April 8, 2014

Where's the room for struggle?

T20 is a cruel format that doesn't give too many players a shot at redemption. Here it's easy to identify a villain and bury him

Yuvraj Singh's 21-ball 11 in the final was not even close to being his worst innings, or even the worst by an Indian in the tournament © ICC

Struggle makes sport human. Champions fighting vulnerabilities in full public view. A great tennis player struggling to stay alive in a match, looking desperate to rediscover his touch, trying to get around that suspect backhand, even as he loses the first two sets. A losing boxer fighting to take the bout into the next round. A batsman taking body blow after body blow in a Test match but not giving up his wicket. Cricket is one of the rare team sports that tolerates and has time for this sort of struggle. It even glorifies it. It isn't as quick as some other team sports to identify a villain and bury him.

It is possibly traditional cricket's drawn-out nature that allows what many might even consider an indulgence, this shot at redemption in the same game. Cricket has the space to look at performances independent of results, both individual and team. A shot can be appreciated even if it doesn't produce a run, a ball that goes for a six can still be considered a good ball. However, as the game gets crunched and the coverage gets closer than ever to the action, the pressure has been accentuated, the bottom line has become more and more important, and the pleasure and pain derived from the sport have become more instantaneous.

In the World T20 final, on Sunday night, we stripped naked one of the greatest limited-overs players of all time. With every dot ball Yuvraj Singh faced in his 21-ball 11, with every single he took once he fell behind the accepted strike rate, the groans got louder. The producer kept cutting to the restless dugout every ball; to Virat Kohli's face, looking for signs of annoyance or frustration. Kumar Sangakkara didn't appeal when the ball passed the edge - it might even have kissed the bat; and Darren Sammy tweeted when Yuvraj was finally caught at long-off: "Not sure this catch had to be taken." Great human drama, no doubt, but it was extremely cruel.

This was, in terms of ball-striking, not even close to being Yuvraj's worst innings, or even the worst by an Indian in this tournament. Only two nights before, Suresh Raina edged three shots for 14 runs in one over, and was hailed as having played a great cameo. Yuvraj, obviously struggling and under pressure from good bowling and a slow start in the big final, still middled more balls than he edged. Put aside the results, and then look at the quality of the two innings. T20, though, has no space for such niceties, unlike the other formats.

As the game gets crunched and the coverage closer than ever to the action, the pleasure and pain derived from the sport have become more instantaneous

This is a format where it is easier to identify, isolate and vilify the villain of the piece, as it were. Forget the stones pelted by idiotic fans at Yuvraj's house for a moment, but we all did acknowledge - despite being mindful of what a champion Yuvraj has been - that he cost India the match. And if you look at it in cold blood, he did, although it wasn't for lack of effort; it rarely is.

Stones have previously been hurled, effigies burnt, and inquiry commissions set up after losses, but these have been for and directed at teams, not individuals. Yes, Sunil Gavaskar was booed in Calcutta, but that was because he had dropped Kapil Dev. T20 now is highlighting the concept of the weakest links because it is easier for one man to influence the result. At the height of Match Ke Mujrim [loosely, "Culprit of the Match", an Indian TV show] in 2003, despite that nervous start in the World Cup final that India never recovered from, Zaheer Khan wasn't singled out as much as Yuvraj is being.

In the previous World T20 final, Lasith Malinga suffered a similar fate, going for 54 runs in four overs to one of the best innings we are likely to see in T20 internationals. He found himself isolated and had to switch his phone off for two days. Ravindra Jadeja was mocked when, much like Yuvraj, he could neither get out nor hit out during his 35-ball 25 when India were chasing 154 against England at Lord's. It is the only format of the game where struggling is frowned upon more than throwing your wicket away for, say, two runs off five balls, which is what Raina did in that Lord's match. Yuvraj backed himself to ride over this period, which is why he didn't play a crazy shot to get out, which is what eventually turned out to be the deciding factor. Malinga and Jadeja got a shot at redemption; Yuvraj might not.

Yuvraj and Jadeja are no Gavaskar and Geoff Boycott, who didn't respect a new format enough when they went infamously slow in the early days of ODI cricket. These are two players who have relished this format, are desperate to do well, but just don't have the room to struggle, to fight their vulnerabilities. It has happened to others too, and will keep happening.

T20 is a cruel, high-strung format, in which one player can bring the whole team down without actually being awful, but surely there must be a case for demanding such low margins of error and high levels of excellence from every player on the field? It is the nature of the beast. For the first time in its history, cricket has handed negotiating rights to the players through T20; the demands made are admittedly high, but shouldn't they be when the game is paying more than ever? Ironically, though, it doesn't always result in high-quality cricket or excellence.

When Paul Kelly, the Australian singer-songwriter, wrote a song about Don Bradman, he ended it around the Bodyline days. He felt he had abandoned the song. "Or the song had abandoned me." Much later, he realised that the song could not have done justice to the grandness of Bradman's comeback after the War. "Much better to leave him in the middle of uncertainty, crowded by the old enemy, at the point of his greatest vulnerability," Kelly wrote in his book, How to Make Gravy.

Today, though, we want struggling champions to, as quite a few writers of feedback have suggested since the final, get themselves out if they can't get on.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mohamed Afulal on April 13, 2014, 14:00 GMT

    T20 should and would not be a one man show. India relied too heavily on Kohli to win no matter bat or bowl first. India were lucky most matches they chased and Kholi came to the party. Srilanka didn't rely solely on young Kushal Perera but someone rose to the occasion when the Team Srilanka needed. It was Herath one game, Malinga another and Sanga in final. That is why you play eleven team players as opposed to just star.

    Yuvraj after his treatment was just getting to the groove and not 100% to play shortest format game. The blame therefore is squarely on selectors for naming in the 15 and then selecting him for Final solely on one good innings. He ideally is ODI player where one can give a slow start but catch up after 2 to 3 overs later.

    Srilankan's on the other hand had a mix of young and old brigade. On the final, three old soldiers scored 94 runs as opposed to 40 from the young players. One fails someone else put up the hand.

    India must accept defeat & complement the winners.

  • KISH on April 12, 2014, 1:30 GMT

    In T20's, when you are batting first, you have to give yourself some 8 balls to get to your first 7-8 runs. If that doesn't work, you have to hit out in the next two balls. If that doesn't work out, just get out (hit wicket) if there are many batsmen left in the pavilion. If the team relies on you too much, obviously, you have to play a different game. If Rahul Dravid, one of the best test batsmen in the world, was put in the same situation as Yuvraj, and if he was struggling to improve the strike rate, I am 100% sure he would have got himself out. It was common sense. You should know what game you are playing and what was needed to be done to win. It's a team game. Rahane also used up too many balls. But, we can't put a blame on him. It was justified, because he was trying to give a good start to the team. However, Dhoni promoting himself ahead of Raina was a big folly. Also, not taking a single to give strike to Kohli was also inexcusable.

  • KISH on April 12, 2014, 1:17 GMT

    The game of cricket is not about middling the ball to the bat. If so, they could have just played in the nets. It is a sport and the sport is played to win. So, how you handle the situations and making the correct choices in a given situation is very important. Raina did exactly what was required the other day. It may have been edges. But, he knew those edges will go to the boundary. Yuvraj's attitude to back himself could have been justified if the team relies on him heavily and there are no others left and he was playing with a Number 10 or 11. That is what Ravi Shastri used to do in ODI's and had to take a lot of unfair criticisms. But, Yuvi has no case here. He totally let the team down. In my opinion, he shoudln't have got out when he did. True, he used up too many balls. But, by then it was too late to get out. He should have taken a single instead. The game has progressed too much to compare that with a 35 ball 25 by Jadeja way back in 2009. Continued....

  • raj on April 11, 2014, 13:05 GMT

    Yuvraj is a champion player - If Yuvraj cannot win a game for India no one else (Kohli & Dhoni exceptions) can. India just do not possess a match-winner of Yuvraj's calibre. In this instance, Yuvraj was in no mental state to handle the pressure BUT Dhoni and the selection committee took a gamble, knowing full well that Yuvraj found form during the course of the tournament thn India would have been impossible to stop! Without the benefit of hindsight, I would have said that he was worth the gamble. The truth is that India does not possess a striker like Yuvraj - If Yuvraj had been replaced with any other batsman, the result would be no different. Congrats to SL - They looked a decent chance throughout the tournament and played best on the day.

  • Arul on April 11, 2014, 10:13 GMT

    Yuvi is a class act. But he has gone through something very rare and life threatening. Good to see him back in action. Lets see what he can do in this IPL. His last chance. Lets decide about his future later.

  • Manan on April 10, 2014, 22:08 GMT

    Yuvi should go. Actually i dont want to see Rohit, Dhawan, Dhoni etc in T 20. Its young men's game. This players already playing IPL, ODIS and Test matches. The amount of cricket india is playing they need a rest. Also india need a frest telent like kohli and tendulkar at young age to take india fowrard .

  • Ashok on April 10, 2014, 21:22 GMT

    @Temuzin: If I had any criticism against Raina it must have been in ODI re: his batting at #4. In ODI, My preference is for Kohli & Pujara at 3 & 4. In T20, Raina is the right guy at #4 because he is the fastest runner between the wkts. + he improvises his stance in the crease to covert Yorkers into full tosses + he is a ruthless hitter. Please also see my comment in A.Purohit's article "Nobody Wants to Play Bad Cricket". I do not have more to add. You have your opinion which I respect & I have my own. It is alright "to agree to Disagree on our opinions"! I maintain that India was the Best Team in 2014 WC with SA close second. Unfortunately India made tactical mistakes "on the day" & Lost.

  • Android on April 10, 2014, 18:33 GMT

    here is some facts rahane faced 8 balls and scored 3 dhoni faced 7 balls scored 4 yuvi faced 21 balls and scored 11 so was it only yuvi struggling. during last 4 overs india scored 19 out of this 2 byes 1 leg bye and 1 wide batsman scored only 15 runs yuvi faced 9 and scored 4 dhoni faced 7 and scored 4 and kholi who had a strike rate of 132 faced 8 balls and scored only 7 so it is unfair to only single out yuvi but it was great balling from sri lanka. so bottom line all indian batsman struggled in last 4 overs and there is no room fir struggle in 20 over format

  • ESPN on April 10, 2014, 14:13 GMT

    This match could result in rule changes some day along the lines of soccer or basket ball where the coach swaps the non-performing player with someone in the dugout. Yes, Yuvi is being targeted unfairly. I would start with the selectors for picking Yuvi in 15, the coach for picking him in the 11, Dhoni for sending him at #4, and then Yuvi for taking too much time.

    The teams keep their best bowlers for the last 4 overs, so the best time to attack the bowling is 10-15th over. India were 64 for 2 and had 8 wickets and only 9 overs to score at least 100 more. Dhoni should have sent Raina or himself, or at least instructed Yuvi to score at 10 runs an over or get out.

    As we can see, there were many errors at several levels.

  • Dummy4 on April 10, 2014, 14:12 GMT

    What Yuvi did not do was try his best to give the strike to Kohli who was blazing away.Let's face it, he was not in a fit state physically and mentally I think, to do the needful.I am sure if India could have piled up another 25-30 runs the SL would have felt the pressure and it would have been a different story altogether.Anyway, full credit to S.Lanka for winning the W. Cup.

  • No featured comments at the moment.