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Why T20 is a (young) Indian game invented by the English

In several ways, cricket’s brash youngest version reflects the changing face of society in a country where half the population is under 25

analysis Updated: Mar 23, 2016 18:38 IST
Sitaraman Shankar
Bengaluru:  Virat Kohli during a training session at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Tuesday.
Bengaluru: Virat Kohli during a training session at Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Tuesday. (PTI)

The World T20 championship isn’t just about breakneck cricket, hyperventilating fans and breathless commentators. It’s also a mirror to our society: Understand the truths it is telling you, and you may even be able to smile back at it.

If cricket has often been described as an Indian game invented by the English, the shortest version is a game invented by the English that belongs to young India. There are several ways the game’s youngest form reflects a country where every second person you meet is under 25:

For one, T20 is not a form of the game that makes, or respects, memories. It is for the non-nostalgic, non-sentimental.

The cup will be lifted early next month but the winners will be forgotten in a few years by most people other than their compatriots, statisticians and diehard T20 fans (they probably exist). How many of you remember the winner of the 2009 Cup, the one that followed our famous heist in 2007 when Misbah contrived to scoop Joginder Singh (Who?) to Sreesanth at fine leg?

In contrast, for many of us of a certain vintage, the most indelible cricket memories are in the most humdrum of colours: White. It’s the Test arena that has etched images in our brains, be it Viv Richards brutalising the English bowlers at Lord’s in 1980 or Sunil Gavaskar crafting his final innings at Bengaluru in 1987, or VVS Laxman walking off as the shadows grew longer over Eden Gardens in That Test in 2001. You needed to watch a great Test performance only once for it to register for a lifetime.

Read | What India’s cricketers tell you about their country

Success or failure is ephemeral. Today’s no. 1 team can sink to bottom in the rankings in short order. This mirrors the vicissitudes in the lives of the young – career progression in India is no longer linear; the millennials will walk in and out of jobs where their seniors cling to hopes of chronological career advancement.

Linked to that, hierarchy isn’t what it used to be. T20 captains come and go with alarming regularity: Look at Sri Lanka, where Mathews, Dilshan, Chandimal and Malinga have all led the side. Or South Africa. It’s a game of musical chairs, and no one seems to mind. So is it with youth, who will lead one day and follow the next; this can only be a good thing.

Read | Virat key but can’t write off others: Bangladesh’s Shakib on WT20 clash

The focus is on results, not necessarily on the process. If you can drop a player like Ajinkya Rahane, and not even consider Murali Vijay or Cheteshwar Pujara, you don’t see the need to respect just technique. It’s all about outcomes; so is it for our millennial crew. (Of course, the more uncharitable may say that T20 is for those with the attention span of a particularly frivolous gnat.)

It’s about tactics, not strategy. It can’t be otherwise if bowlers are brought on for one-over spells. But this demands a nimbleness of approach that characterises the best among the young and impatient.

Winning needs to be breath-taking. You can be as cerebral as you want but if you can’t pull off astonishing knock-it-back-in catches on the boundary or convert ones into threes while running between the wickets you don’t count for much. Young Indians – like youth everywhere – attach plenty of importance to the optically captivating, which in T20 cricket also happens to be the match-winning. Not too many are interested in winning it in singles, or in succeeding by attrition.

Excellence is still non-negotiable. Someone like Virat Kohli or AB De Villiers will stand out, even in a field of muscular six-hitters, because they are fundamentally great players. And as for our millennials, it’s everyone’s hope that they’re a brighter generation than the one that’s fading into middle age, even if in a different way.

The author tweets at @shankarht