Pak seek foreign help to boost domestic game

Published: Sunday, September 2, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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International cricket enters a new era of short, sharp entertainment from September 11 when the inaugural Twenty20 World Championship takes place in South Africa.

Innovative strokeplay and a flurry of sixes and boundaries is the name of the 20-overs-a-side game designed for those looking for excitement, but don't have the time or patience to sit through an entire day's cricket.

Twenty20 matches provide instant gratification, lasting three hours as compared to seven hours for a one-dayer, and draw big crowds even as purists frown at the hit-and-giggle exercise.

The International Cricket Council, sensing a windfall, agreed to start a World Championship just two years after Australia and New Zealand played the first ever Twenty20 international in February, 2005.

The two-week event, to be held in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban from Sept 11-24, features the nine nations currently playing Test cricket along with Zimbabwe, Kenya and Scotland.

While Zimbabwe is a full member of the ICC, Kenya and Scotland qualified for the tournament by topping the World Cricket League for non-Test playing nations that was played in Nairobi at the start of this year.

Barring England and South Africa, who organise regular domestic Twenty20 competitions, the other 10 teams are relative novices at the newest form of the game.

While England have played six Twenty20 internationals, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have each taken part in five, Sri Lanka and the West Indies in three and Pakistan in two.

India, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have just one match each to their credit, prompting many to wonder if the ICC had acted in haste to organise a World Championship so soon.

Top stars like West Indian captain Ramnaresh Sarwan and veteran South African wicket-keeper Mark Boucher have publicly acknowledged that the tournament did not enthuse them enough.

"The Twenty20 form is not really my liking," said Sarwan. "I am one for the longer version of the sport. But having said that, I am fully aware of the amount of entertainment this form of the game brings to the fans."

Boucher added: "First prize for those of us who love cricket is to be Test world champions. Second prize is to be 50-over world champions. Twenty20 only comes after those, really."

India, the sport's financial powerhouse who reluctantly embraced Twenty20, chose to rest its senior-most pros Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Zaheer Khan.

However, powerful Australia are desperate to add another trophy in their overflowing cupboard, just five months after they won their third successive World Cup title.

Ricky Ponting's squad will be at full strength, bolstered by the return of fiery fast bowler Brett Lee who missed the World Cup in the Caribbean due to an ankle injury.

Lee, who was in India recently on a private visit, admitted Australia had "yet to adapt" to Twenty20 cricket.

"We have to make sure we learn as quickly as possible," he said. "We must learn to adapt so that we can win the competition. We have to think on our feet."

If experience alone mattered, England, New Zealand and hosts South Africa will be favourites to finally win a major title after being the only ones among the top eight not to have lifted the World Cup.

As cricket ventures into the unknown, the only thing predictable is that fans will love it. Something that could not be said about the World Cup earlier this year.

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