Champions League T20: One big farce
Subhash Chandra’s Indian Cricket League was meant to revolutionise cricket as we see it. Along with his Carribean counterpart, the multi-billionaire Sir Allen Stanford, a reloaded and cash pumped Kerry Packer act was envisaged by the business baron. But unlike their Australian predecessor, both men failed miserably on one account: quality. A group of cricketers whose twilight was beyond them, a bunch of youngsters deemed the expendables and a bafflingly short-sighted marketing strategy, resulted in both experiments flopping big time. Amidst all the harakiri that followed, with the BCCI and the ICC pulling strings for the “sake of test cricket“, as they justified it, the unfortunate cricketers who had signed up for the leagues, had to play in front of stands emptier than that of an I-League clash. Needless to say, both the ventures ended up being cases of mere brouhaha more than anything else.
People today say that the one good thing that came out of these two tournaments, was the novel idea of something that took the game by storm – the Indian Premier League. But the mastermind behind the enormous success that IPL is, claims that he had been envisioning a league of this magnitude way back from 1996. Whatever the facts of the matter are, Lalit Modi’s brainwave captured the imagination of the whole world, and unlike their doomed predecessors, IPL was here to stay. Now, Modi was a real visionary. Right from the inception of the IPL, he had been planning a tournament that ran on similar lines to the UEFA Champions League, pitting the best T20 franchises in the world against each other.
Thus, was born the Champions League T20. The first edition of the proposed tournament had to be cancelled due to the 26/11 blasts. Maybe, in hindsight, it was a bad omen. But Modi hadn’t left the idea and the tournament was to become a reality the next year. The first season came and went with below par TV ratings and spectatorship. The first CL T20 would have been a damp squib, but for the exploits of Kieron Pollard and Brett Lee. Looking back, it has been the best CL T20 so far.
After the rude wake up call that the first edition was, the administrators should have learnt a few lessons. First, the tournament held no interest at all overseas. Though the Eagles, Otagos and Wayambas played, they were all anonymous entities – both at home, and in India. But this disadvantage wouldn’t have become as pronounced as it was, had the Indian viewers shown some interest. It was here that Modi failed to grasp the psyche of the average Indian TV viewer. We Indians love to worship stars. No country revels in making and breaking stardom like ours. Whether it be Rajnikanth, Amitabh Bacchan, Pawan Kalyan or Sachin, Dhoni and the rest, Indians believe in star power more than bits and pieces. Always. The “Saachin, Saachin!!” chants throng the stadiums more than “Indiaaa, Indiaaa!” (another thing is that if there is anybody who deserves that kind of applause, it is that man and only that man). People visit the grounds and switch on their TV sets, wanting to see Dhoni’s helicopter shot and Gilchrist’s baseball-like pummelling. Not to see, with all due respect, Thandi Tshabalala’s off spinner or Moises Henriques’ front foot defence. The fact that the home teams fared poorly only added to the indifference of the Indian viewer. Already, the backbone of the league was skewed due to lack of interest.
The rest of the editions have only aggravated the flaws that have been prevalent right from Season 1. The league, especially when one takes into account the hopelessly farcical affair that we witnessed this time around, suffers from a massive identity crisis. What is the motive of the league? What good has come out of it? What is there to cheer in it? It is confusion everywhere.
We’ll try and understand what the purpose of the tournament is – from a cricketing, as well as a commercial point of view. The UEFA Champions League, the inspiration behind our subject, is a long-drawn affair which lasts the entire season, with home and away games resulting in stadiums becoming cauldrons of drama and electricity. The CL T20, on the other hand, is a regulation round-robin turned knockout tournament. The test of the best, as it claims itself to be, doesn’t take place in such a format. All that happens is an assortment of players coming together to everybody’s inconvenience, in the middle of a busy season, playing for money (which is perfectly justified), and with sub-zero passion – again, perfectly justified when one looks at things from player’s point of view. For instance, take the case of a player like Azhar Mahmood. He plays T20 cricket for Dhaka, Wayamba, Auckland Aces and Kings XI Punjab. In case two of his teams qualify, for whom does he play? There is a solution for this, made rather ‘wisely’ by the BCCI, containing a page full of clauses and arithmetic which would decide for whom he plays. But can paperwork take into account passion and team loyalty? What if a player has to turn up for a team which he would rather turn up against? And, if a player gives less than 100%, he is making a fool of those people who have paid hard-earned money to root for him. This scenario throws light into the amateurish thinking that has gone into building the framework of the league. Most clubs playing in the UEFA Champions League have a history that is older than that of independent India. They have a solid system in which such a situation can never exist. CL T20, on the other hand, is a tournament played by immature infants and run by immature businessmen.
Now, we move on to the purpose of the league. First cricketing, then commercial. The tournament is supposed to be an arena in which the best take on each other to earn the tag of “the best of the best”. The best? I don’t understand. CL T20 has four Indian teams by default and two each from South Africa and Australia. The final two spots are decided by a qualifier played by the champions of West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, England and New Zealand. This is ridiculous. As far as track records go, no team has fared better in the shortest format than Pakistan. West Indies, Sri Lanka, England and New Zealand are not far behind. It should have been two teams from India, Australia and South Africa and one each from the other four nations. When a mid-table Indian team gets to play at the expense of the champions of other cricketing equals, where does the talk of the “best” arise? I don’t understand how people can bear to watch such an event, in spite of it being so blatantly biased.
Moving on to another “purpose”, talent spotting. Seriously? But for Kieron Pollard, what talent has this tournament unearthed? For an event in which nearly half the teams are from India, does that reason really hold weight? Don’t they have two full months in the IPL to discover new talents? As for the overseas teams, I don’t understand how talent can be identified when the format is as abridged as it is right now. We may see one-match wonders. But lasting talent on a consistent basis? No way. Sorry for the paragraph being filled with question marks. For the narrator, the very existence of this tournament is a question mark in itself.
Now, the commercial part. Looking from the players’ point of view, the event is incredibly lucrative. Take the case of Lasith Malinga. For bowling 4 overs in the cool of Kingsmead, he gets 50 times of what he would have got, had he slogged for 5 days under the Colombo sun. One cannot blame the players. For them, it has to come from within. But I don’t get what the administrators gain commercially from an event which has such low viewership.
Now, the CL T20 is organised at the behest of the BCCI. Along with the role of filling its ever-expanding coffers, the board also has the small yet vital duty of looking after the game in this country. They already make their players rich. The IPL sees to that. Then why this event right in the middle of the season, three days after the T20 World Cup? If there is any section of players who would really benefit from the money that is pumped into the tournament, it is the unheralded overseas players. But frankly speaking, no other cricketing board is too enthusiastic about the tournament. The tiff between New South Wales and Cricket Australia over Shane Watson is a case in point. There would definitely be more spectators for an India-Australia Test match, rather than for a Delhi-Nashua encounter. Instead of a needless, non sequitur affair, why don’t they plan good, proper cricketing encounters? If that is not possible, at least rest the over-worked and over-stressed players. They are too valuable to be lost to injuries, playing for matches that hold neither public nor personal interest.
It is time the Champions League T20 is scrapped for good. The lovers of the game are already lamenting the fact that the game loses two precious months to the IPL. This tournament would only deepen their angst and misery. That said, the IPL is a necessary evil. Whatever said and done, it is too big a monster to kill. And, marketing-wise, it is spot on. Till now, at least. The CL T20, on the other hand, is a classic case of over-kill, something that the BCCI has been repeatedly found guilty of. The event has already done more harm than good. It exists for the sake of existence, with nothing good about it. Except for its Rahman theme song, maybe. What we need is class. Not farce.