first match, Shreyas Iyer hit 58 runs to beat New Zealand by six wickets, in the second match, it was a breezy 57 by K L Rahul that helped India beat the hosts by seven wickets. New Zealand had every chance of winning the next three fixtures, but they fumbled and did not accept the challenge paused by the young Indian side. In fact, the third and fourth matches turned out to be unprecedented back to back ties, both decided by Super Overs. And in the third and fourth matches the more confident and determined Indian team snatched victory.
In the third match in Auckland India scored 179 for five wickets in 20 overs, thanks to a 40 ball 65 by Rohit Sharma who captained the team. Despite a brilliant 95 runs off 48 balls by Kane Williamson, the Kiwis could only level the score with 179 for 6. In fact they needed just nine runs to win in the last over, but a brilliant Mohammed Shami turned out to be their nemesis by picking up the crucial wickets of Kane Williamson and Rose Taylor. This led to the first Super Over in the five match series. The hosts scored 17 runs in their six- ball over. In reply courtesy two consecutive sixes off the 5th and 6th ball of their Super Over by Rohit Sharma, India scored 20 runs and won the match.
The highlight of the 4th match was Shardul Thakur’s all round performance. The match ended in a tie with the Kiwis scoring 165 for7. It is interesting that after 17 overs they were 155 for the loss of three wickets but could finish with only 165 runs losing seven wickets in the last 18 balls. India in reply leveled the score-165 for eight. In their Super Over, despite hitting two boundaries, New Zealand could make only 13 for 1. India in reply started with a flourish from K L Rahul hitting a six and a four in the first two balls and was out in the next ball. Virat Kohli hit a two and finished off with a four. With that four, India won the fourth match scoring 16 for 1 with a ball to spare.
In the 5th match, played last Sunday [2nd February], though India could muster only 163 for three and restricted the hosts to just 156 for the loss of nine wickets thus winning the match and the series. The Black Caps were thus white washed in the five match series - the first team in the history of the T20 Internationals to achieve the feat. Of course India had twice white washed 3-nil in away T20 series – both formidable opponents. India had beaten West Indies 3-0 in 2019 and Australia 3-0 in 2016. But the 5-0 white wash of New Zealand is a record hard to surpass.
Rohit who overtook Virat Kohli in the fifth ODI last Sunday, scoring his 21st half century has become the only batsman with 25 scores in excess of 50 in T20 International cricket with four centuries. His captain Virat Kohli has 24 half centuries to his credit but no hundreds.
However in a severe blow for India, the stand-in captain, Rohit Sharma after scoring a quick-fire 60 off 41 balls retired hurt injuring his calf muscle while attempting a quick single. The bad news is that as of now Rohit has been ruled out of the remaining three one-dayers and the two test matches against New Zealand. It is reported that Mayank Agarwal may replace Rahul. Prithvi Shaw and Navdeep Saini may also be part of the team.
Let’s hope that India in the current form will be a major contender for the seventh 2020 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup tournament to be played in Australia from 18th October to 15th November 2020!