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  • T20 Cricket World Cup: 1.5 billion watching, just not in the United States

     It will be the world's most-watched sporting event of 2012 – aside from that little summer shindig in London – yet the chances are you have never heard of it.

    The T20 Cricket World Cup began this week and over the course of the next 16 days will be watched by an estimated 1.5 billion people, or around a quarter of the global population.

    India takes on Afghanistan in a T20 Cricket World Cup match.The tournament will captivate the top 12 nations in cricket, of which the United States is not one, perhaps the primary reason why the sport and its showpiece competitions float by without registering so much as a blip on the American radar.

    It was not always thus; trace back a couple of centuries and the U.S. was a powerhouse of cricket, even taking part in (and losing) the first ever international match against Canada in 1844.

    Nowadays, cricket in the U.S. is mainly played by expats, although there is a smart new stadium in Lauderhill, Fla., where 16,000 watched an international game between New Zealand and the West Indies – representing several small Caribbean islands – a few months back.

    Given the diverse cultural topography of this country, the market for cricket (immigrants hailing from India, Pakistan, Australia and the United Kingdom) is still solid, strong enough for ESPN to broadcast every match of the T20 World Cup on its digital platform.

    And while cricket may come laced with tales of bamboozling rules and customs, there is actually plenty to like about T20 – the most action-packed and exciting version of a game thought to have begun more than 300 years ago.

    As times have moved on, so has cricket been forced to evolve. Even if you have never seen a bowler hurl down a googly or a leg-spinner, you have probably heard of one of cricket's most bizarre quirks: the fact that it takes an extraordinary amount of time to play.

    Test cricket, the most prestigious version of the game, involves matches lasting up to five days, with often seven hours of play per day. And at the end of it all, there is no guarantee there will be a winner, if the weather or the nature of the match slows proceedings. Yep, that's 35 hours of playing time with the possibility of no result. That's more than a boxer might spend in the ring in his entire career or twice as much as most NFL players will spend on the field in a season.

    Such elongated affairs were all very well when the game was played by the genteel classes in Victorian England, but they aren't so conducive to the modern world. Hence, in the late 1960s, a reduced version of cricket that spanned a single day was invented. This also sparked such innovations as colored clothing instead of the traditional all-white uniforms, an easily visible ball (white instead of red) and music instead of polite applause paired with tea and scones.

    The 21st century, though, is the era of the ever-dwindling attention span, and it became clear even a full day was too long for the younger generation. As attendances dropped, cricket's organizers responded and a special task force borrowed heavily from Major League Baseball to come up with T20 – short for Twenty20 – a version of cricket that can be completed in around three hours.

    The "20" comes from the amount of batting time each team is given. In all forms of cricket, six balls (or pitches) constitute an over. At the end of each over a different bowler (or pitcher) takes "the mound," which in cricket is a playing strip situated in the middle of the field.
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