There are many things that are similar between India’s victory in the 1983 World Cup and the triumph in the inaugural International Cricket Council (ICC) World T20 in 2007. In both these tournaments India started as a bunch of no-hopers but gathered strength with each match to storm into the finals and win closely fought matches. In 1983, Fred Trueman had written a piece suggesting that India should not be allowed automatic entry to the World Cup merely because they were a Test playing nation but should instead come through system of qualifying games. The then editor of Wisden promised to eat his hat if India lifted the Cup. In the end both these worthies were forced to eat their words as Kapil’s Devils played superb cricket to defeat the much fancied West Indians to emerge champions. Similarly, in 2007, though reckoned as one of the favourites, India were knocked out of the ICC World Cup held in West Indies in the group stage itself and the senior players decided to skip this championship in the new version of the game. But, in a surprising turn of events, India shocked and awed everyone with a brilliant display during the tournament in South Africa to return home with the trophy.
If 1983 win was responsible for spreading the popularity of the game to every nook and corner of the country, the victory in 2007 helped transform India into the position of being the financial powerhouse of the game. The launch of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008 with big money flowing into it, thanks to the unrestrained support from the business community suddenly catapulted India to the pole position in world cricket administration. The success of the IPL, along with the conduct of the 2011 ICC World Cup that India won, made cricket overtake even Bollywood as the first choice of entertainment within the country.
Five editions of ICC T20 World Cup have followed the inaugural one in 2007, including one held in India in 2016. However, India were not only unable to repeat the magic of 2007, but could not even qualify for the knockout stage on three of these five occasions. Thus, despite the conduct of the most popular form of T20 championship in the world, India has not been able to get to the top position in this version of the game since that heady evening in Johannesburg, when Dhoni held aloft the coveted trophy.
A look at the winners of this championship will tell us a very interesting story. West Indies have emerged winners twice - in 2012 and 2016, despite they not being placed in the top league of countries either in the 50 overs-a-side game or Test cricket. Sri Lanka, England and Pakistan have won the trophy once while Australia, one of the strongest sides in other versions, could not win even on a single occasion. The same applies to New Zealand and South Africa, who are yet to even reach the finals of this tournament, though they both entered the last four stage on two occasions each.
The fact that five nations have won this championship during the past six editions give an indication as to how open it is. The beauty of T20 cricket is that it is extremely hazardous to predict a winner with any amount of certainty. The fortunes can spin in any direction and the course of the game keeps changing with each passing over. Past reputations, previous scoring and economy rates and other statistical data ceases to have any relevance once action commences on the ground. This was demonstrated in ample measure by Carlos Brathwaite of the West Indies in the final of the last edition when batting at No. 8, he struck 34 runs, including four sixes in the last over, off a mere 10 balls to snatch a win for his country. And the bowler who suffered most at his hands was none other than Ben Stokes, considered to be among the top all-rounders in contemporary cricket!
The short duration of the matches adds to their unpredictability as the fortunes can swing within a space of couple of balls. Scoring 30 runs off 25 balls would be considered as excellent strike rate in any form of the game but this would get eclipsed if a batsman decides to launch himself on the bowlers in the manner of Brathwaite and wallops 18 runs off three balls! Thus, capability for hitting sixes is certainly an added advantage and the side that packs more such hitters will get a head start. The fact that India was served well in this department by Yuvraj Singh in 2007, when he had smashed Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over stands as proof in this regard. It was the six-hitting abilities of Chris Gayle that helped the West Indies in a big way during their success in the 2012 championship.
Another important aspect is the ability to throw their opponents out of gear through surprise moves. The best example for this is the decision of Mahendra Singh Dhoni to entrust the last over the 2007 final to Joginder Sharma. Misbah-ul- Haq, who was going great guns and threatened to win the game single-handedly for Pakistan, was confounded by this bowling change and this grew into over confidence when he struck the second ball for a six. It was this state of mind that prompted Misbah to attempt the scoop shot which ended up as a catch to S Sreesanth, who was positioned at short fine leg. Sides that have captains who are able to make such unconventional decisions and shock the opponents stand a better chance of going far in a tournament of this nature.
It is not in dispute that the near continuous action in T20 cricket makes this a sport for young and supremely fit players. The average age of Indian side that won the cup in 2007 was 23 years and they were led by a skipper aged 26 years. When one checks the average age of the sides that won in subsequent years, one finds that it falls in the range of 26-28 years, except the West Indies who lifted the trophy in 2016. Incidentally, among the top teams, Pakistan is the side with lowest average age this time, which fact should give them a fillip when the matches start.
What else will a team need in addition to six-hitting abilities, an astute skipper capable of being one step ahead of the opponents and a young and superbly fit set of players in order to emerge winners? As in other versions of cricket, here also lady luck plays an important role in deciding the fortunes of each team. All champion sides have been helped by huge slices of good breaks at critical junctures in their games. But it is invariably the case that fortunes smile only on those teams that deserve to win more than the others.
Virat Kohli had announced that he would be stepping down from captaincy in T20 cricket after this championship. As the tenure of chief coach Ravi Shastri is also coming to an end, this championship will also be the swan song for this duo. Despite certain spectacular victories during their reign, Kohli- Shastri team do not have any trophies to show off in their cupboard. As a player who came through the grind of Mumbai cricket where success matters more than anything else, Shastri will be acutely aware about the worth of such championship wins. Hence one can expect an all-out effort from the Indian players to bring home the trophy after a gap of 14 years.
Many eyebrows have been raised about Dhoni returning to the Indian dressing room in the role of a mentor. Some of them are justified as there are limitations to the results that addition of one more ‘grey eminence’ in the dugout can achieve in this format where speed is of essence and even the best laid plans often come to nought. This move could have been avoided as it only serves to highlight the jitters and apprehensions of the team management. Keeping a clear head is sine qua non for success in sport and having too many advisers can lead to the case of too many cooks and spoilt broth. It is interesting to recall that when Indian won the title in 2007, the side did not have a coach and not many will remember the details of the manager who doubled up as the trainer as well- a low profile unobtrusive former cricketer named Lalchand Rajput.
(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a senior bureaucrat)