Australia's coach Tim Nielsen has called on cricket's administrators to show greater respect to the Twenty20 format and end its "exhibition" status at international level.
As Australia prepared to depart for the ICC World Twenty20 in England on Wednesday, Nielsen said the time had come for international schedules to reflect the growing importance of the 20-over game by scheduling regular three-to-five game series, rather than shoehorning one-off Twenty20 contests around Test and 50-over games.
Since competing in the first ever 20-over international, against New Zealand in 2005, Australia have played 21 matches - six of them at the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa. That is the most of any team in world cricket, yet still well short of the 122 ODIs and 46 Tests the Australians have played over the same period; a reflection of the cautious attitude of administrators in introducing Twenty20 to international calendars.
But with the World Twenty20 now overshadowing the Champions Trophy for recognition and importance, and the Indian Premier League spreading its tentacles across the cricketing spectrum, Nielsen insists the time has come for the 20-over game to command a more significant place on the international calendar.
"If they're fair dinkum about Twenty20 cricket - and when you look at everything that's happening around the world, they should be - then we have to get to a point where we're no longer just squeezing Twenty20 internationals into the schedule as exhibition matches," Nielsen told Cricinfo. "They've had a couple of bucks each way so far. We have a tournament like the World Twenty20, which is growing in importance, but for the rest of the cycle games are scheduled as one-offs, and used to get new spectators through the gates.
"I believe [Twenty20 cricket] will work at international level, but only if it is given more credibility. And you will only get that by scheduling series of three to five games, which will make it more than a promotion, and make a real competition out of it. The hardest part at the moment is trying to get your team and tactics right for a tournament as important as the World Twenty20 when you only play a handful of Twenty20 internationals each year. A team's focus, if we're to be honest, is usually on the next Test or ODI series, and not on the one-off Twenty20 matches they're playing."
Nielsen's comments came on the same day Cricket Australia announced its home schedule for the 2009-10 season - which will feature only three Twenty20s against West Indies and Pakistan - and just hours before the team departed for England ahead of the World Twenty20.
The Australians were soundly defeated by India in the semi-final of the inaugural World Twenty20; a result that played a sizeable role in the format's evolution. India's subsequent victory over Pakistan in the final was met with overwhelming excitement by Indian supporters - the victory parade through the streets of Mumbai attracted in excess of a million well-wishers - and prompted a once reluctant BCCI to embrace the 20-over game and set the wheels in motion for the formation of the IPL.
In the subsequent two years, Twenty20 cricket has expanded exponentially at domestic level, and developed specific tactics and skill-sets. Indeed, Nielsen concedes the Australians were largely unaware as to how to approach the 2007 World Twenty20 in South Africa; a fact he believes will not repeat itself in England next month.
"Twenty-over cricket had really only been around a couple of years then, and I think everyone was still trying to work out the best way to approach it," he said. "There was no mention of the IPL back then. You look at India - they rested a lot of their important players and played youngsters in South Africa ... but now it's more accepted that you play your best players. Tactics have come a long way, too.
"At the moment, the World Twenty20 is really the only way to gauge teams' 20-over form. The other games are usually one-offs, and if you're on the other side of the world, it can be a costly exercise bringing the players you want over. We flew two or three players over to South Africa specifically because we had two Twenty20s there, but with only one in the UAE [against Pakistan], we stayed with the same squad from the ODI series."
Nielsen has already sought out Brad Hodge for insights into the tactics and methodologies employed at this year's 2009 IPL, and will canvas opinions from Andrew Symonds and Mike Young, the fielding coach, both of whom were involved with the triumphant Deccan franchise.
"It's great for us to have had someone like Mike inside the system, and we can definitely learn from that," Nielsen said. "We have one of the tougher draws at the World Twenty20 with the West Indies and Sri Lanka, and we will be looking for any advantage that might help us."