The Twenty20 champions of the world are at last in action again today. England, unexpected but thrilling winners in the West Indies in May, will play their immediate predecessors as champions, Pakistan.
In normal circumstances the match in Cardiff, to be followed by another on Tuesday, would be an event to relish. During their victories both teams – Pakistan won the World T20 in England last summer – showed all that was good about the shortest form of the game and provided memories to savour for a thousand years.
Unfortunately, this has been overshadowed by the latest match- rigging scandal to rock the game. The tourists will have only 13 players to pick from for the brief series, three of their original party having been suspended by the International Cricket Council on Thursday night for their part in alleged corrupt activities during the Fourth Test at Lord's. Against such a backdrop it is impossible to anticipate today's match with much enthusiasm. This is a huge pity for a multitude of reasons, one of which is the feeling that England have never truly been accorded due appreciation for their victory.
Their crushing defeat of Australia by seven wickets in the final was the climax to a rip-roaring couple of weeks in which Paul Collingwood's side showed a clean pair of heels to the rest of the world. It was heady stuff because England, in two previous World T20 tournaments, had never remotely suggested they were capable of playing like this.
In its way, it was distinctly un-English (more easily accomplished perhaps given the key presence in the batting order of three South Africans and an Irishman) but their bold, selfless striking and their mutual trust, allied to some highly skilful and thoughtful bowling, was almost a thing of wonder. For most of the 2009 event in England, similar qualities applied to Pakistan.
There is no doubt that T20 could form a significant bridge to Test cricket for young fans, but the game's authorities appear content to ration it. This may be no bad thing since cricket has for too long shown the art of having too much of a good thing in terms of the 50-over series that are still played round the world with, it seems, gay abandon. T20 has, it seems, found its natural home based on club or city franchises, as embodied by the Indian Premier League.
The difficulties of policing this, however, could cause untold difficulties for the game. It emerged in India last week that their income tax department claim to have found evidence suggesting that the (suspended) IPL founder and commissioner, Lalit Modi, used 80 crore rupees (£11.1m), part of the television rights deal, to fund his own private jet. This sort of sum dwarfs the £150,000 that the News of the World says it paid a middleman, Mazhar Majeed, to ensnare Pakistan cricketers in an illegal betting ring.
That day in May at the Kensington Oval will seem a world away for England but they should recall enough of it to start as favourites. There follows, inevitably, a series of five one-day internationals, beginning next Friday in Durham, by which time Pakistan will have replaced their missing trio.
These matches at the fag end of an interminable season seem too much. The idea of playing a one-day international in England on 22 September – or indeed one in the far north of Chester-le-Street on 10 September – seems to be the workings of the mind of a mad fixtures scheduler.
With the World Cup in India next year, the series also happens to be an important part of both teams' development. England sprang a surprise by dropping Kevin Pietersen from their squad, though it is impossible to contemplate that they will enter a World Cup without him.
Craig Kieswetter, who emerged so vibrantly in the winter, has also been dropped from the 50-over squad, though he will play as a batsman in the T20s. Steven Davies, of Surrey, now has the chance of a prolonged run in the side, as perhaps he should have had before now, though the claims of Matt Prior, who has grown immensely in stature as a Test player, will not easily have been overlooked. Considering Pakistan's disarray, England should win with something to spare. But don't bet on it.