LONDON (AFP) — Twenty20, once the cheeky, brash upstart of world cricket, firmly joins the establishment from Friday when Lord's stages the opening match of the 2009 world championship.
The shortest form of the game has endured a brief, dramatic and sometimes controversial life ever since it was launched as a radical plan to resuscitate English county cricket in 2003.
"The game in England had been associated with the middle-class and the middle-aged. White males," said Stuart Robertson, who was the England and Wales Cricket Board's marketing manager at the time and credited with being the brains behind the new format.
"But we discovered that there was a vast potential audience of women and children. And younger men too, aged between 16-34."
Twenty20 has been accused of ignoring tradition and destroying technique, but unlike many aspects of the modern game, it plays to full houses with the kind of dizzying razzmatazz and lucrative TV deals which would have seemed impossible when the first international was staged in February 2005.
That was in Auckland where Australia and New Zealand opted to dress in 1980s gear and sported fake moustaches and beards.
Australia won the game, but few took it seriously.
Two years later, people stopped laughing as South Africa hosted the first World Twenty20 which India, the financial powerhouse of the sport, clinched after beating bitter rivals Pakistan in the final.
The format has made millionaires of some players, mostly through the Indian Premier League (IPL) which only two weeks ago completed its second tournament.
IPL commissioner Lalit Modi has dismissed talk that the growth of such tournaments was leading to an overkill of Twenty20 cricket.
"We've just finished a study in South Africa that showed 70 percent of the people who watched the IPL this year had never watched any form of cricket before," said Modi.
Despite the giant shadow cast by the IPL, the event does have its detractors.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting, who sat out the 2009 IPL but will lead his team at the World Twenty20, expressed his concerns over the money on offer in the IPL as well as the rebel Indian Cricket League.
"Unless a balance is achieved, I could see some countries? teams declining in the way Zimbabwe?s sides have struggled over the past few years," said Ponting recently.
The World Twenty20 is being played at three of England's most famous grounds - Lord's, The Oval and Trent Bridge with the final to be staged at Lord's on June 21.
India, whose administrators were originally hostile to Twenty20 because they feared its commercial impact upon the 50-over game, welcome back nine members of their 2007 title-winning squad.
Left-armer Rudra Pratap Singh, who took 12 wickets in South Africa, will be supported this time around by Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma.
Pakistan, starved of international cricket at home after a terror attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in March made the country a 'no-go zone', will fancy their chances of going one better this time around.
However, their confidence took a battering on Wednesday when they slumped to a demoralising nine-wicket defeat to India in a warm-up game at The Oval.
Australia have dominated all forms of cricket during the last decade except Twenty20 and Ponting is determined to improve both his and the team's record.
"The past couple of games I've played have been very poor," he said. "In the two games in South Africa I made one in each. It's not great form going into a World Cup."
Sri Lanka and New Zealand have repeatedly punched above their weight in international tournaments and could do so again. In fact, Sri Lanka boast the world record score in the format, 260-6 against Kenya in 2007.
South Africa, who won both of their two previous Twenty20s against Australia, are desperate to add a one-day title to set alongside their achievements in winning Test series in both England and Australia during the past 12 months.
Bangladesh and Ireland, who have both enjoyed shock wins on the global stage in the past, will dream of further upsets.
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