Open season

Asian teams are safe bets. But there's no clear favourite at the World Twenty20 2012 that begins on Tuesday.

The ICC World T20

West Indies, with T20 experts like Chris Gayle, are the dark horses.

Where does this situate a Twenty20 World Cup, a fourth - if you need any reminding - in five years and one that comes after the dizzying high of 2011's pinnacle ODI event? Even the ICC World T20 - as it's called - has transformed over half a decade. From an experimental sortie that soared over and beyond expectation to the Sri Lankan carnival that will be telecast to an audience of 1.5 billion across 200 countries - the tournament is a robust, frothy head on top of two seasons of soap-operatic domestic T20 activity. 

The tournament began with a made to made-to-order India-Pakistan final in 2007. India's win - achieved without Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly and under rookie captain MS Dhoni - floored its cricket fraternity, one which had until then viewed Twenty20 with casual suspicion. The success sent imaginary cash registers ringing in the heads of officials. The IPL was conceived and unleashed upon the sub-continent, a spectacle as tantalising - and as meretricious - as curves sheathed in silk. It was really  India's 2007 triumph that pushed Twenty20 to its menacing momentum.

Pakistan reedeemed itself by winning the second edition in England, after the tournament had begun with unfancied Netherlands toppling the hosts by four wickets at Lord's - thanks to Stuart Broad's brainless overthrow. England turned it around in the West Indies in 2010, largely through Man of the Tournament Kevin Pietersen, their best bat across formats, a lover of Twenty20 and who, for reasons bizarre, finds himself out of the team this time.

So, the defending champions set about their task without their most prolific scorer. Will that be motivation enough for a bunch of whiners to reprise their 2010 act? Highly doubtful, but in Eoin Morgan and Graeme Swann, in Johnny Bairstow and Stuart Broad, in Jos Buttler and Craig Kieswetter, the Poms have the professional firepower to place themselves in a position from where to have a tilt, however slim, at regaining the title.

No Clear Favourite

Sticking one's neck out for a winner is hazardous at the best of times. In this format it's sheer stupidity. And in a tournament expected to be one of the most open in recent times - what with an battalion of domestic league mercenaries running amok across national teams - predicting a champion is impossible.

India have the batting might and pedigree; Pakistan have the experience and the most eclectic bowling attack; Sri Lanka are nigh unbeatable in their backyard; the West Indies, with match-winners such as Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine, appear to be customised for hit-and-giggle dos.

Anybody, save for the Associate also-rans, could go all the way, and nothing would please the watching public more than a West Indian win, finally a glimpse of hope, finally a throwback to the heady days of the early 1980s. With short games bridging the gap between good and mediocre sides, matches could change course drastically within the span of a few overs.

"It's the sort of format where nothing can be taken for granted. We have seen one ball change the whole game. The idea is to do well for all the 40 overs. That is all that matters," said India skipper Dhoni, who has already won ODI and Twenty20 World Cups.

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