ICC spoil the party - again

This World Twenty20 was supposed to be redemption time for cricket in the Caribbean but with games starting early morning, the buzz is missing.

Afghanistan's Nowroz Mangal and India's MS Dhoni in the coin toss in front of nearly empty stands before their match in St Lucia.
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The World Twenty20 is being billed as cricket's redemption song in the Caribbean after the bungled 2007 World Cup. The game's chiefs had played spoilsport at the last mega event in the West Indies with their bizarre regulations that kept Caribbean fans away in droves. There seems to be an improvement this time around, with lower ticket prices and the freedom for the region's party-loving fans to bring their musical instruments along. But does that really help when some matches start at 9.30am?

The early starts suggest television audiences in the Indian sub-continent have taken precedence over the people that the International Cricket Council (ICC) should have been trying to lure. The Indian fans are invaluable for the game, but the purpose of Twenty20, as envisaged by its founders, is to attract new people to the sport. The consequences of the scheduling have been empty stands at virtually every game, except when the home side have been playing.

The atmosphere of Twenty20 cricket under lights - music, dancing and all - cannot be replicated at an early morning start. The game is for the night, a carnival of floodlit cricket after work. Had cricket's decision makers shown a bit more sense, a lot more people would have been "Bringing It" to the stadiums. The Caribbean people love their cricket and they love to party - but not that early in the day.

On the field, the cricket itself has not been particularly stirring and persistent rains in Guyana have not helped. Suresh Raina and Mahela Jayawardene have continued with their sublime form from the Indian Premier League, while Eoin Morgan has been redefining the art of T20 batting. Those three have really been the standouts up to now. It would have been a travesty had Morgan and England not featured in the Super Eights. They nearly came to grief, courtesy of a controversial rain-ruined defeat against the West Indies, but another downpour, against Ireland, went their way and delivered justice.

Where do England stand among the eight in the second round at this stage? They should be strong contenders, with their bowling variety, but that could be an assumption as the rains have allowed the England attack just 9.2 overs in their two games. Australia have looked a bit too pace-heavy and that predictability on these slow pitches could hurt them against better-equipped batsmen as the tournament progresses.

But if the likes of Shane Watson and David Hussey can keep firing and putting 180-plus on the board, they could still take their expected place in the last four. Pakistan, the defending champions, and Sri Lanka, the losing finalists in England last year, have not looked very convincing. The Sri Lankan batting has been wobbly and over-reliant on Jayawardene, and Muttiah Muralitharan's injury leaves a hole in their attack.

Pakistan have also been suffering from the absence of Umar Gul. Mohammed Aamer has done his reputation no harm, but support from the other end has been lacking and the batting does not give you much confidence. South Africa will probably need to have a look at their batting order. There is plenty of blame being thrown Jacques Kallis's way for slow starts and that could be damaging for the confidence of their most prolific batsman. Sending someone like Albie Morkel as his opening partner would not be such a bad idea.

The home side, fickle as they are, can never be ruled out for the top honours and home support will be a crucial factor. They have players like Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy, who can shred any attack. The team to watch out for, though, are the Kiwis. The perennial dark horses, New Zealand have the potential to spoil the party for the favourites over the next week. The start of the Super Eights today sees England play the winners of Group A, which is likely to be Australia, who were playing Bangladesh last night, while New Zealand are due to play Group C's victors. @Email:arizvi@thenational.ae Pakistan v England, 5.30pm, and South Africa v New Zealand, 9pm, both on CricOne