An opportunity in upheaval
Love it or hate it you can't get away from it. No sooner has a six-week IPL concluded in Mumbai - amid huge controversy - that another Twenty20 tournament begins on the other side of world in the Caribbean. The events of the last few weeks in India have swept cricket to the sidelines. The game needs a sparkling tournament in West Indies and, most importantly, a clean and controversy-free event.
Although the two tournaments are very different, it is hardly ideal to have so much cricket of one format in the same period, let alone another World Twenty20 less than a year after the last one in England which Pakistan memorably won at Lord's. However, ICC are trying to get their events schedule back on track, so the trophy is up for grabs again less than a year after it was collected by the now-retired (and suspended) Younis Khan. A lot has happened in nine months.
One advantage of Twenty20 rolling into Twenty20 is that many of the players will be attuned to the format. The preparation factor, though, needs to be balanced against the fatigue factor and possible injuries. Already the tournament is missing Virender Sehwag, Wayne Parnell and Brett Lee through injury. The latter's withdrawal is not a huge surprise, but the absence of Sehwag and Parnell robs the event of two matchwinners. They could have been injured without the IPL, but the timing doesn't help.
And not all the players at the IPL who are now here in the West Indies have been active over the last two months. Eoin Morgan and AB de Villiers were two of the notable stars to be benched by their franchises which just goes to show how pre-tournament status can quickly count for nothing. Morgan's situation in particular shows the problems that can occur: he went to the IPL in the form of his life, but hasn't picked up a bat since March 25. Then there are the likes of Yuvraj Singh and Dwayne Bravo; players who had a forgettable IPL but will be crucial to their team's chances in this tournament
The IPL also highlights another dilemma for Twenty20 cricket. It is played so extensively at domestic level, but sparsely on the international scene. New Zealand's seven matches are the most played by a team since the end of last year's World Twenty20. The Associate teams play it as frequently as anyone with both Afghanistan and Ireland having had six matches apiece. At the other, India and South Africa have played just two since June 2009.
It makes it hard to formulate plans and work out tactics when matches are played so infrequently. Some commentators believe Twenty20 should be purely a domestic event, but ICC have committed to spreading it internationally and there is much merit in doing so. The obvious solution would be to trim the number of ODIs to accommodate more T20s (how about three of each on most tours?) but this would need a global commitment and ODI cricket is still favoured by boards.
Despite the imbalance, in the short history of international Twenty20 the two events, in South Africa and England, have been a resounding success both from a point of view of the cricket on display and the response from the public. The inaugural tournament in 2007 was the tonic the game needed after an awful 50-over World Cup in the Caribbean which managed to completely forget the roots of the game in the region. Instead of a vibrant, colourful, joyous event we had a sanitised, dull and, ultimately, farcical seven weeks.
For that reason alone this World Twenty20 is vitally important and everyone has their fingers crossed that ICC have learnt from their mistakes of three years ago. The pre-tournament hype has sounded promising - fewer restrictions on what can be brought into grounds and fair pricing top of the list - but as ever the real test will be when the action begins.
The notorious unpredictability of Twenty20 makes it almost futile to suggest a favourite (who would ever have imagined Zimbabwe beating Australia or Netherlands embarrassing England) and that is one of the factors that makes for a compelling event. Coupled with it being played over an 17-day period and it is a perfect formula. It's no surprise that the recent events to come out with most praise have been the World Twenty20 and last year's Champions Trophy in South Africa. Quality not quantity.
There should be some fascinating tales to emerge over the next couple of weeks. Afghanistan's fairytale success has already become the stuff of legend and although it's safe to say this is a tournament they won't win, their passion and pride alone means millions of eyes will be on them against South Africa and India.
There's also Bangladesh, for who Twenty20 is perfectly suited to develop on the international stage, and Zimbabwe who can show that they are on the way back up (in cricket terms, at least) having hit rock bottom. Australia have yet to dominate the shortest format as they have all others, but signs are that could change with the emergence of David Warner and maturity of Cameron White.
Don't forget the hosts, either, because any team that includes Chris Gayle, Bravo and Kieron Pollard can be a fearsome Twenty20 outfit. How brilliant it would be for them to perform in front of a home audience.
And then there are the defending champions. What is to be made of Pakistan in the current state? If it was any other team such a chaotic build-up would virtually rule out success, but with Pakistan the case is never so cut and dried. Crucially their bowling resources have remained largely intact which means Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Aamer, Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi can have a major influence on the tournament.
Any of the top eight nations can win the tournament - even perennial nearly-men New Zealand or regular under-achievers England if things go their way - but what has been shown in Twenty20 is that there is nothing gained from taking a backward step. A moment of indecision or negativity can prove costly. Whoever comes out on top on May 16, let's hope that it's on the field exploits that have dominated and that the Caribbean has staged a true carnival.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo