By Steve Waugh
One of the most astonishing transformations in the world of international cricket has been the rise of Twenty20. Established in Britain less than a decade ago, the fast-paced version of the game has boomed, especially in Asia, where new leagues and new fans have cottoned to the idea of watching their favorite athletes play a match that lasts a few hours. The pace of the traditional game is much more leisurely; test matches last for days.
With this in mind, two years ago the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Indian cricket's governing body, started the Indian Premier League (IPL), which took off immediately with eight franchises worth $724million. India is fanatical about the sport, and in just a couple of years it has achieved cult status. In March the league plans to announce the winners of an auction that will expand the league by two teams. The minimum bid is $225million per franchise. Sportswriters and fans are abuzz with speculation that the new investors could include deep-pocketed owners of English football clubs, and IPL commissioner Lalit Modi himself has said there has been "phenomenal" interest in acquiring the franchises.
Outside interest has also been phenomenal. In Australia, where I am from, players have been seduced by the big crowds. And some of the biggest stars on the Indian teams include Aussies like Shane Warne, who coached the Rajasthan Royals when they won the IPL championship in 2008, and Adam Gilchrist, captain of the Deccan Chargers. But the far bigger story in Twenty20 this year, and perhaps the best evidence of its staggering success and popularity, comes not from India or Australia--both mainstays of international cricket for many years--but from war-torn Afghanistan. Just a couple of years ago they were in the fifth tier of international cricket. Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the national team, guided by a Pakistani coach, has secured a spot at the Twenty20 Championships in the West Indies that begins at the end of April.
How they managed to do it is a bit of a mystery. They evidently learned to play the game in Pakistani refugee camps while they were exiled from Afghanistan during the years of the Taliban, and managed to move from maybe 130th in the world ranking 18 months ago to 15th today. It is a classic Cinderella story that's great for cricket, and an achievement that is sure to spark still more interest in Twenty20 far beyond Asia.
Waugh led the Australian National cricket team to world cup victories in 1999 and 2003, and is a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy (laureus.com), a group of the 46 greatest living sportsmen and -women.