In part, due to the extraordinary flamboyance of these men from the Caribbean, and in equal part due to the skills on display, the World T20 cemented the format in the hearts of spectators. The anger and the determination simmering just beneath their dance moves, as indeed their powerful hitting, made the West Indies the story of the tournament. But for the avid cricket watcher, the explosion into the present from the medieval prison that England had trapped themselves in, was quite the highlight too. The West Indies fought the apathy of their administration while England fought the cynicism towards the format in their homeland. Both were notable conquests. Both added to the narrative played out.
In cricket, we have traditionally romanticised endurance and the ability to overcome, and may that never go away because that is why Test cricket is such a mirror to life, but we have trivialised short, powerful bursts of skill, we undervalue the unorthodox, we create a hierarchy of talents and put the most modern at the bottom. Maybe the long form narrative that forms the heart of cricket literature is easier in a long drawn struggle. But in four deliveries dispatched with explosive power, Carlos Brathwaite has drawn attention to the not inconsiderable skill required to play the way he did. If you still think that playing shots like those, or Joe Root’s stunning reverse sweep, is a lesser talent, maybe you should wear armour, pick up a lance and ride into battle on a steed.
What Brathwaite showed us, and in a sense what Ben Stokes illustrated (and every Indian now knows after those no-balls!), was that in the shortest form of the game, a mistake can have a disproportionate outcome. Because every ball is an event, and only rarely part of the build up to the result sought, there is, especially towards the tail end of an innings, a winner and a loser off every ball. And so, you cannot have a loosener, or a sighter, you cannot bowl a couple of overs to gauge what the best approach to bowling for the day is. No, your first ball, sometimes your first shot, has to produce an effect and that is very difficult. And that is why, I find it incredible that there are people who still think it is a lesser skill.
Taking your left foot to the pitch of the ball and playing down the ground is a skill, but taking the front away towards leg and opening up hitting areas is a skill too. Bowling six balls on a length and swinging them away is wonderful, but so is bowling six different deliveries at different lengths and speeds. Watching Ashwin or Anderson in a Test match soothes us but seeing Dwayne Bravo bowl a slow bouncer and a loopy yorker is pretty awesome too.
The World T20 told us a few other things too. There is place for Brathwaite and Gayle as there is for Kohli, whose cover drives and flicks, along the ground by the way, won India matches. There is place for Joe Root who only ever looks elegant and correct as there is for Mitch Santner and Ish Sodhi, classical spinners from a land where hobbits are spotted more often. And the leg-spinner, yes the leg spinner, is the most valued bowler here too. There were so many. Adil Rashid, Imran Tahir, Adam Zampa, Samuel Badree, Ish Sodhi, Rashid Khan, so many.
But the challenges mount and batsmen are fast catching up on the tricks that spinners possess. The next stage for the bowler is to learn to bowl with a wet ball, for till science tells us how to keep dew away, bowlers will have to confront it. It might seem trivial, but the next big death bowler will be the best dew bowler. In any case, T20 cricket has to find a solution to the win-the-toss-win-the-match routine on a dew laden evening.
Reputations are good in any sport because they are indicators of sustained good performance, but you couldn’t help get the feeling that reputation also induces caution. It seemed that way with India whereas the West Indies, in spite of the capitulation to Afghanistan, kept taking the game ahead aware they were packed with batsmen. Interestingly, England did that too and got to 157 in the final where, another time, they would have got to a measured 140.
While England soared into the present, Pakistan started showing the effects of being denied home cricket. I have no idea what the quality of trainers and coaches is, but Pakistan looked short of speed and short of ideas in the field. And Sri Lanka, producers of the most exotic talents, look like they have a little period in the wilderness,
New Zealand were the most adventurous and Australia the most baffling. And the little cousins across the Tasman would welcome that. Australia had greater pedigree with the bat, but New Zealand bowled better, and even in this 120-ball format, it is the team that bowls better that is winning more matches.