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Change comes as quick as the cricket

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Mihir Bose | 18:30 UK time, Tuesday, 25 September 2007

India's victory in the World Twenty20 is richly ironic. When the International Cricket Council decided 15 months ago to hold this inaugural tournament the Indians were hostile to the idea.

So hostile that the ICC specifically agreed the tournament with the proviso that the Indians might not take part.

The ICC was nervous about going ahead without the potential economic juggernaut that is modern Indian cricket. In the end the Indians relented and the companies that are either based in India, or see India as a big market, were, in the end, prominent in South Africa.

Even this participation seemed very reluctant. Of the one-day team that lost to England, three senior players - Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly - did not go to South Africa and the captaincy was entrusted to the leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who had never skippered India before. Sree Santh - who had been dropped from the one-day team against England - was included, but India's lead bowler Zaheer Khan did not go.

The team also consisted of players like Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan, who had not featured in Indian cricket for sometime. The team felt like an A-side, partly players trying to break in and old timers trying to make a comeback.

This may explain why Dhoni was allowed to set his own standard - enjoy yourself, play without fear - and why the team responded so well.

Rarely have I seen an Indian team play with such zest, or look so athletic.

In that, of course, they had some of the feel of the 1983 World Cup-winning side led by Kapil Dev, which surprised itself as much as the world of cricket by beating the West Indies in the final.

Previously the West Indies had never lost a World Cup match. But they lost two of the three matches they played against India.

The question is: Will India's win in Johannesburg prove as symbolic for the country and for cricket as 1983, India's only other major cricket trophy?

That 1983 victory saw the Indians take to the one-day game. It also saw a certain Mr Gupta, then a lowly nobody in Delhi, take to cricket and become one of the game's big match-fixers, the man who bribed Hansie Cronjie.

It also changed the world game. Until 1983 all World Cup matches had been played in England and all of them were 60-over matches.

The next World Cup was held in India and games had been reduced to 50 overs - due to the lack of long summer light that England has - and the format that has become the norm.

Indians who before this had been described as patient people who loved five-day Tests turned out to be keener on the thrills of the one-day ‘tamasha’ (an Indian word that combines fun and unpredictability). The Indian economy also learned to market the game, making India the financial powerhouse of world cricket.

The 1996 World Cup was held in the subcontinent - the second to be held there - and saw the Sri Lankans pioneer pinch-hitting in the early overs (the old 60-over format encouraged steady batting early on and a bash only at the end), a ploy that saw them win the tournament.

The Australians took this one-day cricket further when they brought some of the same urgency to score quickly into Test cricket, completely changing Test matches.

Now Twenty20 has brought another dimension. Consider that final back in 1983. India batting first made 183 in 54.4 overs, with the West Indies in reply scoring 140 in 52 overs. That final featured batsman of the highest calibre in Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Jimmy Amarnath, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and Clive Lloyd.

India win the ICC World Twenty20

On Monday in Johannesburg, India made 157 for five in 20 overs and Pakistan replied with 152 in 19.3. If any indication was needed of how cricket had changed, this was it. As the remarkable sixes hit by players like Yuvraj Singh showed, this was not just slog hitting, but often good cricket strokes against not bad bowling.

I am sure cricketers will think if this is the tempo cricket can attain in 20 overs, why should the tempo of the 50-over games not increase?

The worry for the 50-over game may be that as Twenty20 catches on then the 50-over game may go the way the old 60-over game did.

The Indians have already planned ambitious Twenty20 tournaments and all the signs are they will take to it as they did the 50-over game after their 1983 triumph.

Malcolm Speed, the chief executive of the ICC, insisted to us today that 50-over cricket will continue, but history has shown that change can come quickly to the sport.

Given the way Twenty20 has captured the fans’ imagination, the long-term future of the long one-day game could be in doubt.

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