New Zealand v Australia, Twenty20, Eden Park

Saved by Private Ricky

Peter English

February 18, 2005

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Ricky Ponting showed his love of the game with some extra flourishes © Getty Images
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Twenty20 was one wicket away from an international disaster. The opening scenes were cricket's version of Saving Private Ryan as limbs, projectiles and bits of wood flew in all directions. If Ricky Ponting had led with a whimper rather than a whip the concept would have shuddered. Instead Eden Park moved and the ad-break game exploded like popcorn.

The early action was distasteful but impossible to turn from in the hope something worthwhile would survive. Watching Gilchrist, Clarke, Symonds and Martyn blaze blindly and rest peacefully within six overs was horrible. It was not a night for the noand not-yet-names of Katich, Hopes and Hussey, or Tuffey, Mills and Marshall. A match carrying such hype - and hope - on so few preparations rested on an outstanding performance from an established star for credibility.

Ponting made it alright by adding extravagance - not recklessness - to his normal style. He showed the game could be mastered with a little extra flourish on outstanding foundations. A great batsman who seemingly had nothing left to display gave even more as he removed his rugged game-face. Underneath the grit was a man of freedom, excitement and a love of batting. Loose shoulders unveiled carpet cover-drives, swivelled pulls and four sixes in one over. All were shots he has played in the longer games, but unlucky net bowlers are probably the only ones to have seen them in such proximity.

Suddenly the personalities of all the players had emerged. They alternatively complain about the public wanting too much and knowing too little. The game was like asking for an autograph and getting an hour of anecdotes in the bar.

In one mock underarm Glenn McGrath's let everybody know his pendulum rhythm and occasional snarling fight with a brave sense of humour. Hamish Marshall really let his hair up in an amazing exhibition and Stephen Fleming, the astute, tactical, eloquent captain, wildly flashed the smile that wobbles women's knees.

Pavarotti isn't asked to play the piano and the art of Damien Martyn, who was a mixed-up mess, is too beautiful for this arena. Overawed by Ponting, Jeff Wilson smiled shyly and looked as if he wanted Jonah Lomu to jump down from the stands and offer a more even chance to avoid a pummelling. Failures were as revealing as the flickers of success.

For once it wasn't just Brett Lee whistling while he bowled. Is this how the game used to be enjoyed? When fun twinkled in their eyes and there was emotion in their faces. When spectators in the top tiers spotted their favourites by mannerisms instead of numbers. When uniform-clad clones were on warehouse assembly lines and not international grounds. Is this why Doug Walters and Max Walker could fill books full of playing-day tales, but the current ones insist on diaries so bland they could have solved Bridget Jones's calorie problem?

Many discounts were of course granted for the introduction. As more games are played the bright contest will become a competition and the challenge will be retaining the enthusiasm and supporters. At least Ponting saved it from being a one-night stand, giving it an opportunity to progress from an experimental fling.

In 40 overs Twenty20 revitalised a tiring game and encouraged the players to show how much they liked their sport. But surely a movie-length game is too short. There was so much action in so little time that it was barely believable. Is there any way to make it longer?

Peter English is Australasian editor of Cricinfo.

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