England's cricket team captain Paul Collingwood answers questions during a Twenty20 World Championship cricket media briefing in Johannesburg, South Africa, yesterday. - AP
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP):
The first-ever Twenty20 Cricket World Championship has arrived.
From today, when host South Africa face West Indies in the opening game of the 12-team competition, the best batsmen in the game will be encouraged simply to hit the ball out of the ground.
Each side has only 20 overs to smash as many runs as possible. There's no time for a batsman to play himself in and bowlers aim to contain rather than take risks to get wickets.
Australia hold the record for the highest international score, amassing 221-5 against England in Sydney in January at an average of 11 runs an over. With Ricky Ponting trying to add the title to the 50-over World Cup title, they are the favourite at this level too.
It won the more prestigious 50-over World Cup in April with a 104-ball 149 from Adam Gilchrist and remains the highest ranked Test nation.
Ponting delayed his arrival in South Africa until an improvement in his wife's health, but has now arrived. With several quality sluggers, including allrounder Andrew Symonds, Australia remain the king of free-scoring.
The two-week tournament has had a stormy run-up.
Pakistan fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar was sent home after he allegedly abused and hit fellow paceman Mohammad Asif with a bat. South Africa caused a stir by leaving out star batsman Jacques Kallis.
India have let players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly "rest" rather than play in a tournament often seen as less important than the more established five-day Test matches and 50-over One-Day Internationals. However, hard-hitting wicketkeeper batsman Mahendra Singh Dhoni captains an Indian squad which includes free-scoring batsmen like Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh.
South Africa's new selection panel said it left out Kallis to rest him ahead of a busy conventional season, rather than admitting it believes he scores too slowly. But with captain Graeme Smith - the world's leading scorer in Twenty20 internationals with 259 runs in five matches - along with a host of other six-hitters, bowlers will not relish facing the hosts.
England's players have been playing the game longer than anyone else, with Twenty20 introduced first in county cricket competition in 2003 and this is reflected in the team selection.
Darren Maddy owes his place to an ability to get quick runs as well as bowl tightly enough to slow batsmen down. Kevin Pietersen is an outstanding batsman whose impatience for runs is ideally suited for this format. Allrounder Andrew Flintoff traveled to South Africa with the rest of the England squad Sunday, despite again being troubled by an injured left ankle. Another allrounder, Dimitri Mascarenhas, hit five 6s in the last five balls against India in the sixth One-Day International last week.
Teams like New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies and Sri Lanka will also look to their stand-out players to shine at this fast pace.
New Zealand have Jacob Oram, a tall allrounder who hits the ball a long way, and bowls medium pacers.
Pakistan have the dangerous Shahid Afridi - the intended target of Akhtar for allegedly insulting his family. Afridi has not scored heavily in this form of the game yet hits the ball as hard as anyone in the world, and his legspin is always difficult to get away. He will be backed by the all-round skills of Abdul Razzaq and the aggressive batting of Imran Nazir.
The West Indies will look to Dwayne Bravo, who is strong at batting, bowling and fielding. He's potentially good enough to win a match by himself - particularly short ones. Bravo will likely need the support of batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul who looks just as comfortable batting for hours in Tests or smashing the ball all over the ground in the short version of the game.
Sri Lanka is missing ace offspinner Muttiah Muralitharan, who injured his elbow while playing English county cricket. But they have Sanath Jayasuriya, against whom no opposing bowler will feel he can dominate in the crucial opening overs. He's second in all-time One-Day International scoring with 12,116 runs.
While teams like Bangladesh, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Scotland are not expected to seriously challenge, the format of the game means they could spring a few surprises in the opening stages.