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The entertainers, part two

Posted in ICC Cricket World Cup 2011

Cricket truly is a game of swings and roundabouts.

How many emotions did you experience in England’s thrilling tie with India? Did you feel happy, sad, frustrated, angry, relieved, elated, tired and proud?

It is these kind of games that remind us how much passion cricket can invoke. Being a fan watching a magnificent Ashes series win is a great feeling but seeing Graeme Swann drive for a single to secure a hard-fought tie is arguably just as thrilling.

Watching Ajmal Shahzad hitting a six in the final over to set up a great escape could be on par with Edgbaston 2005 when Geraint Jones plucked Michael Kasprowicz’s gloved shot out of the air to level the Ashes series.

Excitement is truly in the eye of the beholder. At times, people in the game have had to come to the defence of certain forms of cricket, saying they are still relevant.

In the digital generation, a number of new fans seem to be growing up only interested in the excitement of Twenty20. Games that are won by a margin of a few runs. Games where how far a batsman can hit a ball into the stands seems to be a realistic measuring stick of how good a match has been.

It is hard to discount the logic that 20-over cricket is more exciting. Yes, the games are generally tighter affairs and seeing the crowds up and down the country during the Friends Provident t20 compared to tour and first-class matches, it should be obvious that fans prefer the shortest format of the game.

But watching England and India on Sunday just shows how this idea can be a fallacy.

Graeme Swann

Graeme Swann's drive for one to secure a hard-fought tie with India is arguably just as thrilling as England winning the Ashes

The cricket that is on show during this World Cup displays the talent of elite players. It provides a wonderful mix between Test cricket and the 20-over format.

Watching Andrew Strauss’ 158, described by team-mate Ian Bell as “probably the best knock I have ever seen from an England player”, was an absolute pleasure.

Seeing a captain lead from the front to guide his team towards a colossal target set by India was more rewarding than seeing Tillakaratne Dilshan hit a thousand scoop shots or Kevin Pietersen switch-hit a bowler for six. It was an exhibition of how the game should be played, beautifully balanced, poised, controlled and magnanimous.

That is why people should be watching the game and must be wary when deriding 50-over cricket. We were treated with innings from Strauss and Sachin Tendulkar that, whether you were an England or India fan, put a smile on your face.

The fact that the match could not separate the teams was a massive cherry on top of a fantastic cake.

Honourable mentions must go to Bell, who supported Strauss expertly, and Tim Bresnan, whose growing maturity was clear for all to see in his return of 5-48. Last but not least to Yuvraj Singh, who demonstrated the other side of limited-overs cricket - when you need some runs just get willow on ball.

After that dissection of clearly the best game in this year’s ICC World Cup to date, described by England skipper Strauss as “a great advert for the 50-over format”, what of the rest of the competition?

Andrew Strauss & Ian Bell

Ian Bell paid tribute to skipper Andrew Strauss, describing his superb 158 as “probably the best knock I have ever seen from an England player”

The tournament is filled with the best teams, best players and minnows looking to make a name for themselves - a recipe for great cricket.

There is a sense, especially from an England fan’s perspective, that we have been saturated with too much cricket with no time to draw breath.

The Ashes victory seems like an eternity ago when in reality it was just mere weeks since we were toasting the first victory in Australia for 24 years.

But again it comes back to that 10-letter word: excitement.

It is a unique experience to see cricket converge to a single destination with huge pressures on certain players and individuals to display their skills on the world stage. And to take place in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, where their passion and enthusiasm for the game is unmatched, only adds to the drama and atmosphere.

Although we are unlikely to be treated to razor-close results like England and India on a day-to-day basis, we will have a series of matches that are very hard to call.

Unlike Test cricket, we are not in the position to analyse sessions at the end of the day. The analysis of 50-overs cricket is assessed after every ball, every shot and every wicket.

They are games that may turn on individual brilliance, the decision of technology (for instance, Bell handed a reprieve on 17) or poor choices by players and coaches.

That is the excitement that 50-over cricket brings. A fan may have to invest more time and effort into a match but, as last Sunday shows, it can provide a spectacle that can be worthy of World Cup folklore.

Let the excitement continue.