When Europe’s best football clubs meet at the UEFA Champions League annually, the fanfare transcends the European mainland. Miles away, fans wait in anticipation — some stay up at night while others head to the sports bars — to catch a glimpse of their favourite clubs battling for supremacy. That is the power of this competition and it is even watched by those who aren’t remotely connected to the participating team — apart from their fanfare of course. Can cricket’s Champions League T20 (CLT20) endeavour to create a similar effect?
Although the CLT20 is based on its European counterpart, it has its own unique characteristics and problems. CLT20 is only a four-year-old infant and would take time to captivate the people and command a great following. It is tough for such a tournament to grow in the world of cricket, where the fans have only watched nation versus nation contests. For cricket aficionados, the sport has been about national passion and the franchises are a fairly new addition. The emergence of the Indian Premier League (IPL) did herald a new era and led to the mushrooming of numerous domestic T20 tournaments around the world.
When compared to football, CLT20 faces numerous challenges. Firstly, the UEFA Champions League forms a major chunk of the yearly calendar. On the other hand, CLT20 is squeezed in somewhere around September-October and there have been occasions when a few teams haven’t turned up if it clashed with their national commitments. England did not send its contingent for the 2010 tournament as it interfered with their series against Pakistan and the county season. This year as well the CLT20 doesn’t feature teams from England. Thus, there doesn’t seem to be unanimity over the standing of the tournament.
Secondly, there certainly is an inequality in the participation. As discussed in an article before the CLT20 2012, the CLT20 looks like an Indian property, with the complete discretion of the game’s richest body. Pakistan wasn’t represented in the first three editions as their cricketing ties with India had taken a hit then. As many as four Indian teams make their presence at the tournament, with only one team each from Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the West Indies. You cannot have such skewed participation if you have to determine the best of the best.
Thirdly, club cricket hasn’t yet caught on, although the IPL teams have a decent following — upon whom the whole success of the CLT20 hinges. Even then, it is more about the players than the team themselves. Take the example of the Mumbai Indians: it is one of the most followed sides mainly because they have Sachin Tendulkar — India’s most popular cricketer. Kolkata Knight Riders is also a very popular team because of the starry presence of co-owner Shahrukh Khan. Even the Indian teams full of big players are yet to chalk out an identity as the personnel keep changing over the years.
The scheduling also plays a huge role and does not quite attract the crowds. When the tournament was held in South Africa, matches played by the local and the Indian sides would at times see a decent turnout. In India, only the IPL sides garner attention. How do you expect crowds to throng the stadiums when unknown sides play a game? For example, Trinidad and Tobago and Brisbane Heat would play a match at Ranchi during the upcoming tournament. Does one really expect a full house?
In contrast, the UEFA Champions League draws feature the sides playing each other at home and away. What that does is that the home fans come to back their sides in such contests and the stadiums are jam-packed. It is only the final which is played at a pre-selected venue, which is also a sold-out affair. CLT20 has two sides from different nations fighting in a third country where they are hardly known. How will that convince the local public to attend?
It isn’t easy for cricket to take a lead out of the European tournament. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has to maintain an international calendar and cannot have club sides travelling to and fro from one corner of the globe to another. The cricket playing nations are spread out and it would be too cumbersome to have such home and away affairs.
This is why the CLT20 has to find its relevance and carve its own niche. It is drawn along the lines of the popular UEFA Champions League, but that blueprint wouldn’t fit in the cricketing scenario. The governing bodies need to be clear about what they want and how they plan to build its popularity. This tournament, in its very nascent stage, needs a push and requires better marketing and acceptance in the cricketing fraternity. Otherwise, it would continue to remain a T20 tournament without much of an importance.
However, it has made one big contribution. It is a resourceful scouting ground for the IPL franchises who start planning for the next auction after assessing the talent on show. So far, it has been a ticket to stardom for a few cricketers.
Nishad Pai Vaidya/Cricketcountry
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