Sri Lanka is banking on cricket to help repair the damage to its blood-stained image following the bloody end to a 37-year ethnic war as the biggest tournament in the nation's post-independence history gets underway. Since declaring an end in 2009 to a conflict that claimed up to 100,000 lives, President Mahinda Rajapakse's government has had to battle accusations that its troops killed thousands of civilians as they crushed Tamil rebels towards the end of the war. But as host of the World Twenty20, which begins today in Rajapakse's home town of Hambantota, Sri Lanka is looking to rebrand itself as an island of sun-kissed beaches and ancient Buddhist temples rather than as a hotbed of conflict. "The T20 World Cup programme will provide an excellent platform to endorse the new Sri Lanka brand during the next three weeks," said Nivard Cabraal, the central bank governor and a key figure in promoting Sri Lanka as a sporting destination. "I am confident that this trend will continue in the future, and those so-called international calls for [war crimes] investigations will fade away," he said. Teams from 12 nations, including those from Australia and England - two nations which have been highly critical of Sri Lanka's government - are taking part in the World Twenty20, which will culminate in the final in Colombo on October 7. The hosts will hope to make a brisk start to the competition today and should encounter few problems against minnows Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka have yet to emulate their 50-over World Cup victory of 1996, despite reaching the final in 2007 and again last year. They were World Twenty20 runners-up in 2009 and went out in the semi-finals in 2010. Despite a fast and furious format which makes predictions unwise, Mahela Jayawardene's team start as slight tournament favourites due to home advantage and because they are known as a team for the big occasion. "We are one of the favourites but we are part of the pack that, you know, if we get into a good momentum we could go all the way," Jayawardene said. "Sri Lanka is a cricket-crazy country and the expectations would be high. People would back us so we need to enjoy that." In an open field, at least half of the teams will consider themselves strong contenders to lift the trophy - and the others will be encouraged by the tournament's reputation for producing surprises. The 12 sides have been divided into four pools for the preliminary league, with the top two from each group advancing to the Super Eights round. England, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand are seeded to meet in group one of the Super Eights, with the top two teams making it to the semi-finals. Group two is already being billed as the "Group of Death", with arch-rivals India and Pakistan seeded to face Australia and South Africa, should all go through to the Super Eights. England are out to prove they can defend the title without star batsman Kevin Pietersen, the man of the tournament in 2010, who has been axed from the national team on disciplinary grounds. The West Indies are also touted as potential champions, with explosive batsmen in Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Marlon Samuels, and a wily spinner in Sunil Narine.