Why MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli are the 'coolest' in cricket
Brisbane: T20 cricket is not usually an art form associated with subtlety and understatement. The nature of the beast lends itself to cricketers and situations that scream "look at me" in a very Gen Y sort of way. Yet, there were so many hidden gems from Bangladesh that may have gone unnoticed.
Virat Kohli (right) and MS Dhoni share a joke during the World Twenty20 semi-final against South Africa in Dhaka. Pic/Getty Images
Let's start with India – the new Kings of Cool. Watch the way Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni go about their business; they just ooze calm. Like the West Indies of yesteryear, these guys are now the coolest cats in town, marrying a killer intensity with veins of ice. To carry off this image, you need to win in style and look like it was always under control – the end of the run chase against South Africa was a master class in 'smooth'. Kohli's burning eyes and wrists of steel contrast perfectly with Dhoni's calm smile that lurks beneath the surface, no matter how tense the situation is.
In my previous Mid-Day piece, I talked about the importance of the dew in Chittagong. New Zealand were ultimately foxed by the absence of dew – against Sri Lanka they won the toss and chose to bat second. The absence of dew was always due and so it proved for the first time in the tournament. Rangana Herath showed up though and exploited the spin-friendly conditions. Would NZ have opted to chase if there wasn't the threat of a wet ball?
In a more previous Mid-Day piece, I referred to the inconsistency of some umpires in reporting players. Kumar Dharmasena didn't even think it necessary to report Michael Clarke in Cape Town even though Clarke himself admitted that his behaviour was unacceptable.
The same umpire missed a fine edge off Aaron Finch but magically found the thin line that separates jubilation from frustration when he reported Al-Amin Hussain for giving David Warner an unnecessary send-off. I'm all for stamping out that sort of rubbish but not when it comes from the same guy who ignored much more serious abuse in South Africa. The poorest cricketers in the world get fined 15% whilst the richest merely have to apologise. All men are equal of course but clearly, some are more equal than others!
Two West Indian bowlers at the top of the world rankings again but they're no longer fearsome quick bowlers. How exquisite to see Samuel Badree and Sunil Narine re-writing history with a new art form. Add Denesh Ramdin's brilliant work standing up to the spinners and you've got some things that we would never have dreamed of 30 years ago when wicketkeepers had their gloves facing skyward, standing back to pace, pace and more pace. The Asian legacy in the Caribbean cannot be ignored – all three of them can probably trace their ancestry back to the Subcontinent.
To think that T20 cricket has actually put spin bowling back on the map! Even the most effective medium-pacers like Krishmar Santokie are spinners on speed! When T20 was first launched, it was feared that it would be the end of leggies especially but their success has been astonishing. Amit Mishra, Imran Tahir, Shahid Afridi and Badree himself have been matchwinners who have turned games singlehandedly. Some of that can perhaps be attributed to the penchant of the modern batsman to slog so efficiently over cow corner. We've seen so many stumpings from balls that spin away from the hitting arc for right-handers.
Speaking of slogging, is any target safe these days? AB De Villiers, Alex Hales, Darren Sammy, Dwayne Bravo, Glenn Maxwell, Angelo Matthews, Umar Akmal, Stephan Myburgh, Ross Taylor…the list goes on. 50 from 3 overs? Easy – we'll do it with a few balls to spare, thank you very much. Put some of that down to sheer skill but it is also self-belief. What T20 cricket has done is to give batsman the courage and confidence to hit anything out of the park, albeit aided by a woeful drop in the skill levels of medium/fast bowlers. Watch the last few overs of just about every game (except Sri Lanka in the final) and you'll see full-tosses served up with a return taxi voucher attached. How professional cricketers, whose sole job it is to practice these skills can consistently get it so wrong just defies logic.
Bowling a decent yorker is actually not that hard – just watch Jitendra Mukhiya's closing overs in Nepal's remarkable defeat of Afghanistan. He landed yorker after yorker with unerring accuracy. Yes, batsmen will stand deep in the crease and sometimes get under the ball or scoop it to fine leg but that's still a lot harder to hit for six than a knee-high full toss. It is hard to believe that these guys practice these drills and cannot deliver under pressure.
England's Jade Dernbach led a cast of mediocre villains that included Umar Gul, Mitchell Starc, James Faulkner, Andre Russell, Tim Bresnan and Morne Morkel, to name but a few in a very long list. South Africa bowled just one yorker to India when they failed to defend 172. Malinga and Kulasekera proved that it is still the most effective strategy, even against the very best hitters.
It puts that brilliant over from Dale Steyn (vs NZ) into perspective doesn't it? Under pressure, against one of the best hitters in the game (Ross Taylor), he delivered on cue, no dew. Contrast that with Starc and Faulkner vs Sammy and Bravo and you'll see why Australia exited the Cup so limply. The Australian story cannot be summarized so simply though – for a team that batted so deep and were touted as favourites by many (including myself), we probably didn't look closely enough at their spinning stock.
In hindsight, trying to win a World Cup in Bangladesh, especially based in Mirpur, with James Muirhead and Brad Hogg was suicidal. Worse still, they never played in tandem, preferring instead to defy all the logic and stick with pace. Starc didn't even try to bowl fast when he closed out the innings – he tried to bowl cutters but they don't turn when they don't land! Their selections might have suited the slippery conditions in Chittagong but Australia were too slow to adapt to conditions in Dhaka and paid the ultimate price. South Africa probably made the same mistake in their semi-final selection too.
England likewise; again, to enter a tournament in this part of the world with James Tredwell as your main spin weapon is just plain dumb. Like Australia, did they honestly think that they could have progressed all the way with an attack that was so unsuited to local conditions?
The umpiring too brings with it a delicious irony. They can spot short runs that barely scrape the white line but they doubt themselves when it comes to no-balls. The video replays look for a raised heel but they ignore the deliberate cheating that occurs in the background as the non-striker steals an unfair advantage.
They justify the use of technology to supposedly enhance decision-making and yet miss something as clear as Mahela Jayawardene's first ball dismissal against England when it was obvious to anyone who has played cricket that Michael Lumb took a fair catch. You can teach someone to interpret the rules but you can't teach instinct to some umpires!