Thursday, July 25, 2024

India climbs T20I summit. Staying there is a different matter.

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Photo Credit: Cricexec

The T20 format, like most things cricket, was born in England, introduced by the ECB in 2003 for the inter-county competition. Stuart Robinson, Marketing Manager for the ECB at the time, helped conceive of the format in 2001 as a way to combat dwindling attendance at county games. It was met with a combination of skepticism and curiosity worthy of a novel idea challenging a sport steeped in tradition. 

Four years later, the ICC held a World Cup tournament for the nascent format. India won that inaugural edition, defeating Pakistan in the final by 5 runs. It was a satisfying victory for India at the time, but nobody could have dreamt what was to come for T20. 

The following year, the BCCI launched the Indian Premier League (IPL) and effectively iced out the upstart Zee Entertainment-backed Indian Cricket League (ICL) that had debuted the year before. In a sign of just how long ago that was, 12 Pakistani cricketers featured in that inaugural IPL edition.

T20 Explosion

In the intervening 17 years, T20 cricket has exploded and transformed the sport almost beyond recognition. 

Indians, and the world, have fallen in love with the format and the commercial consequences have been massive.  

Major T20 franchise leagues have sprouted in virtually every major cricketing country. New Zealand’s Super Smash, launched in 2005, even predates the IPL. Among other test countries, after the IPL came the Big Bash League in Australia (2011), the BPL in Bangladesh (2011), the CPL in the Caribbean (2013), the PSL in Pakistan (2015), the LPL in Sri Lanka (2020), and the Betway SA20 in South Africa (2023).

Recent additions have also included two major North American tournaments (MLC in the US and GT20 in Canada) and multiple others in Gulf countries. 

But among all T20 leagues, the IPL still reigns supreme, and its numbers are staggering.  

In 2008, each franchise was valued at roughly $67m. As of early 2023, that number was $1.04b per franchise. 

The rights for the current five-year cycle of the IPL (2023-2027) sold at over $6.2b, compared to $2.55b in the previous cycle (2018-2022). 

The IPL is second only to the NFL in sports leagues worldwide in terms of per-game value, ahead of the NBA, MLB, and all football/soccer leagues. 

The Mumbai Indians, as of April 2022, were more valuable than six MLB teams, 27 NHL teams and every MLS team. 

Ending India’s drought

And yet despite all this, as the format went from being a gimmicky curiosity to arguably the heart of the sport, India failed to secure another T20 World Cup victory. To add to the Indian nation’s frustration, India’s last ODI World Cup victory came in 2011. So in addition to the 17 year T20I drought, it had been 13 years since any major international tournament victory for India in white ball cricket. 

That only made victory much sweeter for players fans when India defeated South Africa on Saturday at the Kensington Oval in Barbados to claim the 2024 T20 World Cup crown. 

So did the emotional roller coaster of a match that was the final. Both teams came into the match undefeated but India were the heavy favorites. The consensus was that they were by far the best side in the tournament. However, such was also the case heading into last year’s World Cup final in Ahmedabad, so the outcome was not a sure thing. 

India won the toss and chose to bat, and put up a record total for a T20 World Cup final, which most thought would be enough. But South Africa put on a remarkable chase, getting to the point of 30 runs needed off 30 balls, and a 97% chance of victory according to the win predictor.  

But behind brilliant bowling and fielding by India, they snatched victory from the 97% closed jaws of defeat. The match was sealed in the 20th over, bravely bowled by Hardik Pandya when David Miller hit a would-be six and Suryakumar Yadav took what was definitely India’s catch of the century. (Or did he possibly step? That controversy continues.) 

Regardless, India are now the unquestioned champions of the world. 

A changing of the guard?

Like everything in sports, though, dominance is temporary. 

Just ask the 2022 champions, England. For what seems like a fleeting moment, they were the unquestioned white ball leaders of the world, becoming the first Men’s national team to hold the 50 and 20 over ICC World Cup titles simultaneously. 

Yet with the same core, in their title defense this time around they went 1-3 against test nations (losing to Australia, South Africa, and India, and only defeating the West Indies). Despite using basically the same core that was dominant a couple of years back, there are lots of calls back home for a reckoning.

Immediately after India raised the trophy, both members of Saturday’s opening pair, and two of India’s (and cricket’s) all-time greats, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, announced their retirement from T20 international cricket – leaving a massive hole in the Indian team that no depth of talent can immediately fill. 

India still have the advantage of being the co-hosts of the next ICC T20 World Cup in 2026, along with Sri Lanka. That said, their continued dominance or success is far from a sure thing. 

Hungry test nations

If one main story of this tournament was the dominance and victory of India, the other was the emergence of many other teams who will be threatening to dethrone them in the near future. 

Among test nations, that list starts with South Africa, who couldn’t lift the trophy but still made it to their first white ball final.

There was Afghanistan, the ICC Men’s developmental success story of this century who made a much-heralded trip to the Semi-Finals before getting mauled by South Africa. 

There are two-time champion West Indies, who return to some form after hitting a rough several years. 

Finally there is also Bangladesh, who have yet to make it to a semifinal in any white ball World Cup, but had their impressive moments. 

Associates ascendant

But equally important this tournament was the strong showing by Associate countries, led by the USA, but with impressive moments and flashes of strength Scotland, Namibia, Uganda, Nepal, and others. 

While it may be some time before any of these countries seriously contend for a finals (or even semifinals) spot, T20 cricket is already at the point where any of them can beat anyone on the right day, as we saw with the USA and Pakistan. They can not only play the role of spoiler, they are in the mix for advancing past the group stages under the right circumstances. 

So India should enjoy the fruits of its recent dominance. But, in a development that is good for the sport, if this tournament showed us anything, it is that the field in this format is deep and competitive. 

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