Richards: T20 fizz may fall flat on slow tracks

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The Independent Online

Here we go with a carnival of cricket. Another carnival of cricket. No sooner has the all singing, all dancing Indian Premier League finished swathed in controversy (and not because there seemed to be more singing and dancing than there was cricket) than the World Twenty20 has arrived.

The tournament begins today in Guyana only 10 months after Pakistan became the second world champions at Lord's. If it is much too soon – the International Cricket Council is trying desperately to restructure its events schedule – it is at least true that Twenty20 and the Caribbean could have been made for each other.

There has been an unequivocal promise that the mistakes of the 2007 World Cup, when the matches might as well have been taking place in morgues, will not be repeated. The good-natured raucousness associated with the sport in this region, abolished for the entirety of the previous competition, is not only expected to be revived but is being positively encouraged.

Almost 60 per cent of tickets have already been sold and a vibrant atmosphere at the four grounds being used – Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Providence in Guyana, Beausejour in St Lucia and Warner Park, St Kitts where the women's group matches are being played – is guaranteed. For it to be sustained, however, the cricket has to match it and the evidence so far suggests that there is cause for concern.

All week in warm-up matches, runs have been hard to come by on slow, low pitches made for low, slow bowling rather than swashbuckling strokeplay. There is a sense of foreboding that too many matches will be wars of attrition and if this turns out to be so the tournament and the game will suffer. That may work in favour of Test cricket, but that is a story for another day.

Viv Richards, the legendary West Indian batsman who would have been quite irresistible had T20 been around when he was, said yesterday: "I'm concerned about these slow, low pitches. When you have a format as exciting as Twenty20 we need to continue that lively sense of things.

"It is tough to hear talk about spinners coming into any T20 match and doing well – that is ludicrous in my opinion. Spinners should come into play more so in the longer formats but when you are looking to sell this Twenty20 stuff and get more bums on seats it is of vital importance that the wickets are true enough for both sides to attack."

The problem is not that spinners have a contribution to make which should be applauded, but that indifferent spinners firing the ball into the surface will be too influential. That may or may not work in England's favour but not too much should be made of the excitable assessments that have been delivered about the team's chances.

By its nature Twenty20 brings teams together – that is anybody can win – and while England could win this tournament they probably will not. The favourites are Australia because they are Australia. But they appear to have a team which might prevail in conventional Twenty20 – booming hitters and fast bowlers. The pin in the tail of this donkey has landed on South Africa.