Cricket's undisputed leaders Australia are favourites to win the inaugural Twenty20 world championships starting on Tuesday, but rivals are geared to spring surprises.
The shortest version of the game, marked by innovative strokeplay and a flurry of sixes and boundaries, promises to underline the belief that limited-overs cricket is an unpredictable sport.
Australia may have won three successive World Cup titles, but matches restricted to 20-overs-a-side have given other teams confidence that they are not there just to make up the numbers.
"The shorter the game, the more open it becomes because one false move and you could be out of it," said Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene.
"It is important to keep a cool head and think on your feet. If you panic, you will lose the battle. There is no second chance."
Veteran South African all-rounder Shaun Pollock agreed the Twenty20 game was like a lottery.
"It's a bit of a sprint," he said. "If one-day cricket is an 800-metre race, then Twenty20 is 100 metres.
"If you get off to a bad start you can lose the game regardless of who you are playing."
Ricky Ponting's Australia are fielding the same squad that won the World Cup in April and have been bolstered by the return of pace spearhead Brett Lee who missed the trip to the Caribbean due to injury.
Ponting will play after delaying his arrival here due to a family illness, while all-rounder Shane Watson was cleared of a sore hamstring.
Short, sharp excitement is the name of the 20-overs-a-side game designed for those looking for thrills, 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.
South Africa and the West Indies face-off at the Wanderers here on Tuesday to kick-start the 27-match, 14-day tournament featuring the nine nations currently playing Test cricket along with Zimbabwe, Kenya and Scotland.
The 12 teams have been divided into four groups for the preliminary league with the top two advancing to the Super Eights round. The final will be played on September 24.
The mystic of the tournament is enhanced by the fact that most teams, barring England, are relative novices at the newest form of the game.
England are the most experienced with six Twenty20 internationals to their credit, while India, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh have played just one big match each.
Fireworks have already begun even before the tournament gets underway in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
Injuries and controversy have marked the build-up with fiery Pakistani pace bowler Shoaib Akhtar being sent home after a bust-up with new-ball partner Mohammad Asif during practice on Thursday.
South Africa look a divided house in their own backyard after all-rounder Jacques Kallis and batsman Loots Bosman questioned their omission from the hosts' squad.
When wicket-keeper Mark Boucher publicy defended team-mate Kallis, he was hauled up before his country's cricket board and fined.
Sri Lanka's star spinner Muttiah Muralithran will miss the tournament due to injury, as will Shaun Tait of Australia and Ravi Bopara of England.