Like that oddball uncle in the family – each of us has one, admit it – who shows up without much forewarning and overstays his welcome while rambling on about uncomfortable topics, sometimes bordering on the incoherent, the Champions League Twenty20 is at out doorstep.
Twenty20 cricket has reached a saturation point and the scheduling of the mind-numbingly dull tournament less than 48 hours after the ICC World Twenty20 final makes little sense. The tournament organizers are expectedly staying positive but there’s no questioning the fatigue factor hanging over the CLT20. From an Indian perspective, after more than 70 IPL matches earlier this year this just makes you feel jaded. And a little depressed, frankly. Add the fact that the international season has barely started and the burnout issue is being talked of, and you have a tournament that’s garnering about as much enthusiasm as a root canal does.
Teams take it seriously – Auckland Aces have been camped out in South Africa since September 22 – because of the $2.3 million on offer for the winning team and the fact that the tournament is broadcast across the globe. That translates into mass exposure resulting in a global flavor and, most importantly, the chance for franchise owners in India and Australia to spot talent they may only previously have heard of via scorecards or word of mouth. The CLT20 is, above all else, a vehicle putting your name out there as a cricketer.
The scheduling of the tournament 48 hours after the final of the ICC World Twenty20 only adds credence to the belief that Twenty20 is stifling the audience.
But all this does not translate into competitive, engaging cricket. The cricket in the first two editions was better than that of the 2011 installment, but ask anyone to name memorable matches and you are likely to get ponderous reactions. Kieron Pollard’s assault on Moises Henriques is one of the innings that comes to mind, as do Brett Lee’s bowling in the 2009 final and Andrew Puttick’s century against Otago are three of the likely replies you’d get. The appeal of the CLT20 pales in comparison to that of the IPL or World Twenty20.
Let’s accept it – the CLT20 will only be a success if India’s presence and acceptance is confirmed. In the two editions held in India, in-stadia audiences were minimal despite free passes being liberally handed out. Television viewers were not even remotely near to those watching the IPL. And this for a tournament geared toward the Indian audience.
When the tournament moved to South Africa in 2010 the crowds improved marginally. This had as much to do with poor cricket as disconnect for fans in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Durban and Port Elizabeth with teams such as Guyana, Wayamba, Auckland and South Australia. Even title triumphs by Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians have not whetted the Indian fan’s appetite.
What has also turned people off the CLT20 is the running of the tournament – only the boards of India, Australia and South Africa are involved which means that the entire show favours teams from these countries. Hence the presence of four IPL teams. Fans in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have not connect with the tournament. This year’s edition will finally see the presence of a team from Pakistan, the Sialkot Stallions. Bilateral tensions ensured their non-showing in the past three editions, which did not go down well in Pakistan. Now the team that won 25 consecutive Twenty20 matches between 2005 and 2010 has rightfully been given a chance to play with the others. But will that get drawn fans to the stadiums?
England will be represented by Hampshire and Yorkshire this season but the ECB will shun the CLT20 next year in an attempt to put the focus back on their domestic 50-over competition. The only way the CLT20 organizers can get English participation back in is to reschedule the tournament, but considering the clout of the BCCI that is as likely as Lalit Modi suddenly sprouting wings by drinking Red Bull.
While many people will follow the tournament on their iPhones and Blackberrys and computers at work and others watch streamed telecasts online, what will make the tournament click is if the fans come to the grounds. Matches played out to bare stadiums are an eyesore, and considering the creaking weight of the international calendar the health of the CLT20 can only seriously be gauged by how many fans come to the grounds. The timings for this year’s CLT20 have been tweaked to allow school children in South Africa – a major part of the expected fan base, according to the local cricket board and broadcasters – to come in and watch for free.
In a year which has seen the Big Bash League, Bangladesh Premier League and Sri Lankan Premier League crop up, the significance of the CLT20 threatens to be devalued. Whether the tournament stands the test and engages the audience remains to be seen.