A need to even the playing field
When the Champions League Twenty20 began, it had to wade through a sludge of serious issues before it could be deemed credible. Now that it is over, there is at least one reason why it can be called convincing: the best team won.
Sydney's flawless run through the group stage, stunning sneak-through in the semi-final, and absolute dominance as they leapt over the last hurdle, were proof that the Champions League works. To an extent.
Despite the organisers' best efforts to make gimmicks matter more than games, Sydney made headlines because of the quality of their cricket. The tournament was supposed to be a contest between the world's best domestic sides, but that simple concept was derailed by vested interests. The risk of that happening was always high because the event is owned by three national boards and not the sport's governing body. While the BCCI, CSA and Cricket Australia have the right to run their tournament, their attempts to portray the Champions League as representing everyone made them easy targets.
Instead of simply answering criticisms by saying they are involved in a private endeavour, which they can operate in any manner they see fit, the tournament organisers feigned inclusivity. The cynicism that provoked took away from the actual contests, which to be honest, were decent enough.
In this season, Lions, Titans, Auckland, and to a lesser degree Yorkshire in the qualifying stage, all impressed. They evened out the imbalance by knocking out the IPL teams before they had found their feet, and only the best of the four Indian sides, Delhi Daredevils, survived. What that did to the financial model of the tournament can only be gleaned from how the organisers reacted to the threat of a Delhi exit.
At the last moment, a reserve day was added to the schedule for the semi-finals. There was rain predicted for the semi-final between Delhi and Lions in Durban, where two matches had already been rained out. A washout would have given Delhi no chance of progress because Lions had more wins. Reading between the lines, it can only be assumed that the organisers wanted to do everything in their power to give the only remaining IPL team as much chance as they could of making the final. That, by their own admission, is how the tournament makes money.
Both semis took place without incident, and even the final, which looked likely to be interrupted by showers, did not have a drop of rain. However, it is worth noting that no reserve day was set for the final. That may have been because the window given to the Champions League does not allow for an extra day to be added at the end, or it may have been because none of the moneymaker teams was involved.
There were other oddities in the last three matches. At Supersport Park, a fortress for Titans, Sydney were named the home team. It was awkward for the real home team, but fair, because Sydney had topped their group while Titans were second in their pool. All it meant was that Sydney got to occupy the home dressing room and Brad Haddin tossed the coin.
That rule was not applied in the final, though. Sydney were the team with more wins and should, by all logic, have been the home team. Instead, Lions were given that right, and got to sit where they always do at the Wanderers, and Alviro Petersen tossed the coin. These are small things that may not have any bearing on results, but they point to inconsistencies that were prevalent through the tournament.
The qualifying phase was introduced last season as a way to include an extra IPL team. It was expanded this time, but none of the four IPL sides were required to take part in it. However, the best T20 sides from New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies and England had to. It was impossible to say whether the best of the lot advanced to the main draw, because six teams simply did not play enough. Sialkot Stallions, Uva Next, Hampshire and Trinidad & Tobago were eliminated after playing only one match apiece.
If the IPL teams proved one thing, it is that teams needed time to adjust to the conditions. All of them, except Delhi, who played in a derby, lost their first matches. Kolkata Knight Riders lost their first two but, like Chennai Super Kings, came back to win their next one. Mumbai were the only IPL side to leave without a victory but even they had caught up with the conditions by the time they exited.
On early-season pitches in a summer that looks set to be wetter than usual, the sight of batsmen playing the pull too early was a common one. Auckland's batsmen, who had been training in the country from September 22, the two local teams, and Sydney were exceptions, but that does make for an easy argument that the IPL teams underperformed. By the end, which was not that far away from the beginning, they looked ready and did compete as expected.
The decision to host the tournament in South Africa was made for logistical reasons but it proved to be a good one from a conditions perspective too. Aside from some rain, the matches were eventful because the pitches assisted the bowlers. In a format where everything seems set up for batsmen, it was refreshing to see the ball dominate for a lot of it.
Already talk has begun that the 2014 competition will come back to South Africa. India are set to handle next year's competition, and Australia have been ruled out of hosting because of their time zones. South Africa's shareholding is set to increase as well, and they seem to have become default hosts.
By then, hopefully one of two things would have happened: the competition will have become what it proclaims to be, an actual league of champions; or the organisers will have developed the gumption to call it what it really is - their competition, which they will run as they please.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent