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Anand Vasu in Mumbai
April 20, 2007
It's a format devised for the viewing public to throng to the ground and have a blast or, for those who choose not to, to kick back in their living rooms, relax and enjoy a couple of hours of cricketing excitement distilled to its purest. And yet, neither is likely to happen when Tamil Nadu take on Punjab in the final of India's inaugural domestic Twenty20 championship. The match will not be on television screens, and so far the crowds have stayed far away from the action. Yet, for the two teams involved, the game promises to be a novel experience.
Woorkheri Raman, the former Indian left-hand batsman and currently coach of the Tamil Nadu team, was sure that the format would, in time to come, attract audiences and capture the public's imagination. "It will be a format that will gain popularity," he told Cricinfo on the eve of the final. "Twenty20 cricket is like watching a James Bond movie. While you're watching it it's full-on excitement. But when you leave, you don't take anything home with you."
Raman, a stylish left-hander whose penchant for Bond films is well known among his friends, is thought to be a shrewd tactician, although Tamil Nadu did not have the best time of it this season in Ranji Trophy cricket.
Raman believed that a victory in this Twenty20 Championship would do his young team a world of good. While acknowledging it would not erase the memories of a disappointing first-class campaign, he said, "A win here will give the youngsters belief that they can perform in something that is outside of what is familiar to them. In some ways they probably don't know yet what they are capable of doing."
"It could enhance the self-belief of some of the individuals and the young team as a unit. Winning against a strong team, when there is class in the opposition will give these youngsters the belief that they can do it in other forms of the game."
Tamil Nadu will be led, in the absence of the indisposed S Badrinath, by Dinesh Karthik, who has to his name a man-of-the-match award in his only Twenty20 international. They have some serious hitters in their ranks, notable Anirudha Srikkanth, son of former India dasher Krish Srikkanth, S Vidyut, the son of V Sivaramakrishnan, an attacking and eminently watchable left-handed bat in his time, and D Devendra. But they will be up against a determined opposition in Punjab.
Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Mongia have hit form at just the right time, and both will want to celebrate selection to the national team with powerful knocks. Conversely, Harbhajan Singh, who has been left out of the team for the tour of Bangladesh, would like nothing more than to embarrass the selectors by coming up with a performance of note.
"We have been playing good cricket all tournament. Our key batsmen have hit form and this is a big advantage to us. The final is a big game for us, and we hope we can cap a good tournament with a strong performance," Pankaj Dharmani, captain of the Punjab team, said. While some cricketers have complained, and justifiably so, in private at least, about the joylessness of playing in front of empty stands, Dharmani refused to be drawn out. "It is for the organisers to look into the crowd aspect. For us, as players, we're all geared up and looking forward to the final. Crowd or no crowd has made little difference to us."
In all, the match promises to be an important one, even if not a high point in the cricket calendar. It's the first domestic Twenty20 final, and bragging rights are up for grabs. If, by chance, on a Saturday evening, people in South Mumbai take the opportunity to head to the ground - it's free entry - the game might just get the atmosphere it deserves, and this could lift the players into doing something special.
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