NEW DELHI , Sept. 24 — Cricket, always more allegory than sport in this country, is very often the screen on which India’s anxieties and aspirations are projected. That is why the Indian cricket team’s victory over Pakistan on Monday in a new lean, swift version of the elegant old game came to signify something far larger than itself.
The displays included powerful athleticism and abandon on the field in Johannesburg and patriotism in India.
Not only was the game different, but the team was unlike those past. Its members played fast and furious. They danced victoriously on the cricket pitch. At news conferences, they spoke Hinglish, a mongrel of Hindi and English that has become the lingua franca of the young small-town Indian.
The captain, a long-haired 26-year-old wicketkeeper named Mahendra Singh Dhoni, boldly told his teammates to shake off the burden of history, and they did.
Fans and pundits seized on the team’s success in the first tournament of Twenty20, a radically compressed new cricket format, to celebrate the ascendance of a brash and confident new generation, rising from far-flung small-town India, free of pedigree and custom.
“The young and the restless,” is how Rajdeep Sardesai, the son of a professional cricketer and editor in chief of CNN-IBN, a news channel, described the new face of Indian cricket. One of its gifts to the nation, he and other cricket watchers say, is to present, for the first time, a powerfully athletic presence on the pitch. Athleticism has never been associated with Indian cricket, nor with Indians in general, and that has been a chip on the shoulder of Indian manhood.
Indian cricket’s new face — and physique — emerged in the inaugural world tournament of Twenty20, which ended Monday in Johannesburg.
Where gentleman players once distinguished themselves in white trousers and knit vests, Twenty20 was accompanied by cheerleaders wearing what resembled sports bras. Restraint was out. Music was in. The games, 27 in all, involving 12 countries, each took about three hours, in sharp contrast to the customary five-day test match.
Think of Twenty20 as cricket on Red Bull. Or as the historian Mukul Kesavan put it, “kamikaze cricket.”
“The whole point is to go for it, and keep going for it,” said Mr. Kesavan, whose history of Indian cricket, “Men in White,” was published this year. “The emphasis is as much on athleticism as skill, and where, therefore, there’s a premium on youth and fitness and abandon.”
The final paired India against its old rival and brought out a display of not only wild abandon but also patriotism, with flags flying in the sunshine and many offices in both India and Pakistan clearing out unusually early; the match was broadcast in the evening here.
The average age on the 11-man Indian lineup was about 23, and on the Pakistani team just under 25. That reflected two disproportionately young nations: the median age in India is about 24, and in Pakistan, 19.
Not least, Twenty20 served to redeem cricket in both countries, after the humiliation and scandal that the teams suffered in April at the Cricket World Cup in Jamaica. In that tournament, India was trounced by its neighbor Bangladesh. The Pakistani team faced the death of its coach, Bob Woolmer.
Redemption, along with the new demographics, promised to breathe new life into cricket, already a big business. A 10-second television spot during a match easily goes for $10,000 in this country, and Twenty20 matches broadcast here have been spliced with advertisements unabashedly chasing the youth market. “Next-generation cricket, next-generation bike,” went one advertisement for an Indian-made motorcycle.
“Sponsors will drool,” said Ayaz Memon, an editor at DNA, a Mumbai newspaper. “The game has found favor across age groups, and more significantly across genders. It could even emerge as a potent challenge to Bollywood, because it lasts just about three and half hours, provides wholesome entertainment and is a reality show.”
What’s more, Twenty20 stands to substantially raise the value of the team’s younger and newly ascendant players; cricketers are already some of the best-paid mascots in this country, for things as varied as motor oil and cellphone service.
It was impossible for the cricket-watching audience, which today excludes very few Indians, not to seize on the metaphors that Twenty20 offers for the changes sweeping the country, like the rise of small-town working class India and the fading of the old cricket decorum itself.
Much was made of the fact that the captain, Mr. Dhoni, grew up in an uncelebrated eastern city called Ranchi. The batsman S. Sreesanth, it was said, defied cricket manners by being unusually aggressive. The bowler Joginder Sharma was celebrated as the son of a small shopkeeper who could afford to buy no more than a cloth ball for his son.
In the end, the swagger of youth seemed to matter as much as simple serendipity. Near the end of the close and tension-filled game, India beat Pakistan by five runs. Minutes later, apparently in a moment of abandon, Mr. Dhoni took off his jersey, gave it to a young fan and marched topless before the crowd.
Fireworks erupted over the Indian capital.
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