Greenhorn Asians venture into the unknown

Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2007, 10:41 [IST]
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Asia's big guns will need a slice of beginners' luck and good fortune to propel them forward at the inaugural Twenty20 World Championships.

Cricket's shortest version may have become an instant hit in England and South Africa, but Asian teams and officials are struggling to adapt to what they still consider a hit-and-giggle outing.

Asia has organised more one-dayers than any other region, but India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been so reluctant to embrace Twenty20 cricket that they have yet to host an international match.

Domestic Twenty20 cricket was introduced in England in 2003 to boost dwindling viewership. Indian officials say cricket-mad Asian nations have never faced such a problem.

Cynics, however, blame the lack of interest on commercial reasons. After all, a full-scale one-day international allows 100 overs of advertising breaks as opposed to just 40 overs for a Twenty20 game.

Asia's big four are clearly short of experience as they head into the World Championships to be played in three South African cities of Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town from September 11-24.

Sri Lanka, the top limited-overs team in Asia who were World Cup finalists in the Caribbean in April, have played just three Twenty20 internationals so far. Pakistan has played two and India and Bangladesh one each.

India will be the least prepared of the four, their new-look team under Mahendra Singh Dhoni flying direct to South Africa from England where they finish a gruelling three-month tour on Saturday.

India have rested one-day cricket's most successful batsman Sachin Tendulkar, regular captain Rahul Dravid, senior pro Sourav Ganguly and pace spearhead Zaheer Khan for the tournament.

Vice-captain Yuvraj Singh, who is among nine players in the 15-man squad still to play a Twenty20 international, was however upbeat about returning to South Africa where India reached the World Cup final in 2003.

"South Africa is a lucky place for us because we made the World Cup final and we always get great support there," said Yuvraj.

Sri Lanka will miss prolific off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan who was ruled out at the last minute due to an elbow injury sustained while playing for English county Lancashire.

"If we play to our strengths and work hard, there is no reason why we should not succeed in a game which is largely a new one to us," said captain Mahela Jayawardene.

"It all happens so quickly that any team could suddenly find itself with the advantage. If you make just one mistake, it is very hard to get back into the game."

Pakistan, who are bunched with arch-rivals India in group D of the preliminary league, will miss star batsman Mohammad Yousuf who has signed up with the breakaway Indian Cricket League.

But fiery fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar, who missed the World Cup due to injury, returns to bolster the team led by Shoaib Malik and coached by the newly-appointed Geoff Lawson of Australia.

"Pakistani cricketers are popular for their aggressive style and we have some real potential match-winners that could make the tournament memorable for the country," said Lawson, a former Test fast bowler.

Bangladesh captain Mohammad Ashraful also fancied his team's chances.

"No one gave us the chance at the World Cup, but we beat both India and South Africa to make the second round for the first time," the 23-year-old said.

"As the game becomes shorter, I think we have a better chance of doing well."

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