Not all doom and gloom at CLT20
The Champions League had its fair share of negative press. From the unfairly skewed guestlist to attend this cricketainment party to the utterly superfluous gaggles of gyrating cheerleaders and the dime-store razzmatazz of fireworks and dance music after every six and every wicket, it would be easy (almost too easy) to focus on the negatives.
Given the rise of the Twenty20 franchise model and the sway and influence that the Champions League has in international cricket, there are legitimate worries that it'll be about as effective in maintaining the health of the game as the League of Nations was in preventing World War II.
But anyone who's listened to a post-match interview will have learned that cricket is based upon the virtues of mustering up all the momentum one can and taking as many positives as possible even in the face of defeat. While sticking to the basics and keeping the ball in the right areas. And so it is valid to ask: What good has come of this?
Cricket is a business these days, and thus to understand a tournament such as the Champions League, one has to follow the money. Sydney Sixers, who are champions among champions after their win over the Lions on Sunday, took home US$2.5 million after their win - or rather, US$2.65 million as they graciously allowed Brett Lee to play for Kolkata Knight Riders and were remunerated accordingly.
The Lions picked up US$1.3 million as losing finalists, while the losing semi-finalists got $US500,000, and the teams finishing fifth to 10th got US$200,000 each. As Lions captain Alviro Petersen put it: "There's a lot of money floating around."
Indeed, it's not hard to imagine any one of the professional cricketers involved in the Champions League standing on a chair, channelling late 90s Cuba Gooding Jr. and screaming "show me the money!" down the telephone at their agents before the paychecks for this tournament land.
Given the increasingly moneyed nature of Twenty20 cricket, the figures involved might not mean a lot to the IPL stars in attendance, located in the upper echelons of the wage brackets as they are, but to the workaday cricketers of Auckland and Gauteng they mean a great deal. "For young guys, who are in the first year of their contract, this means a lot financially," explained Petersen. "This will help them to focus on their cricket and for a period of time not focus on financial stuff."
There is certainly a lot of potential for the prize money involved to be put to good use - particularly if the tournament expands and teams from Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are eventually included. The Champions League also allows relatively unknown cricketers a space in the global shop window. Aaron Phangiso, who was the Lions' best bowler and the second-highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 10 scalps at an average of 11.80 and an economy under a-run-a-ball, may not land himself an IPL contract but his performances will have shown up on the international franchised Twenty20 radar. For a 28-year-old domestic cricketer an offer to play in the Sri Lankan Premier League, the Big Bash or the Friends Life t20 tournament will be jumped at.
Money, however, isn't everything. Many of the players involved would never have experienced anything like this before and, to a man, they must surely dream of playing for their country one day. Facing up to some of the world's best cricketers - even if it is only in a truncated Twenty20 match - is invaluable experience.
"In general, for us to play against the top players in the world without our gun players and still compete, the guys will take a lot of confidence in that going forward," remarked Titans captain Martin van Jaarsveld.
Van Jaarsveld's words echoed those of Perth Scorchers' Simon Katich. "There's a lot of guys in our squad that haven't played a lot of international cricket, and they're trying to press for higher honours," Katich said. "It's a great experience for them to come up, and for Beery [Michael Beer] to bowl at the likes of Pietersen, Sehwag and Ross Taylor and face Morne Morkel, because these guys are all very good international players."
Beer probably won't be expecting a call from John Inverarity any time soon, but Sydney Sixers' Mitchell Starc has been rewarded for his efforts. He was the Champions League's leading wicket-taker, with 14, and has been included in the 12 to face South Africa in the first Test at the Gabba.
Mahela Jayawardene drew similarities between football and cricket in the franchise model, going so far as to suggest that the widening of borders that comes with multinational teams and tournaments is a healthy development. "Wherever we went we had some great support," he said. "It's good for the game. It's a franchised-based thing, like a football Champions League. You have your favourite teams, and the fans will come and support you, so it was great."
Where football has gone, will cricket follow? It certainly appears so, and the waters separating the growing Twenty20 hydra and the besieged bastion of Test cricket remain muddied. The Champions League need not be a cause only for alarm and despondency, however, as long as the positive effects of the tournament are paid forward into other areas of the game.
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town