The fourth edition of the World Twenty20 will kick off in Sri Lanka on Tuesday, ushering in a new era in the history of the island nation which was torn apart by a bloody civil war until three years ago.
The tournament, the biggest ever sports event that the country has hosted so far, offers the "Teardrop Island" the chance to showcase its lush landscapes, beaches and temples, and make a fresh start on the 37-year ethnic conflict that claimed thousands of lives. In 2009, Rajapakse's government declared victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels, a group notorious for suicide bombings.
Hosts Sri Lanka start the tournament as marginal favourites, although it’s difficult to predict the results in cricket's shortest format, which has revolutionised the sport since its inception in 2003. Home advantage will help the hosts, who have a well-balanced.
Sri Lanka won the 50-over World Cup in 1996 and have reached the tournament's two most recent finals, along with the 2009 World Twenty20 title match which they lost to Pakistan."Lots of people have asked us why we have choked in the finals," skipper Jayawardene said. "I'd rather be in that situation than being knocked out in earlier rounds.”
England, the defending champions, have arrived with a youthful squad shorn of star batsman Kevin Pietersen, who is in international exile after a sequence of bust-ups with team management. South Africa, the number one Test team, are seeking their first ever limited-overs world title, while the powerful West Indies would be a popular winner. The World Twenty20 is the one major trophy to elude Australia.
India won the inaugural event in 2007, while Pakistan will hope to reprise their 2009 title run. The teams have been divided into four pools of three for the preliminary league, with the top two from each advancing to the Super Eights round.
An exciting cricket is on the cards in Super Eights - a week-long race to the semis and final - if the seedings go to plan. England, West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand are seeded to meet in group one of the Super Eights, with the top two teams making it to the semi-finals. Group two is already being billed as the "Group of Death", with arch-rivals India and Pakistan seeded to face Australia and South Africa.
A riveting contest is on the cards for the next 15 days as world’s top teams and players will sweat it out to be crowned as world champions in arguably the most exciting form of the game.
(With inputs from AFP)