Bangladesh sent the West Indies home, inflicting on them their second group match defeat and ensuring their trip to South Africa only lasted days, and Zimbabwe, backed by a loud South African and Zimbabwean crowd, beat the mighty Australians, in their first T20 World Cup match, much as they did in their first ODI World Cup match back in 1983. But were these really surprises, upsets, the minnows getting one over the big boys? And is this what can be expected in the lottery of T20 cricket?
Anyone looking for any excuse to knock the new popular form of the game will point to these games as proof that real cricket does not exists in this smack around game and that the joke is that world cricket will actual feel that the smaller teams have made progress, and are closing the gap on the bigger teams. Anyone who feels this way is a fool themselves. T20 cricket may not be the purest form of cricket, it may take away from the grind and endurance of Test cricket, and may even remove the threat of bowlers in ODI cricket, but make no mistake, this is real cricket. While there are many T20 specialists in a lot of the squads, South Africa, England and even India for example, it is the real crickets who will always come out on top. Chris Gayle’s magnificent innings on the opening night, Gibb’s reply, Kevin Pieterson’s knock on Thursday, these were all batting masterclasses from players who have done it at Test, ODI and now T20 level, and all were exhibitions of batting superiority, and not slogging, and swing and hope stuff. The condensed version of the game means that risks have to be taken, but that flair and expression come out. But timing of an innings is still prevalent. Look at Taylor’s innings on against Australia. The Zimbabwean opening batsman carried his bat through the chase and allowed Sibanda to take on the bowlers upfront, and made sure he was there to take them home. The measured innings still has a place in the T20 format.
Does T20 make it easier for the smaller teams to upset the stronger nations? On the evidence of results alone in this World Cup, maybe. But a clearly understanding will help to rectify this simplistic view of events. Because the games are only 20 overs a side there is the chance that it only takes one person to swing a game either way. In a 50 over game, a team like Zimbabwe can get off to a great start chasing a total set by an Australia, but then lose a couple of quick wickets, and collapse to another defeat. In this format one great partnership can take you home. So the likely hood of an underdog winning increases. But before you jump to the conclusion that I am in fact arguing against the case I am making, it still needs good cricket to get you in that position. The Zimbabwean bowling was good, and their fielding was amazing, they held catches, stopped runs, and restricted Australia to a gettable total. When they came out to bat they had a plan and stuck to it. Rain interruptions, a slight stutter, and some good bowling near the end could have seen them fall just short and been the maybe men, but they came through because they had the skills and more importantly the belief to win the match. Ashraful’s innings against the West Indies was everything good about Sub Continental cricket, the timing, he extravagance, and the flair, was a masterful display of hitting, and the type of innings he is capable of. His partnership with Aftab Ahmed took the game away from the West Indies, and in so doing insured that they would be joining South Africa in the next round. In the ODI World Cup they defeated India to go through to the next round, and beat South Africa in the Super 8’s. On their day they are capable of sublime cricket, and their most memorable matches, the defeat of Australia a few years back in England, the win against South Africa, and this victory against the West Indies, all had Ashraful innings to set up the wins. They may at the time be upsets and surprises, but good cricket is the reason they have happened.
The scenes at the end of the matches will not be forgotten, and its important for teams like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh to remember how it feels to win, and what it takes to get there. These two teams, packed with young cricketers, may have a few surprises left in the yet.