T20 World Cup Preview: T20 comes of age

Twenty-one years on from its inception, T20 has grown from weeknight beers to a global sport. A cause for celebration, writes Tom Grunshaw

On the 13th June 2003, the first professional T20 match was played. Twenty-one years later, T20 will have evolved itself from an experiment to improve ground attendances in English County Cricket, into the global growth vehicle for the entire game. T20 has grown from upstart younger sibling to the richest and most extroverted member of the family.

Twenty-one is a traditional coming-of-age point for much of the world, and on T20’s 21st birthday, cricket will be halfway through its biggest and most ambitious global event. There is good reason to think the format is having a birthday party.

If this truly is a birthday celebration for T20, where better to host it than the Caribbean and the USA? The West Indies were the first ICC member to truly take T20 seriously, to recognise its immense potential. The Caribbean venues also offer a carnival atmosphere, one that fits naturally with the high intensity of T20. Alongside them, their co-hosts in the USA, represents the future ambitions of the format, to carve itself a niche in the world’s biggest sports market. The combination is truly reflective of the place of T20: a mixture of tradition, boisterous flair, and ambition.

The last time cricket operated on this scale was also in the Caribbean for the 2007 ODI World Cup. And whilst the ICC has run sixteen team events since, 2007 was the last time an ICC event featured as many teams entering the tournament on the same level. Seventeen years on, and after many smaller tournaments, we have finally grown beyond 16, to 20. And at fifty-five matches, the upcoming tournament features the most matches of any ICC event.

Guests have been invited from all corners of the world. Many are familiar faces, but there’s plenty of space for newer friends, such as Namibia or Papua New Guinea, whose recent rises have made them frequent visitors to global events. There’s also teams we haven’t seen in many a year; Nepal mark their first T20 World Cup in a decade, Canada were last seen at this level in 2011, and USA play their first ICC event since the 2004 Champions Trophy. Even still, there’s room for a newcomer, as Uganda mark their first senior World Cup.

Still, there are some notable absentees: Zimbabwe missed out after a major slip-up in the Africa qualifier. The UAE fell afoul of the brutal Asia Qualifier semi-finals, and Bermuda missed out on net run rate. Former attendees Kenya and Hong Kong found themselves a step further back, despite the expansion.

Altogether, eleven full members and nine associates will make up the entry list, showing the reach the format has gained. But perhaps the truest measure of how T20 has developed is the number of teams that took part in the qualification process. Including those with direct qualification, the two-year long road to the USA and Caribbean features featured 93 teams, out of 105 eligible members at the start of the process. Several regions, including Europe, had 100% participation of their members.

ICC decision such as global T20I status, and the ability to host T20Is on artificial wickets have been revolutionary steps forward, driving increased accessibility and popularity for T20 and by extension, cricket. The shortest format now covers all from nations taking their first steps into the game, to the glitz and the money of the IPL.

Like all twenty-one-year-olds, there are still many steps between here and the finished article – a truly global sport. Some major ones are already in the pipeline, such as T20 being included at the Olympics in four years’ time. Others are less defined, like cricket gaining a foothold in major sports markets such as the USA, or continental Europe, or Japan.

But for the first time since 2007, this truly feels like a World Cup. A chance to showcase T20 cricket at its best, but also at its most global. There is a diversity of stories to be told, from Yashasvi Jaiswal to Frank Nsubuga. There are rivalries to be contested as old as the sport itself, there will be drama, and there is always room for an upset. And that is truly cause for a celebration, and for a party like cricket has not seen before.

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