June 14, 2013

Five things you didn't know about the Champions Trophy

Why are the telecasts so long? Why are England dressed that way? All your urgent and key questions answered

One of the great open secrets in cricket is the undeniable fact that the ICC Champions Trophy is the premier tournament in international limited-overs cricket. The ICC Cricket World Cup might have a much larger profile, better mascots, a much less tasteful trophy, and a greater sense of pomp and circumstance. But that tournament is certainly burdened by the mandatory involvement of teams from the lesser cricketing nations, such as Australia. Because of this the World Cup is often blotted by laughably one-sided matches that have little to no impact on the final outcome.

The Champions Trophy has no time for such pointless distractions. Here, unlike in the World Cup, the competition is limited to the finest cricketing nations in the world, and Australia.

But how much do you really know about the Champions Trophy? If you think you know everything about this great competition, think again! Here are five rib-tickling, mind-boggling, face-melting facts about the tournament that is not at all known among cricket fans.

1. When fans watch the ICC Champions Trophy these days the first thought that pops into their mind is often: "Why are England dressed like delegates to a Student's Federation of India conference in Kasaragod in the 1990s?"

This is almost immediately followed by this piece of self-doubt: "Why, if it involves South Africa and New Zealand, is this called the Champions Trophy?"

This is a very valid question. South Africa may seem like ideal participants in an "Almost Champions Trophy". But here they seem out of place. Similarly New Zealand would easily fit into a "Unusually But Somehow Consistently Handsome Cricketers Trophy". But are they Champions? Hardly.

In fact the Trophy is not named for champions but after a Champion. To be precise, it is named after Gregory Trufflebucket Savoy Champion, one of England's greatest pre-war wicketkeeper-batsmen. In 1904, in Champion's last Ashes Test match, he dropped a sitter of a catch with the Aussies just needing one run to win the series. Subsequently, as is English tradition, disappointed English fans set fire to Gregory Champion, enclosed his remains within a small trophy, and then published a newspaper advertisement: "Do you want to earn high income from home? Call Martin now."

This trophy is now called Champion's Trophy.

2. Many fans who watch the Champions Trophy tournament on TV often wonder why the match telecasts often start anywhere from four hours to three days before the actual match. Some people think this is in order to maximise eyeballs and therefore revenues. They are very wrong.

In fact the entire point of this cushion is to accommodate the Sri Lankan national anthem, which is often called "George RR Anthem" in international circles in jest. Indeed the version played before cricket matches is the shorter version. The original full-length version is only played before and during Test matches. It is four hours long without intermission, but there is a secret scene after the credits.

3. Speaking of anthems, keen observers may have noticed that Australia and New Zealand not only have the same national anthem but also identical national flags and identical fan chants: "Aussie Aussie Aussie oi oi oi", "Kiwi Kiwi Kiwi oi oi oi"

This is because both countries were, in fact, one unified country till as recently as Financial Year 1923-24. But after some revisions in Australian accounting standards in that year, it was decided to spin-off New Zealand as a separate entity for tax purposes. Immediately rumours began swirling that black money was being routed through New Zealand. This belief was later enshrined in Kiwi sporting uniforms and team nicknames: Rugby - All Blacks, Cricket - Black Caps, Chicken Racing - Blackblackblack… blackaaaaack.

4. We all, regrettably, know the name of Robin van Persie. But does he have a brother or sister? Beatrice van Persie? Anbazhagan van Persie? Delivery van Persie? Who knows? And what do these van Persies do for a living? Who knows? Most probably they share Robin's greedy money-making mentality and are real-estate brokers or personal-injury lawyers.

In cricket there is no such ambiguity. This edition of the Champions Trophy is particularly rich with participating siblings. It only goes to show how cricket is truly a family sport that brings people together in ways that other sports simply cannot.

The siblings this year include Brendon and Nathan McCullum, who both play for New Zealand, West Indians Dwayne and Darren Bravo, Mitchell Marsh and Mitchell Starc for Australia, and the seven Pereras in the Sri Lankan team.

Many fans around the world believe that Rohit Sharma and Ishant Sharma are related. In fact, Sharma is a very common surname in India, much like Rhodes or de Villiers or Kleinveldt or Petersen in English cricket.

5. Unfortunately this will be the last edition of the ICC Champions Trophy. Despite the consistently high quality of cricket that has been showcased in this tournament, the ICC has decided to replace this with the ICC World Test Championship in 2017. In this new format the top four teams in the international Test rankings at the end of 2016 will play two sets of three-match semi-finals. This can be shortened if the threat of planetary destruction by climate change seems imminent.

The two winners will then play each other in one Test match, played in the famous "timeless" format where the teams are allowed to bat unlimited overs until not a single fan of the sport is left alive.

Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar has already expressed his enthusiasm to play this timeless Test. "It has been my dream to play in a format that goes on and on and on, even with utter disregard for relevance, form or practicality," he said.

Sidin Vadukut is a columnist and editor with Mint, and the author of the Dork trilogy