Series review

ICC World Twenty20, 2007-08

Hugh Chevallier

1. India 2. Pakistan 3= Australia and New Zealand


MS Dhoni lifts the trophy © AFP
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This tournament was a dream. It just got things right. In utter contrast to the fiasco of the 50-over World Cup in March and April, this competition, a Twenty20 World Cup in all but name, enjoyed outrageous success. The final typified it: the biggest draw in world cricket, India v Pakistan, went to the last over in a compelling game of shifting fortunes. India eventually triumphed, sending a billion people Twenty20 crazy.

Yet success brought its own problems, even if the ICC was glad to have them. How, for example, should the huge demand for Twenty20 internationals be handled? As the temptation to lift the lid of Pandora's box grew stronger, the ICC stuck to its limit of three home and four away matches for each team. Yet that raised the question of how they could be played in a meaningful context. And in an indication of the strength of the product, even below international level, the ICC announced during the tournament that a Twenty20 version of European football's champions' league would start in 2008. Initially, eight teams from four nations would compete for a winner's purse of $2m (almost £1m). A county's finances would be transformed.

The contest began at Johannesburg on Tuesday, September 11 when Chris Gayle cut Shaun Pollock's first ball for a whip-crack four. It ended at the same ground 13 days and 26 games later when Misbah-ul-Haq took a risk too many, and his failed scoop-shot gave India glory. In between came, well, pretty much everything. This was a tournament brimming with joie de vivre. Intense, in-your-face, incessant. Most days saw two games, some three; planned as a tournament at speed, sometimes it felt more like a tournament on speed, punctuated by blasts of music and countless dance-sets. Yuvraj Singh epitomised the frenetic pace when he achieved cricketing nirvana by hitting England's Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over. His fifty came from 12 balls: scarcely credible.

It wasn't just batsmen going pell-mell for leather. Bowlers pitched in too: Brett Lee snatched the first hat-trick in Twenty20 internationals, for Australia against Bangladesh, while no competition had ever seen so many quality, spearing yorkers. And the fielders dived, flung, caught and threw with astonishing athleticism. Often it turned the game: Robin Uthappa's run-out of Imran Nazir was the pivotal moment of the final.

On this small stage, some feared that bowlers would be little more than extras, simply providing cues for the batting stars. That seemed about right on the opening night, when Gayle's bravura performance - his was the only hundred of the fortnight - was cancelled out by the South African batsmen, but in reality the West Indian bowlers just didn't know their lines (or their lengths) and were deservedly sent packing.

Elsewhere, bowlers did assert themselves, never more than in the two teams who made the final. India benefited from arriving warm (not that it helped England) and had arguably the most varied line-up, though it took inspired captaincy from Mahendra Singh Dhoni to cover for the lack of an experienced fifth string. Pakistan's Umar Gul, a great exponent of the late-overs yorker, was one of seven bowlers to take ten or more wickets. Two more came from Pakistan, as did the bowler who asserted himself too much. Five days before the tournament, Shoaib Akhtar attacked his colleague Mohammad Asif with a bat, and was sent home. The Pakistan Cricket Board later banned him for 13 international matches and fined him Rs3.4m, about £27,500.

It was symbolic of the contrasting fortunes of the two tournaments that in the World Cup proper the predicted India v Pakistan became the low-key Bangladesh v Ireland, while here it was the showcase final. Ireland had not qualified for this competition but, by dint of reaching the final of the World Cricket League Division One, Scotland and Kenya had. Those two, plus Zimbabwe and (theoretically) Bangladesh, were the smaller fry. Scotland muffed their one chance; Kenya were blown away like a dandelion clock in a cyclone - losing a 20-over game by 172 runs - though Bangladesh's demolition of West Indies was almost expected.

The real, cockle-warming giant-slaying came in the fourth game. Zimbabwe fielded out of their skins, bowled with total conviction and, in 21-year-old Brendan Taylor, batted with immense maturity to topple mighty, if rusty, Australia. But Australia were not slain, just wounded, and they lived to fight another day. Despite their heroics Zimbabwe, like Scotland, Kenya and West Indies, failed to reach the Super Eights.

With the window between the end of the international season in the northern hemisphere and its start in the south so short, there was insufficient time for an all-play-all format for the Super Eights. That meant points were not carried forward from the qualifying groups - and a couple of dead games. It did no harm to the second phase, though, and Group E - the half of the Super Eights containing South Africa, England, India and New Zealand - was a cracker. England had brought a squad stuffed as much with Twenty20 experts as established international cricketers. Initially, the ploy seemed to fail. But despite England squandering promising positions against South Africa and New Zealand, the likes of Darren Maddy, Chris Schofield (both without an England cap in seven years) and Vikram Solanki suggested the idea might have had merit. The real interest, though, lay in which of the other three would miss the semis. Going into the last game, an unbeaten South Africa could afford a modest defeat and still qualify, but in nowfamiliar style, they bottled it against a resurgent India, and crashed out.

After their early bloody nose, Australia looked in ominous touch in Group F. However, a slick Pakistan attack kept the batsmen in check, before their own middle order pulled them through. Despite having lost Ricky Ponting to a hamstring injury, Australia strolled with indecent haste through what was effectively a quarter-final against Sri Lanka. In the first semi, Pakistan ousted New Zealand. In the second, an absolute belter, India displayed character and resilience to survive a pounding from the Australian pace battery. Yuvraj's 70, as beautiful as it was brutal, rejuvenated the Indian innings before two more Singhs (Harbhajan and R. P.) applied the brakes as Australia neared their target.

The ICC discouraged comparison with the 50-over World Cup, but that stopped no one. Where that had been bloated, joyless, officious and ended in farce, this was lean, joyful, laid-back and ended in style. The ICC could take some credit. After the empty-stands shambles in the Caribbean, they set ticket prices at realistic levels: for group games, grass tickets cost as little as R20 (about £1.50), grandstand seats double. That guaranteed decent crowds rather than full houses, though once the finalists were known, seats costing R160 (£12) were reportedly changing hands for £500 or more.

Ticket-holders didn't just get a game (or sometimes two) of cricket. They got music, professional DJs and the occasional firework. Most eye-catchingly, though, they got 100 or so dancers (30-plus at each venue, on eight separate stages), who gyrated for about 25 seconds at every four, six and wicket. When Sri Lanka walloped Kenya, it wasn't just the batsmen who were shattered: 30 fours, 11 sixes and six wickets equated to almost 20 minutes' dance in 20 overs. Only in one routine, incorporating cod drives, pulls and sweeps, did the standard slip. A besuited dancer called Dr Beat also acted as judge when spectators vied to prove that they too had rhythm. The giant scoreboard joined in, marking significant moments by flashing up arcane messages such as "Eish!" and "Twenty20 is off the hook!" - leaving non- South Africans nonplussed. (Rough translations: "Hey!" and "excellent".)

Evening matches started at six and finished after nine, but this early in the South African spring, the lights were on from the word go. Dew was a slight problem, especially at Cape Town, though shortly before the tournament it looked as if the ground would see no play at all. During the wettest Cape winter in decades, the Newlands square was prepared under an enormous tent, and there were contingency plans to move elsewhere. The wicket was initially slow (and the outfield like porridge), but it played well enough. Generally, though, the weather cheered up: the only casualty was the India-Scotland game at Durban. Here the conditions tended to help swing, especially under lights, while a true, hard pitch and Johannesburg's thinner air encouraged sixhitting. Captains winning the toss tended to bowl, especially for the 10 a.m. starts, though it had little effect: the team batting first won half the morning starts. And India won their last four games after opting to bat.

Identifying a par score proved tricky. West Indies made 205 and lost; Sri Lanka 147 and won handsomely. A defendable total was plainly higher at Johannesburg (average match aggregate: 334 runs) than at Durban (300) or Cape Town (275). Yet Durban had the highest aggregate (418 for England v India) and the lowest (147 for Kenya v New Zealand). One thing was clear: a quality slow bowler was a sine qua non. Harbhajan arguably won the semi against Australia, who mistakenly ignored Brad Hogg throughout, while Pakistan relied on the leg-breaks of Shahid Afridi and some off-spin. Afridi was named player of the tournament, but the real genius was Daniel Vettori, in his first assignment as New Zealand captain. He did what others did - vary his pace, flight and spin - but with consummate control and cunning. No one was comfortable hitting his left-arm spin, and he ended with an economy-rate below six.

Match reports for

1st Match, Group A: South Africa v West Indies at Johannesburg, Sep 11, 2007
Scorecard

2nd Match, Group C: Kenya v New Zealand at Durban, Sep 12, 2007
Scorecard

3rd Match, Group D: Pakistan v Scotland at Durban, Sep 12, 2007
Scorecard

4th Match, Group B: Australia v Zimbabwe at Cape Town, Sep 12, 2007
Scorecard

5th Match, Group A: Bangladesh v West Indies at Johannesburg, Sep 13, 2007
Scorecard

6th Match, Group B: England v Zimbabwe at Cape Town, Sep 13, 2007
Scorecard

7th Match, Group D: India v Scotland at Durban, Sep 13, 2007
Scorecard

8th Match, Group C: Kenya v Sri Lanka at Johannesburg, Sep 14, 2007
Scorecard

9th Match, Group B: Australia v England at Cape Town, Sep 14, 2007
Scorecard

10th Match, Group D: India v Pakistan at Durban, Sep 14, 2007
Scorecard

11th Match, Group C: New Zealand v Sri Lanka at Johannesburg, Sep 15, 2007
Scorecard

12th Match, Group A: South Africa v Bangladesh at Cape Town, Sep 15, 2007
Scorecard

13th Match, Group E: India v New Zealand at Johannesburg, Sep 16, 2007
Scorecard

14th Match, Group F: Australia v Bangladesh at Cape Town, Sep 16, 2007
Scorecard

15th Match, Group E: South Africa v England at Cape Town, Sep 16, 2007
Scorecard

16th Match, Group F: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Johannesburg, Sep 17, 2007
Scorecard

17th Match, Group E: England v New Zealand at Durban, Sep 18, 2007
Scorecard

18th Match, Group F: Australia v Pakistan at Johannesburg, Sep 18, 2007
Scorecard

19th Match, Group F: Bangladesh v Sri Lanka at Johannesburg, Sep 18, 2007
Scorecard

20th Match, Group E: South Africa v New Zealand at Durban, Sep 19, 2007
Scorecard

21st Match, Group E: England v India at Durban, Sep 19, 2007
Scorecard

22nd Match, Group F: Australia v Sri Lanka at Cape Town, Sep 20, 2007
Scorecard

23rd Match, Group F: Bangladesh v Pakistan at Cape Town, Sep 20, 2007
Scorecard

24th Match, Group E: South Africa v India at Durban, Sep 20, 2007
Scorecard

1st Semi Final: New Zealand v Pakistan at Cape Town, Sep 22, 2007
Report | Scorecard

2nd Semi Final: Australia v India at Durban, Sep 22, 2007
Report | Scorecard

Final: India v Pakistan at Johannesburg, Sep 24, 2007
Report | Scorecard

© John Wisden & Co.