Twenty20, boosted by the big-money Indian Premier League, has attracted a whole new audience to cricket. Casual fans of the game – who wouldn’t usually be drawn to watch a whole day’s play – can tune in to see big hits, big characters and big results in just hours. Among purists, the abridged version marks the first nail in the coffin for Test cricket, but when a format offers so much excitement and drama, there’s no way the powerbrokers will scrap it.

Next week, the latest T20 competition, the third edition of the Champions League kicks off in India, featuring 10 domestic teams from most of the world’s top cricketing nations. It’s a veritable feast of first-class, entertaining matches, featuring some of the best cricketing talent.

The Australian and New Zealand teams look strong. The Auckland Aces feature current NZ internationals Martin Guptill, Chris Martin and Kyle Mills and former Black Caps Daryl Tuffey, Lou Vincent and Gareth Hopkins. And the Aussies’ NSW Blues also have plenty of international experience in the form of Stuart Clark, Nathan Hauritz, Simon Katich and Shane Watson.

But former Australian cricketer Ian Harvey, who was part of Chennai Super Kings’ 2007 winning IPL side and is now on the Eurosport commentary team, says he wouldn’t bet against one of the home teams taking the trophy. Take, for instance, this year’s Chennai team. Led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and featuring Michael Hussey, Scott Styris and Tim Southee, they look tough to beat.

“Most of the other sides, yes, they’ve got a couple of international players, but you look at how strong that Chennai Super Kings team is, along with the Mumbai Indians as well, they’ve got some very solid international players,” Harvey says.

“For me, it’s hard to go past the four Indian teams. It’s going be tough for anyone coming up and really competing with them.”

Playing at such a top level of cricket against a high calibre of players can be exhausting, and Harvey believes it’s the teams with experience that will be there at the end. Big game temperament goes a long way – even in T20.

“The English teams will go alright because of the fact they play so much cricket over here. I don’t think that will bother them [India],” he says. “But the Australian teams, yes, they’re strong, but a few of their players won’t be used to the intensity and the amount of cricket being played over a short period of time if they keep winning and going through.”

T20 in India, where big dollars are on offer and fans are as fanatical as they come, is in the same league as one-day international cricket, in terms of the level of output required.

“Everyone thinks ‘it’s not long, it’s just T20 cricket’ but sometimes you feel a lot more knackered coming off after a T20 game because everything is happening so quickly and you’ve got to stay focused,” he says.

“The intensity is always definitely up there and you are always on the ball. The Champions League can be a very long three weeks, especially if you get through to the final.”

This year’s Mumbai side, with Sachin Tendulkar – who may not be part of the set-up due to a toe injury – Kieran Pollard and Rohit Sharma, is particularly notable for the inclusion of cricket’s more colourful figures, including Harbhajan Singh – a player who manages to get under the skin of many opponents.

But, according to Harvey, onfield arguments are less likely to crop up in 2011. “With all the leading players playing IPL, and seeing more of each other, stuff between teams has died down, compared to what it was. I don’t think we’ll see any bad incidents or as much tension as we’ve seen in the past,” he says.

“Harbhajan’s definitely one to watch, though. He didn’t bowl as well as he could when he was in England with India, and with the bat, he’s got hundreds in Test cricket. He’s definitely an exciting player to watch.” And, as for the continuing argument that T2O is eroding the longer forms of the game, Test cricket especially, Harvey says he can appreciate both sides of the story.

“I think everyone wants Test cricket, being a bit older, to remain number one and then have the one-day internationals and T20 come next in order of importance,” he adds.

“Hopefully the organisers don’t get too greedy, because this year some of the crowds at the games haven’t been what they were in the past. I think perhaps that needs to be reviewed. Hopefully, though, despite all the money, the players will still regard Test cricket and playing for their country as number one.” However, Harvey believes T20 does have a rightful place and has brought a more entertaining element to all forms of the game; that the crossover of skillsets has given cricket some much-needed colour.

“There’s no doubt it has helped the longer version of the game. Look at some of the fielding, the batting, the bowling, some of the shots we’re seeing are amazing. It’s definitely changed things in that regard,” Harvey says.

“It’s exciting seeing the game being taken forward. This tournament is going to be one out of the box. It’s going to be great to watch.”