What's the point of the Champions Trophy?
A lot of people took me to task after my last post, in which I suggested that it was a bit odd that most cricket fans don't rate the Champions Trophy very highly, many accusing me of English sour grapes. I was clearly underestimating Asian interest in the tournament, but Chris from Australia commented that there was zero interest in Australia, and when I checked the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age websites immediately afterwards, they still had the Ashes logo on their cricket pages - which still devoted far more attention to deconstructing Australia's Ashes loss than to prospects for the CT. And Australia are the holders.
Some people suggested that ICC needs to give the CT more prestige. I get the idea, but I'm not sure that prestige can be magically bestowed by the powers that be. ICC tried that with their idea of a Super Series of ODIs and a “Test” between the top-ranked country and the Rest of the World, at which the world's cricket public blew a resounding raspberry. Throwing oodles of cash into the prize pot doesn't do it either, as Allen Stanford found before he was arrested. The point is that prestige is not in the gift of the authorities: it is we, the fans and supporters, who confer prestige on tournaments and series. And as yet, at least, we haven't decided that the CT is a prestige tournament.
I think the problem is that we don't know what it's for. We have a 50-over World Cup already, and we're very happy to think that World Cup is a huge deal.
A World Cup happens every four years – as it does in many other sports, especially those involving inflated leather balls. Four years is a good interval because it basically ensures that there will be a different cast of characters even if the team names remain the same. Last time's Grand Old Men have retired, the then-established stars have moved into GOM-hood, some of the up-and-comers are now the leading players and there are some new faces just making their way. Each World Cup is a whole new adventure.
Contrast this with the CT going on three months after the World Twenty20; Tendulkar, Dravid and Strauss are playing in this after not being included in the Twenty20, but otherwise the differences between the teams which were in England and these ones have mostly come about through injuries (or, in the case of West Indies, total meltdown). Yes, it's a longer format and the results haven't always gone the same way, but it's felt awfully like the slo-mo replay taken to a whole-tournament level.
It's not that it hasn't been entertaining, or that we haven't learned anything. No-one had previously had any inkling that England had any idea how to play 50-over cricket, so their performance against South Africa was a discovery on a par with finding a new planet orbiting the sun. Nor, at a less mind-boggling level, had most of us realised that the final authority on run-out decisions is the fielding captain.
But was it really necessary to mount a whole tournament for the same old eight teams to make these additions to the sum of human knowledge?
In football, when England fail to win the World Cup, they can go off and fail to win the European Nations Cup, a tournament obviously smaller than and different to the World Cup but still big enough to garner its own level of prestige. India can finish out of the medals at the Olympic hockey and then make a mess of the Commonwealth Games, a lesser but still obviously significant event. But cricket's problem is that there aren't enough top teams to have a multiplicity of top-team tournaments without inducing terminal deja vu.
Perhaps what we need rather than the Champions Trophy are two quasi-regional tournaments. One would be for Asia-Pacific, involving India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand plus Afghanistan and UAE, while the Atlantic Cup could be for West Indies, England, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Netherlands, Namibia and Kenya (or such other European, American and African countries as qualified).
Obviously the Asia-Pacific one would be far more prestigious and have a much larger audience, but the Atlantic Cup would give more of the emerging nations serious competition, which might make future World Cups even more interesting. Most of all, though, it would be fascinating to see how South Africa could contrive to get knocked out at an early stage.
Now, I really must get back to eating those sour grapes.