ICC World Twenty20 2009 June 19, 2009

Is there a World Cup on?

You wouldn't know from reading the UK papers that cricket's biggest event of the month was in town

Cricket's biggest event of the month, whether you like Twenty20 or not, is on in England, but if you open a newspaper in London, you'd think it was a non-event. Or, at best, a marginal event.

True, the hosts are no longer in the tournament, but no one expected them to be; Australia were sent packing early; and India, the title holders, went out without registering their presence. But it has been a dramatic and compelling tournament, and at the time of writing, three of the most interesting teams remain in the fray. Yet the interest in the tournament, if you went by the column inches in the newspapers, is comfortably behind that for tennis, rugby, horse-racing and golf.

Has cricket become so irrelevant in the country that used to be its home, or has England grown insular? Or is it just plain snobbery about the Ashes?

I came across a line in a newspaper that put the semi-final between the English and Australian women's teams in perspective. It reminded Charlotte Edwards, the England captain, about her responsibility towards the main cause: a win for England would be vital in boosting the morale of the men's team as they prepare for the Ashes.

Really? How about the men doing their bit? The England women are the current holders of the Ashes and world champions in the 50-over game. And they are the ones with a chance to win the top prize in Twenty20. What about some respect?

The Ashes was always billed as the main cricket event of the year, but the lack of enthusiasm for the World Twenty20 is utterly baffling, if not self-defeating. I was in South Africa during the closing stages of the inaugural tournament and it was hard to miss the buzz.

It was apparent that the South African cricket board considered hosting the World Twenty20 a privilege, and it granted the tournament the profile it deserved. The ECB's approach, it is easy to sense, has been marked by ambivalence. It's partly understandable. Commercially, the Ashes is the big ticket of the summer, and is at the heart of the ECB's marketing campaign. Would it really have been a distraction, though, to give a bit more attention to the World Twenty20? As I walking up to The Oval before the semi-final today, it was hard to detect the presence of a global sports tournament. Why host such a massive event and be coy about it?

As I walked up to The Oval before the semi-final today, it was hard to detect the presence of a global sports tournament. Why host such a massive event and be coy about it?

In many ways, the tournament has been a triumph of England's multiculturalism. Indians, Pakistanis, and to a lesser extent Sri Lankans, have filled the grounds to support their teams. By all accounts the atmosphere at the first semi-final at Trent Bridge on Thursday was electric. It is hard to imagine such a scene for a neutral match in any other part of the world, and it lends further credence to the belief that the Pakistanis will feel utterly at home for their "home" series against Australia in England next year. After all, when the match got over, all the Pakistani supporters merely went home.

Pakistan's run to the final has been the most stirring story of the tournament so far. And Shahid Afridi's sensational annihilation of South Africa was worth a thousand words by itself. But none of these have been considered worthy of celebration or examination.

I have just finished watching England beat Australia in quite a thrilling semi-final. At the risk of sounding condescending, I ought to say that is impressive how much the women's game has moved on. The throws now come flat and fast, sixes are hit as a matter of course, and why, they aren't even afraid of playing the scoop.

But you know what the real deal is? If England go on to win the Ashes this summer, I can tell my grandchildren that I was there where it all began.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments