The hosts, South Africa, got proceedings under way at the Wanderers against the West Indies. And what a match it was. Batting first, the Windies laid down the benchmark for others to follow, scoring 205 runs in their 20 overs. Opener Chris Gayle led the way, peppering sixes (ten in all) to all corners of the ground en route to a destructive 117 from just 57 balls. Quite possibly, we have already witnessed THE batting performance of the tournament.
If the West Indies had shown their best side with the bat, they then showed their worst side in the field. In defending their impressive total, they contributed 28 runs in extras - a record in Twenty20 - to South Africa's total, and added three dropped catches for good measure. Herschelle Gibbs was twice reprieved by butter-fingered fielders and needed no further invitation to build an innings which was almost the equal of Gayle's, accelerating to an unbeaten 90 off 55 balls and striking the winning blow himself as South Africa cruised home with 14 balls to spare.
As a match, it was a shining example of what the Twenty20 format has to offer: 413 runs in less than three hours, 36 fours, 18 sixes. Many purists disown Twenty20 as an abhorrent creation for an attention-deficient world; as far removed from Test cricket as 5-a-side is from 'proper' football. But that is to totally miss the point. Twenty20 is not supposed to be Test cricket on speed; in terms of tactics and technique it cannot even be regarded as an abbreviated version of its 50-over cousin (which, lest we forget, was similarly derided when it was first introduced to the international arena in 1971). It is simply a different form of the game which taps into the needs and expectations of a global TV audience which demands bite-sized chunks of intense action and has immense viewing choice when it comes to sport.
And to underline the point that Twenty20 need not be all about the biff-bash-bosh of batting pyrotechnics, tonight's prime-time match-up between the minnows of Zimbabwe and the all-conquering might of one-day world champions Australia produced a game every bit as exciting and compelling as what we saw last night.
Against all expectations, a rusty Australia laboured to an underwhelming 138-9 in damp conditions as Zimbabwe produced an impressive containing performance in the field. In response, Zimbabwe got off to a flyer, stalled horribly mid-innings as wickets and heavy rain fell to the point where, had the teams been unable to continue following a brief interruption for rain, Australia would have been declared the winners under the ever-mysterious Duckworth-Lewis method. As things transpired, however, they were able to resume, and a match which had been ebbing away from Zimbabwe before the stoppage gradually flowed back to them thanks to Brendan Taylor's well-paced 60. Even so, they found themselves still requiring 12 off the final over, and then four off the last two balls, but Taylor flicked the penultimate ball off his pads down to the fine leg boundary and one of the most dramatic and unexpected victories ever seen in limited overs cricket ensured that this World Cup will remain firmly imprinted on my memory.
I hadn't paid much attention to Twenty20 before this World Cup, and only really tuned in last night out of curiosity. The fact that I then switched on again tonight and will do so for the rest of the tournament is testament to the game's TV-friendly potential. It's easy to dismiss Twenty20 as cricket for the Playstation generation, but that is no bad thing if the spectacle and excitement succeeds in drawing a new generation of kids to the sport. It's certainly good enough for this bluff old traditionalist.