In the aaiirrr... and Sreesanth takes it...” - These lines yelled out by Ravi Shastri shall reverberate in the minds of the Indian fans for a lifetime.
For a generation that grew up watching cricket post-1983 would never know about how it felt to watch Kapil Dev and his teammates lift the World Cup in the Lord’s balcony on a historic English summer evening. The Misbah scoop that fell safely in the shivering hands of Sreesanth that handed India the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup would be their ‘Where were you when’ moment.
Dhoni’s Youngistaan did the unthinkable from the relative abyss of the cricket board denying charges to partake in the T20 World event. Not only the board, the senior trio of Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, and Sachin Tendulkar decided to stay away from the event, citing this was a young people’s game, and quite rightfully so. However, today, in this edition of What if Wednesday, we will go on exploring the alternate universe and how the change in paraphernalia would have impacted Indian cricket had the aforementioned trio continued to play the shortest version of the game.
Now, we are in September 2007 and India have sent a full-strength side to South Africa despite their initial reluctance to the format. The hurt of the 50-Over World Cup debacle in West Indies is real and none of the players, thanks to the reaction from fans, were over the situation. They are determined to make amends but as it is evident, the 20-Over format is a different ball game altogether. The traditional approach doesn’t work so well for India, as they beat only Scotland in the tournament to crash out of the second stage.
All this while, India’s biggest positive, however, is the batting of Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni as the duo put up two half-centuries each for Rahul Dravid’s men’s otherwise disappointing tournament. The horror show has become such a norm that Indian fans start to descend the side with T20 failing to take off as a new age phenomenon.
Meanwhile, if one team who have understood the dynamics of the format in no uncertain terms is Australia who thanks to their rich reservoir of talents, handpicked from KFC T20 Big Bash, dominate the cauldron and beat Pakistan in the final to take the Trophy home. Australia’s dominance in ODIs and Tests have always been a regulation but this format as well is so kind to them in every way possible.
Australia’s World Cup victory now popularises the T20 competition Down Under and simultaneously among the Indian players, who have always been a fan of County cricket, now jump into the Big Bash pool. In the 2008 season, New South Wales sign up MS Dhoni and Victoria Bushrangers secure the services of Yuvraj Singh, who has now become the blue-eyed boy of Indian cricket, to boost their pool of star players.
The duo light up Big Bash with a fresh approach that was absent among other Indian cricketers of the yore. Just like Dhoni hit that majestic 148 against Pakistan and 183 against Sri Lanka, sixes are hit with insane regularity, turning the volume up for the final between NSW and Victoria at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The Andrew McDonald-led Victoria bat first with Rob Quiney putting up a masterclass from one end, but some deadly bowling from Aaron Bird and Mark Cameron put Victoria in a spot of bother. Following Matthew Wade’s dismissal, Yuvraj Singh joins Quiney in the middle and that was the moment everyone has been looking for. Yuvraj starts parking balls on the stands like a monster and Simon Katich, the NSW skipper, is now bereft of ideas.
Katich turns to his keeper Dhoni for some input on how to contain a fiery Yuvraj Singh and the Indian suggests bringing Steve O'Keefe ahead of Dominic Thornely despite a match-up disadvantage. Dhoni’s instincts work perfectly as Yuvi is dismissed by an O’Keefe arm ball as Victoria set a target of 154 for NSW to win the championship.
Surprising everyone, Katich, breaking their usual pair of Brendon McCullum and Phillip Hughes, sends MS Dhoni to open with the Kiwi man to take on Dirk Nannes from the word go. Dhoni is not only successful, he demoralizes a strong Victoria bowling line-up to help NSW chase down the total in 16 overs, with the Ranchite hitting an unbeaten 113 himself.
The success of Dhoni and Yuvraj in the Big Bash league leads to a lot of interest from counties to sign them up for the Natwest T20 Blast. However, the rigid international schedule doesn’t allow them to partake in the T20 competition but now the funda is clear. India continue to struggle in the shortest version while the youngsters in the team look to break out in the modern league.
Riding on the financial might, India decide to launch their own T20 competition - the Indian Premier League - but the tournament is tanked thanks to the fans’ disdainful attitude to this high-pace tournament and also because of the failure of the superstars. Overseas players earn big bucks but the BCCI is way too impatient for the cause and scraps the tournament within one year of inception.
The domestic players, who have suddenly found a way of life to express their talents, are now frustrated at the closure. But if there is a will, there is a way. Seeing the earning in the domestic matches being minimal, the young Indian players want to take the route of Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni, who, however, have a choice, unlike these players.
Yusuf Pathan, RP Singh, and Pragyan Ojha were the three players who impressed the most in the first and only edition of the IPL, thus them getting a gig is far easier a proposition than the other fringe players. The trio find themselves scattering in the Big Bash as the league is pushing for a change in format and their IPL success is replicated quite nicely there.
The BCCI, the fickle old BCCI, is looking at everything from a distance and can’t control the reactive emotion once again. In the brink of losing out a lot of money and talents into the growing Aussie market, launches a new innovative competition, 10 overs each, with 10 balls in each over and ambitiously calls that “The Hundred”.