Twenty20 a hard fit for Australians

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While an invitation to return to the Caribbean for a Twenty20 carnival worth more than $20 million in prizemoney might seem difficult to resist, it also will be difficult to fit in.

No country in history will have squeezed so many Tests into a calendar year if Australia meets all its commitments next year after it emerged that Australia's cricketers are scheduled to play a world record 20 Tests in 2008.

The backlog has been created by India's late arrival next summer, and because the four-Test series in the West Indies originally meant to follow the World Cup was postponed until 2008, when Australia is also pencilled in for up to 30 one-day internationals.

So while Antiguan-based Texan billionaire Allen Stanford hopes to bankroll an international Twenty20 tournament in the West Indies, and has made formal overtures to Cricket Australia, it is hard to see how it would fit into Australia's crowded calendar.

The idea has not been discussed with the Australian Cricketers Association. "We'll keep an open mind about it, but where you would fit it in, I'm not really sure," said association chief executive Paul Marsh.

Whether the lucrative carnival goes ahead, and whether Australia participates, the emergence of tycoons such as Stanford and Indian Subhash Chandra, owner of Zee Telefilms, has the potential to change the cricket landscape because of the money they are willing to invest.

Twenty20 is still finding its way on the international stage, but already is seen as a potentially valuable tool in attracting huge and new audiences to the game. Stanford wants to break into the US market.

"We see Twenty20 as being slightly different from other one-day series because it is aiming to bring new audiences to the game and if it's going to bring America into the world of cricket, it would be foolish to dismiss it out of hand," Marsh said.

Even Australian vice-captain Adam Gilchrist, who has advocated a "softly, softly" approach ahead of the inaugural Twenty20 world championship in South Africa, said after witnessing the depressingly thin crowds at World Cup matches around the Caribbean that the super-abbreviated game might be the way of the future.

"Who knows? Maybe now having seen the crowds at this World Cup, maybe it is going to be the way to go. It might cannibalise the one-day game a little bit but we'll have to deal with that as we go because it's obviously a popular format," Gilchrist said.

There remains an obvious tension between the proliferation of Twenty20 internationals and the thorny issue of programming and player workloads.

The concept is only likely to gain widespread support from players if it replaces other games, rather than being played in addition to their existing commitments. And those commitments, from a glance at the Future Tours Program, are becoming greater as time goes on.

Meantime, the Board of Control for Cricket in India is rumoured to have cooled on its proposal for a one-day series against Australia in Northern Ireland in June this year.

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