From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.30 :: NO.36 :: Sep. 08, 2007
World cricket is about to take a step into the unknown. Should the rest of the cricketing planet take to the Twenty20 format as England has there is the potential to alter the landscape of the international scene for years to come.
Pioneer England has reaped the reward of the white-knuckle jolt at domestic level and the forthcoming jamboree in South Africa may persuade others that the newest form of the game should have a more prominent place in the calendar.
Initial portents are promising for those who advocate the evolution of the game with England hosting the first official 20-over World Cup in 2009 (this guinea pig is simply tagged the World Twenty20) and more countries scheduling matches as part of international touring.
Making predictions with any degree of confidence beyond suggesting the obvious — that Australia will be the team to beat — appears to be an exercise of Russian roulette.
There have been only 16 international matches to date; England has played in six of them; Australia was humbled by 100 runs in the inaugural match; England lost its next four, the most by any team; no side to have played m ore than once is undefeated.
A hotch-potch of statistics suggests there is no reliable evidence as yet to which teams will be the most competitive.
The same might be said of the first one-day World Cup in 1975, which was preceded by only 18 matches. West Indies, the most powerful team of the time, as traditionalists might have forecast rose to the top.
Australia’s selection policy of picking their regular one-day international players suggests they believe in the same philosophy. Other countries, however, such as England, India and South Africa have cast aside core players for a combination of specialist nous, looser limbs and youthful exuberance.
Batsmen of great individual talent in the longer over-allocation games, such as Sachin Tendulkar, Michael Vaughan and Jacques Kallis, the last named seemingly paying for an introspective approach, will not grace the stage. However, there are some whose style never willingly changes no matter the situation, such as Sanath Jayasuriya, Shahid Afridi and Andrew Symonds, who could have been made for this kind of contest.
Jayasuriya, 38, dispatches the notion that it is solely a young man’s game, having accrued a strike rate of 173.58 runs per 100 balls, boosted by a 23-ball half-century against New Zealand, and a miserly return with his left-arm spin.
An ability to clear the boundary will be a necessity on grounds like the Wanderers in Johannesburg, where scoring got so out of hand between South Africa and Australia in the world-record chase of 438 by the hosts last year.
Out-muscling opponents by the odd six in 13 may well hold the key to success and failure.
In international terms there have been four scores in excess of 200 and chasing down scores of 160-plus have not daunted sides as they might have a handful of years ago.
Encouragingly for the game as a spectacle there has already been a tie in addition to a brace of victories by a two-run margin.
India appears least equipped in terms of experience as its Board was slow on the uptake at domestic level due to concern over the threat to one-day internationals, the sacred cash cow of the subcontinent. Other countries have hardly followed England’s lead at breakneck speed, but Australians, South Africans and Pakistanis have had a good grounding in the game as overseas players in Britain.
South Africa’s Graeme Smith learnt on the move captaining Somerset in 2005, the year it won the competition, while another world leader Ricky Ponting also gained an appreciation of the game’s strategies while at Taunton.
Slow bowling and the execution of slower balls by the fast men has been one of the key components to countering willow-whirling batsmen in English conditions. But the faster nature of pitches in South Africa may encourage out and out pace, so sussing the environment quickly will be a necessity.
With so many uncertainties hovering over the start of the tournament, none of the top nine sides in the world should be discounted and the qualifying stage, which also comprises Scotland, Kenya and Zimbabwe, will be a time for fine-tuning general team tactics.
If teams can retain a devotion to entertainment from the off, the International Cricket Council may well have overseen one tournament this year worthy of being called a showpiece event.
Group A: South Africa, West Indies, Bangladesh.
Group B: England, Zimbabwe, Australia.
Group C: New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Kenya.
Group D: Pakistan, India, Scotland.
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