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Twenty20 Cup success raises global hopes

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Non-stop action and a tight schedule have given the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup the kind of success that could yet see cricket break into U.S. and Chinese markets.

The tournament was played in packed stadiums, had millions of prime-time television viewers and enjoyed a dream finale when India beat traditional rivals Pakistan in a dramatic last-over finish in South Africa on Monday. The matches were broadcast in more than 100 countries including the United States and China, promoting a format that could finally bring cricket into some of the world’s most coveted television markets.

“Certainly this format is one which people, particularly those connected with American sports like baseball, will be able to identify with, rather than the longer version like the test match,” International Cricket Council (ICC) spokesman Brian Murgatroyd told Reuters.

Australian pace bowler Brett Lee rightly predicted the Twenty20 World Cup would click with audiences because of its non-stop action in a three-hour match.

STUMPS FLYING

“On a hot day, it won’t start until afternoon and there is a lot of entertaining cricket as well — people hitting sixes, stumps flying everywhere,” he said. Lee took a hat-trick while West Indies opener Chris Gayle hit the first Twenty20 hundred in the opening game. 

India’s Yuvraj Singh hit six sixes in one over against England and Zimbabwe stunned Australia, the premier test and one-day team, who went on to lose in the semi-finals. India have already announced two lucrative leagues, one of them an unapproved version, showcasing its instant attraction.

The success of Twenty20 also marks a sharp contrast with the 50-over format, whose protracted World Cup was held in the Caribbean earlier this year. Television viewers and fans dwindled following shock first-round exits at the tournament by India and Pakistan.

The Twenty20 World Cup ended in a fortnight, unlike the 47 days it took for the West Indies event, dubbed too long by many critics. “Its success here…puts us in the fortunate position to now have three credible and high-quality formats of the game that can cater to everyone’s taste and help broaden cricket’s appeal,” ICC president Ray Mali said.

FINE TUNING

Despite its viewer-friendly format, Twenty20 still needs to be fine-tuned according to Lokesh Sharma, head of a leading Indian sports management agency.

“There is hardly a five-minute commercial break. Even when a batsman gets out the new batsman has to occupy the crease in 90 seconds,” he told Reuters from South Africa. For many, Twenty20 is certainly exciting to watch, but remains only part of a bigger cricketing picture.

The ICC’s Murgatroyd said tests had thrived despite the advent of one-day cricket in 1971 and that the 50-over one-day internationals (ODIs) faced no immediate threat from the 20-over version. “There have been nine one-day World Cups,” Murgatroyd said. “There is no reason to believe there won’t be a lot more in the future.”

Former Pakistan skipper Imran Khan also had concerns about Twenty20’s place in the sport. “The true test of a cricketer is test cricket and also ODIs,” he told India’s NDTV. “Talent, technique and temperament make a player.

“In Twenty20, it is sheer talent; that is what you saw in India and Pakistan, what we have in the sub-continent,” he said. “In tests, we need technique and temperament, that is what Australia have more than us.”

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