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The short format gives teams like Afghanistan a chance to compete on the world stage.
The short format gives teams like Afghanistan a chance to compete on the world stage.

Small parts can play a big role in World Twenty20

It will give six of the lesser nations a chance to shine on the big stage without subjecting us to the endless mismatches that we had to endure during the last 50-over competition.

Some wars and revolutions have been shorter than recent 50-over cricket World Cup tournaments. It takes two weeks less to identify the best football team in the world, despite twice as many sides taking part.

Back in 1975, the inaugural World Cup had 15 matches spread over 15 days.

In the three decades that followed, that slimline version went the junk-food route until it stretched across six weeks.

It became a tournament where as a fan, you could afford to switch off for two weeks and tune in again, knowing that the main contenders would still be around.

What has all this got to do with the World Twenty20, which starts in Sri Lanka tomorrow?

Everything.

The World Twenty20 has shown the game's administrators the value of brevity. Most fans would not dare switch off while it is on. One bad day, and your team could be on their way home. Once it expands to 16 teams in 2014, the World Twenty20 will be a prototype for the ideal cricket competition.

It will give six of the lesser nations a chance to shine on the big stage without subjecting us to the endless mismatches that we had to endure during the last 50-over competition, when each of the minnows had six games to play.

Three games - it will be just two in Sri Lanka - against established opposition is enough of a test at this level.

If you win two of those matches - in certain cases, one may be enough - then you deserve to go through to the next phase.

Such a format also creates the very real possibility of a heavyweight being floored in the first round, as India and Pakistan were at the 2007 World Cup.

You have to play pretty badly to go out in the first round. In 2007, India did not just get ambushed by Bangladesh. They were also soundly beaten by Sri Lanka.

Pakistan did not just lose to the West Indies. They were the victims of a St Patrick's Day smash-and-grab from the fighting Irish.

Such upsets are rare in 50-over cricket, though. For every Irish giant-killing of their cousins across the water (2011), there are 10 other one-sided routs that finish before lunch.

The only people who follow such games from start to finish are journalists. There is a good reason why fans who do are described as "tragics".

Twenty20 levels the playing field. In Test cricket, the better team always wins. You cannot fluke a result.

When you step down to 50 overs a side, the skill chasm reduces a little. Even then, the better equipped teams usually prevail.

India were an exception in 1983, but that side still boasted of two players who are part of cricket's Hall of Fame.

You do not need great players to win a Twenty20 match. A belligerent innings that spans a half-dozen overs or an inspired spell of bowling are often enough to transform a game.

When Zimbabwe beat Australia at the first World Twenty20 (2007), it was largely thanks to a magnificent knock from Brendan Taylor.

When the Netherlands shocked England two years later, Tom de Grooth smacked 49 from 30 balls.

When India won the trophy in 2007, the man they had bowling at the end of the innings was Joginder Sharma, a medium pacer with no pretensions to greatness. More often than not, Joginder stuck to the cliched "right areas", and it worked.

England took him for 57 in his first game, but he ended the tournament with an inspired spell of two for 20.

The critics may have a point when they say that the format allows bits-and-pieces cricketers to flourish.

For now, however, that may be the best way to popularise the game worldwide. And unlike its 50-over cousin, the World Twenty20 does not encourage Rip van Winkle-like slumbers.

sports@thenational.ae

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