The World Twenty20 cricket tournament is taking place at the moment in Sri Lanka, and you’d be hard-pressed to figure out who are likely to be the winners. England are the current world champions, but South Africa, India, Pakistan, Australia, and even New Zealand will fancy their chances. The genius of this, the shortest, form of the game is that, on any given day, the least-fancied team can pull of an upset and beat the most.
Until recently, I (Martin) hadn’t seen a Twenty20 in person. That changed on a recent visit to Birmingham, in the English Midlands, where I caught the final game (of three) between England and South Africa. Twenty20 is already an abbreviated form of cricket, and this match was further cut because of rain to over 11 overs a side (i.e., Eleven11).
As one would expect in such a condensed match, there were plenty of big shots and outrageous plays. But what made the game for me was a quiet moment, when (as England batted) Jacques Kallis propelled himself across the outfield in chasing a ball, slid to stop it from crossing the boundary, and flicked the ball up to Hashim Amla, who threw it back to the keeper.
Nothing particularly memorable about that, you might say. But, consider this: It was a cold, rainy night and the last match of the summer between these two teams. The game was essentially meaningless, except perhaps as a trial run for the competition that’s currently occurring in Sri Lanka (although the weather conditions couldn’t be more different). And yet these two gentlemen were giving their all, despite the fact that Kallis is arguably the greatest all-rounder who ever lived and Hashim Amla is the best batsman in the world at the moment. And they were running around not fifty feet from where I sat.
Would anyone have seriously complained if they hadn’t made the effort? Would it have changed the judgment of history about these two hall-of-famers? Surely not. But it’s the genius of the game that both these men have proven such great servants of that it mattered to them that they needed to be the best they could be.