A game of many firsts
The sight of empty stands at a limited overs match in India, played under lights, in Mumbai, thought to be the spiritual home of Indian cricket, was a first. Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Robin Uthappa were up against each other, in coloured clothing, and apart from a few Cricket Club of India members and their enthusiastic grandchildren, one match observer, some officials and a handful of journalists, there was no one watching a game specifically designed to draw audiences to cricket.
It was a bit of a first to see Yuvraj, arguably the best fielder in the country, fielding at third-man instead of his customary position at point or cover, but then Twenty20 is different. The strokes batsmen play are different, the intentions of the bowlers, their plans to take wickets, are different from what you see in 50-over cricket. But what even more of a first was someone in the pavilion yelling out to Yuvraj, asking who was playing. "Punjab against Karnataka," he yelled back, "Punjab are fielding."
The matter of the show-cause notice has been declared closed by the board but Yuvraj was still wary about talking to anyone from the media. He did, though, share a few thoughts about this new form of the game. "It is a big challenge. You have to go out there and score quickly, but, like one-day cricket, it's not just about slogging the ball. It's not as easy as it looks," said Yuvraj. "Playing here will help us acclimatise for the Twenty20 World Championship. This is a format where allrounders and utility cricketers will have a bigger role to play."
Barring a few of India's big names, who've played domestic cricket at a high level in England, Twenty20 cricket is new to most. And given that this is the first edition of the tournament, there's bound to be a few statisticians in business, recording the first ever time something has occurred in this form of the game in India.
Indeed, there was a first of a different kind on April 7 at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Indian cricket saw its first bowl out when the match between Gujarat and Saurashtra ended with the scores level. For most of the players, the bowl out - where bowlers attempt to hit the stumps off a normal delivery with no batsman there to protect them - was a new concept. You would think that men who can swing the ball and cut it, flight it and spin it, beat batsmen with variation and guile, should find the job of hitting unprotected stumps relatively easy. Yet it's not so.
Parthiv Patel, captain of the Gujarat team, though, had seen it before. "I was playing for a Combined XI in England in 2005 in a competition that had the champion Twenty20 sides from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, besides England," said Patel, after the event. ""It was a rained-out encounter and had to be decided by a bowl out. Unlike against Saurashtra when only five bowlers were given a go, we had 10 bowlers, and we won."
Of course, the team Patel was playing for in England was a far more accomplished one than the Gujarat side that took the field against Saurashtra. "My side was quite an experienced side with New Zealand's Stephen Fleming, Phil de Freitas, the former England seamer, our own Robin Singh and Rohan Gavaskar playing."
And Patel was happy to pass on to his teammates, before the bowl out, what he had learned from his first experience. "I just told them not to swing the ball and to try and make things simple. It is not as easy as it looks from outside. The pressure is high in a bowl-out," Patel said.
There are bound to be many more firsts, of various kinds, cricketing and otherwise, but one can only hope that this phenomenon of cricket being played without television coverage or people in the stands watching, is not a first but a last.
Anand Vasu is associate editor of Cricinfo