Champions League T20: An Unfair Tournament
Cricket relations between India and Pakistan resume with invitation to Sialkot Stallions to participate in the Champions League T20. It is a bigger welcome than extended to English county teams that have participated in past editions of this tournament and no one is surprised really. After the Board of Cricket Control in India calls the shots here!
A bigger exploitation is in terms of slots in the group stages and the ones allotted to IPL teams have grown every year. It started with two in 2008 when the tournament failed to take off. It became three in 2009 and 2010, and then four in 2011, with the fourth team asked to play a qualifier first. Now that qualifier has gone out of the window too. Both the Australian and South African teams are placed in the group stages as well. Blatant favouritism will never need a new example.
There is a lot wrong with world cricket at the moment and if you want one pertinent pointer to the same, perhaps the Champions League T20 serves as a stand-out example. A supposedly global T20 tournament that has only ever been hosted by two nations in its history, owned by independent authority, run on their whims and fancies yet enjoying a distinct ICC window, it is a symbol of this sport's malaise.
Every year as the BCCI, Cricket Australia (CA) and Cricket South Africa (CSA) joust to put together the two-week tourney, several questions come to mind, again and again. What is the standing of Champions League in cricket's holistic point of view? Is the current slot it enjoys in international calendar viable from a long term point of view? Does the current format allow all teams an equal opportunity?
Perhaps the answer is no and it will continue to be so till there are three vested parties running affairs. Maybe that is where the ICC needs to step in, take charge and chalk out what is in best interests of CLT20. Clearly, empty seats in stadiums in the past editions haven't been missed out on and playing in India/South Africa alternately cannot be the option. Believe it or not the masses are tired of the amount of cricket on offer and that might just become the death knell for this particular tournament.
The thing to do would be to find a way to keep the BCCI, CA and CSA happy about their profits from this venture, yet provide more benefits to others involved. The T20 format and involvement of domestic teams from different parts of the world allows for opportunities that can be explored in a non-conformist manner. Experimentation with hosting rights needs to be looked at, while the format can be revisited. If hosting a lengthy tournament isn't getting them anywhere, maybe a home and away contest could be arranged, to run round the year, on the lines of the football leagues in Europe. The finals can then be an exclusive event, and anticipation can be cultivated thus.
All of this might be conjecture but it does deviate from the ugly truth of the Champions League. That it is a tournament started keeping in mind the profit margins of IPL and slowly the Big Bash teams will start cashing on it as well. Already there are other T20 leagues propping up elsewhere, in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. How long before others follow suit?
It is bound to raise the club versus country debate and Trinidad & Tobago, miffed at being denied a direct entry to the group stage, have become the first to raise it. The player in question is Sunil Narine and T&T want him to represent his nation in the competition, and not some IPL team that really doesn't have an identity except that it belongs to a movie-star. It is hard to argue against them and this is how it should be really. But the power of money keeps the BCCI and its subsidiaries afloat at all times. Who's to say that Kolkata Knight Riders will not pay out T&T and get Narine to play for them?
In theory it can be ascertained that T&T should just say no to that payment. Practicality however suggests that this rule shouldn't have been put forth in the first place. There are others like the one allowing five international players for Mumbai Indians last season that turn off those watching and indeed competing.
For this is where the Champions League T20 is losing its edge. If not curbed, an event that has the power to take cricket to unchartered waters, thanks to its format, will be lost in this greedy melee.