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Absence of stars takes away the gloss

The first Twenty20 World Championship of cricket will begin with a South Africa-West Indies encounter in Johannesburg tomorrow.

cricket Updated: Sep 11, 2007 20:30 IST

The absence of the some of the biggest names, either forced or voluntary, has taken the sheen away from the inaugural Twenty20 World Championship of cricket beginning with a South Africa-West Indies encounter here on Tuesday.

Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly (all voluntary), Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan (injury), New Zealander Stephen Fleming (selection), Australia's Shaun Tait (injury) and Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar (disciplinary action) will all be missing from the 12-nation tournament.

Also absent will be South Africans Jacques Kallis (selection) and Loots Bosman (disciplinary), spinner Mohammed Rafique and Javed Omar of Bangladesh (selection) and England's Ryan Sidebottom and Ravi Bopara (injury).

A huge population of people with Indian roots in South Africa would have particularly loved to see how an in-form Tendulkar, fresh from his exploits in England, besides Dravid and Ganguly, would have fared in the shortest version of the game based on 20 overs per innings.

But the decision to stay away by the Indian stars, all in their mid-30s, means that they would never be able to play in a Twenty20 World Championship as the next competition would be held after four years.

By that time, Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly would be in their late 30s and presumably retired.

Hard-hitting batsman-cum-wicket-keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni leads Team India in Dravid's absence and Yuvraj Singh will be the vice-captain while Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Irfan Pathan are making their comebacks to the side.

Matches will to be played in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg Sep 11-24. The final will be played here Sep 24.

Fans as well as the organisers would have also liked to see how successful the likes of spinner Muralitharan, mercurial Akhtar, fast bowler Tait, all-rounder Kallis and the hard-hitting Bosman would have been in this slam bang version of the game.

As the championship comes just four months after the World Cup in the West Indies, some experts have their reservations about its success and its ability to attract crowds.

But given the fact that this is a different, fun version and also that it is the first time so many teams will be contesting in this format gives hope to the organisers that fans will pack the stadiums.

Apart from the 10 Test-playing countries - India, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, England, West Indies, Zimbabwe and South Africa - Kenya and Scotland will be making up the field.

The teams have been divided into four groups of three each. The top two sides will advance to the quarter-finals which will have four teams playing a round robin league in two groups, followed by the semi-finals and the final.

South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh are in Group A while Group B comprises England, Zimbabwe and Australia. Group C has New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Kenya while India, Pakistan and Scotland are in Group D.

It is difficult to pick a firm favourite in this version of the game as the short span of an innings puts almost all teams on an equal footing. The margin of error in Twenty20 is little, much less than the one-day internationals played on 50-overs-per-innings basis.

Although World Cup winner Australia will start as one of the favourites, teams like England, West Indies and New Zealand could make it tough for the Ricky Ponting-led side.

If India play to their potential, they too can be dangerous. They open their campaign against minnows Scotland Thursday in Durban and play Pakistan the following day at the same venue.

What makes the competition tougher is that even one defeat could send a team crashing out.

Developed in England and embraced instantly by fans and families, who thronged the venues with their tiffins and toys as their kids also enjoyed the evenings, Twenty20 cricket has come to stay.

While the International Cricket Council quickly embraced the concept, three successive regimes of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have been reluctant to take to the slam-bang version.

But circumstances forced the current Sharad Pawar-led BCCI to reluctantly embrace Twenty20 cricket and even take part in the World Championship.

First Published: Sep 10, 2007 17:09 IST