Batsmen will be encouraged to satisfy contemporary cricket’s seemingly insatiable lust for boundaries and bowlers reduced to mere cannon fodder when the sixth World Twenty20 gets underway in India on Tuesday.
With 35 matches spread over 27 days, starting with eight “minnows” battling it out for two spots in the Super 10 round, the tournament looks set to illustrate once again just how skewed the 20-overs game is against bowlers.
There is more chance of discovering life on Mars than in the docile Indian tracks, which will be rolled out for a tournament that concludes with the April 3 final at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.
While cricket purists may look on it with disdain, there is a growing acceptance that the format is the only way the game can expand beyond its current stagnation in former British colonies.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) last month received a status report on its ongoing dialogue over the game’s possible inclusion at Olympics and Commonwealth Games.
Like rugby sevens before it, there seems little doubt that cricket’s best hope of being given a place at such international multi-sport events is to push the shorter form of the game.
That Twenty20 has the potential to break new ground was evident in November when “All-Stars” games featuring retired greats such as Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar drew an aggregate crowd of 83,900 to three matches in the United States.
The ICC, who have had little success selling the game in the land of baseball, lauded the All-Stars series, convinced it would “help cricket to reach its significant potential in the United States”.
The format has long proved a smash hit in cricket’s traditional heartlands, spawning franchise-based leagues across the cricketing globe.
India were the last major team to embrace the format but went on to win the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007.
They top the current rankings and recent series wins over Australia and Sri Lanka suggest they have sorted out their death bowling issues and are a good bet for a second crown.
Darren Sammy will attempt to bring a second title to West Indies but the ever-smiling all-rounder will have to inspire a team who just weeks ago were planning to boycott the tournament over a contractual dispute.
The 2012 champions averted the crisis but Sammy is likely to miss spinner Sunil Narine’s guile and all-rounder Kieron Pollard’s power-hitting down the order.
Sri Lanka will be defending Champions in India but skipper Lasith Malinga must marshal a team in transition since the retirements of stalwarts Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
Australia’s spectacular lack of success is one of the most intriguing points in the short history of the tournament, which has seen three Asian champions in the five editions.
The reigning 50-over world champions have responded by putting test and one-day captain Steven Smith in charge of a squad boasting an explosive lineup that also includes David Warner, Glenn Maxwell and James Faulkner.
England will look to the experience of skipper Eoin Morgan, who was part of Paul Collingwood’s victorious 2010 team and has been playing in the Indian Premier League.
Few teams can match the flair that a mercurial Pakistan team under Shahid Afridi brings to the table and the 2009 champions have also been boosted by paceman Mohammad Amir’s return after a five-year spot-fixing ban.
Fellow contenders South Africa and New Zealand will have to overcome a tendency to flop on the big stage if they are to take home the trophy.
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