Threat of quick-fire exit looms for qualifiers
Cricket has found a lot of ways to make itself shorter. The bowl-out, the super-over, the seven-over match if it rains in a 20-over one and now the three-day tournament.
Between Tuesday and Thursday, six teams will play six matches at two different venues on South Africa's Highveld. At the end, nobody wins anything. Two of them will earn the right to play in the Champions League T20, a tournament so obviously skewed in favour of the three shareholding countries that its actual name as a competition for champions is questionable. It's more of a tournament for some champions, some runners-up and some IPL mid-tablers - who do not have to go through the same qualification stage winners of other countries' competitions do.
Rather like Zimbabwe's participation at the World Twenty20, some domestic 20-over trophy-holders will have made their last appearance in the tournament before others even arrive in South Africa. Such is the nature of an event that guarantees some teams a place but requires others to qualify for it.
Luckily for the organisers, the people who should take issue with the format of the tournament do not seem to have too much of a problem with it. There was not one complaint to be heard from any of the four teams who addressed the media on Sunday. Sialkot Stallions and Uva Next were absent - they will have their arrival press conferences on Monday - but are unlikely to raise any fuss either.
After all, Sialkot are the first Pakistan side to take part in the CLT20 and Uva Next are making their debut, hoping to fare better than Wayamba and Ruhuna before them. Yorkshire and Hampshire have not played in the tournament before and could be enjoying the novelty of the occasion while Auckland and Trinidad and Tobago have been here before and seem happy enough to be back.
Not that they actually can say any different, of course. They already get the short end of the stick by having to qualify while the shareholders' teams go straight through and moaning may see them end up with nothing at all. The cynic would think the teams are just toeing the line but anyone who spends time with them will be able to see the genuine interest and excitement at the chance to compete in a tournament that many of them as see as only one shade away from international cricket.
"We are tremendously excited to be here. We know there are challenges, but they are nice challenges," Paul Strang, the coach of Auckland, said. For the New Zealanders, there are eyes to catch - national and IPL selectors and even if they only have two matches in which to do that, they'll take it.
Instead of mull over the unfairness, both Auckland and T&T know what they have to do. The former is determined to get it right, after failing last year. "We've understood that that's how it is, that's how it's been set up. And we've been living with that fact for the last nine months," Gareth Hopkins, the Auckland captain, said. The latter have done it before and coach David Williams sees no reason why they cannot do it again. "We're in good stead, we've played a lot of T20 cricket in the lead up to this," he said.
And, in keeping with the theme of avoiding controversy, Williams also flat-batted questions about T&T's last-minute issues which nearly led to them not arriving. "We're not aware of anything, as far as we are concerned, we're all in South Africa," he said.
The English sides have a different sense of the realities of qualifying. None of the counties will have the chance to play in the tournament next year after the ECB decided that their teams will not participate in the 2013 CLT20 because of too much of an overlap with their season. Knowing that this could be one of their only chances to shine in this tournament is spurring both on.
"That's a shame for us. We're here and we're going to try and make the most of it," Dimitri Mascarenhas, the Hampshire captain said. "You never know when these things are going to come around again so we want to give ourselves a huge chance to do well."
Despite Mascarenhas' enthusiasm for the tournament, he was also the only person who hinted that the current format could have consequences for the future of the tournament. He said the issue of qualifying could be "one of the reasons the ECB has decided we won't be in it next year."
Other boards may agree, although the opportunities may outweigh the disadvantages as Yorkshire coach Jason Gillespie explained. "You just have to ask any of our players, they are very excited to play in a tournament like this," he said. "In an ideal world, it would be fantastic to have English county sides involved and we'd love to be in a position to play CLT20 again, although at this stage, it looks like it's unlikely."
For many the chance to play against cricketers from other countries and to have television cameras beaming that image all over the world is a dream come true. "For many of us this is potentially the highest standard we will reach," Jimmy Adams, Hampshire's opening batsman, said. "It's a chance to test yourself against the best and trying to push your career."
The real gains can probably only come in the tournament proper, where the likes of Kieron Pollard and Davy Jacobs earned themselves IPL deals and caught the attention of their national selectors. But the only way for some teams to get into the tournament is to qualify. Even though popular sentiment is that they should have already done that by winning their home competition, these teams don't seem to mind a bit of extra work to get there.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent