Time Out October 30, 2012

Is the Champions League still a developing concept?

ESPNcricinfo staff
Harsha Bhogle, Tom Moody and Peter Kirsten review the tournament, and CSA's head Jacques Faul offers his assessment of the league

At the end of the fourth edition of the Champions League Twenty20, the second to be held in South Africa, Harsha Bhogle caught up with Tom Moody and Peter Kirsten to discuss the event, its strengths, weaknesses, the players who stood out, and the changes needed for the tournament to improve. Bhogle also spoke to the acting chief executive of Cricket South Africa, Jacques Faul, for his views on how the competition fared this year.

Excerpts from the discussion below. The numbers in the brackets are the duration for each segment

Was it a successful tournament from a South African perspective? (2.10 - 3.05)

Peter Kirsten: Definitely. The great thing about the Champions League is that it gives the franchise teams in South Africa a chance to show what they can do against top-class international players of different nationalities. It gives the franchises all around the world not only an opportunity to make a lot of money - if they make the finals or win it - but also show the IPL bosses what exactly they can do. With the Lions making the final, it was a great success for the South African public and the organisers.

The best team won in the end… (3.06 - 3.57)

Tom Moody: I agree. The Sydney Sixers showed true form and consistency throughout the tournament. They looked dominant in all three aspects of the game. I thought they were the best fielding side, the best performing bowling attack, and they also showed depth in their batting, particularly after Shane Watson left to go back to Australia early. They showed they were capable of doing something without such a key player around.

Why did the IPL teams do badly? And why is it that the South African sides did well? (3.58 - 7.24)

TM: The IPL teams struggled with the conditions - they are a lot different to what Indian players would face in the subcontinent - and it's early season in South Africa. There's seam movement, swing, and there was that extra bit of bounce. The most significant point is that the IPL teams didn't gel as quickly as the other teams. The IPL teams are brought together over a two-month period for an IPL extravaganza in the middle of the year. The teams that tend to do well in the IPL are the ones that get together and gel together quickly. In such a short tournament like the Champions League, there's not a lot of time for that.

PK: There's quite a lot of national diversity in many of the other IPL teams. If you take the Lions, Titans and the Sixers, there's only Nathan McCullum and Michael Lumb and [Sohail Tanvir]. The local teams definitely had the advantage, and it's very difficult for a diversity of national players, such as the IPL teams, to suddenly get it together. And certainly, the conditions suited Australia and South African teams with the bounce. Unfortunately on the day, the Lions batsmen succumbed - yet again a South African team succumbing to the pressure.

A well-fought contest between bat and ball… (7.30 - 11.25)

PK: Twenty20 cricket is also about playing good, decent cricket shots as Brad Haddin and Lumb showed in the final. The Lions batsmen played completely across the line against quality fast bowlers and spinners. So definitely, the bowling skills are coming to the fore. In terms of captaincy, I thought it was a masterstroke from Haddin to go with his gut feel and start with the spinners and it worked superbly for him on the day. A good bowling side definitely has a distinct advantage in Twenty20 cricket.

TM: When there's a little bit more in the conditions, it tests a true player and a true team. A player, whether bowling or batting, needs to adapt to the conditions and the situation. That was the beauty of this particular Champions League. It made it an intriguing contest between bat and ball, where it wasn't one-way traffic. What it showed was that batsmen prepared to play with good technique and composure under pressure were generally the ones that came out on top in those contests.

Were you happy with the quality of cricket played? (11.26 - 13.52)

PK: The Sialkot Stallions might have been a decent introduction to the [main round of the] Champions League. They definitely would have drawn the attention of many more Pakistan fans. The standard of cricket was generally pretty good, at this time of the year there's a bit more movement similar to Australian pitches. Generally speaking, the quality of cricket improved, the fielding was excellent and what the batsmen would have learnt in South Africa is try and play straight down the ground, as you saw with the Sixers batsmen yesterday and Symes of the Lions. Perhaps they would need to look at the structure of the qualifying rounds the next time around.

Is the role of spin changing in different conditions? The Indian spinners didn't do well but the others did. (13.53 - 15.37)

TM: That's more a coincidence. The Indian spinners didn't perform, more to do with the fact that their team had no momentum and was playing poor cricket. At the end of the day, the spinners that did do well were complemented by the remainder of their attack. They were made as strong as what they were and their attack was also complemented by the way they bowled. It was a collective effort. Talk about Steve O'Keefe and McCullum - any spinner would love to know that at the other end is a Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood or a Pat Cummins, because it just complements their art.

The standard of national teams is above that of franchise cricket, which is sometimes contrary to what we see in football. Also, is the South African national side a fair representation of the best franchise teams in the country? (15.38 - 19.25)

TM: The national teams are the cream of the crop in every country. They are well-drilled and at the absolute peak of their powers as cricketers. What you've got is a hot-house of the very best of that country that are selected because they are good at that format of the game.

PK: The domestic scene in South Africa is very strong. Over the last ten years, dare I say this, we've tended to copy the structures of Australian domestic cricket and in many ways it has worked. There is depth in South Africa. Coach Gary Kirsten and the selectors are looking to give guys a chance. Aaron Phangiso, Chris Morris came through beautifully. South Africa still need to pay a lot of attention to the dotting of the Is and crossing of the Ts in Twenty20 cricket. They were found out in Sri Lanka, and again in the final a South African franchise struggled to put it together on a big day. It's a difficult one for coach Kirsten and the others to get the right team together.

Who were the players that excited you in the Champions League? (19.26 - 21.53)

TM: There's two from the Sixers side. One is Josh Hazlewood: he was the most consistent quick out of that star-studded line-up. The other is Moises Henriques: he was touted a few years ago as a star allrounder, was thrown into the deep end and he struggled. Henriques has had that period out of the international spotlight and he's ready to go back in. He looked the real deal as an allrounder.

"The domestic scene in South Africa is very strong. Over the last ten years, dare I say this, we've tended to copy the structures of Australian domestic cricket and in many ways it has worked"
Peter Kirsten

PK: It was wonderful to see Neil McKenzie have such a great tournament. I've had a bit to do with Neil's batting over the years. Playing for South Africa in your mid-30s, mentally you're strong. Unfortunately for him in the final, he played a poor shot. He was a key batsman in the middle order for the Lions.

George Bailey had talked about the need for Australia to have mystery spinners. But John Inverarity has said Australian spinners won't bowl like that, effectively saying the 15-degree rule is not right for the game. How does Australia approach slow bowling in T20s, for example? (21.54 - 24.10)

TM: I tend to agree with Bailey. You always look to expand and develop your game and if you come up with something different - like the switch hit, reverse sweep - why not. As long as it stays within the rules of the game - the 15-degree rule came over a decade ago - why not try to be a little different? Too often we try to develop players out of the manual. Sanath Jayasuriya, Brian Lara, if you take a look at them through the ICC coaching manual, they probably wouldn't pass. By goodness, haven't they passed the test of time of international cricket? As long as it's kept within the guidelines that's clearly stated now, I don't have a problem with it at all.

What would you do different to the Champions League? (24.11 - 25.24)

TM: I would like to see every country represented in the main competition and there not to be a qualifying stage for them.

Excerpts from an interview with Jacques Faul, acting chief executive of Cricket South Africa and a member of the CLT20 governing council.

In your view, has this tournament been a success?

The one thing is does do is provide your local domestic player an opportunity to play international stars, also from other countries. From a South African perspective, we're very happy with the tournament and also because it provides the incentive for two of our six franchise teams to qualify.

Are you concerned that viewership ratings are down, sponsorship is changing and as a viewing spectacle, this hasn't quite taken off the way it should have?

There's a concern in terms of the volume of entertainment and sport in general in the world. It seems to be escalating. I don't think it's isolated to the Champions League in itself, but it's definitely something you've got to be mindful of. But it's still a good product, if you compare it to other forms of entertainment and sport. The financial incentives are very good, so is the exposure value for players. For our South African teams, it's a very important tournament. It boosts our domestic product.

What does it mean to cricket in that territory to have that kind of money coming in?

They all receive, from CSA, US$600,000 as a yearly grant. That's an annual grant, so to receive US$1.3 million or even US$500,000, that's a lot of money. It's a good incentive for players to win it as prize money. To give you the formula - the players get 50% of it, 25% goes to the winning franchises and the other franchises share in the remaining 25% of it. So, all our professional cricket structures benefit from it.

Was the timing right? There was always the threat of rain.

Unfortunately, we had a lot of rain, it's not the norm. I don't think it's a bad window.

Were you happy with the number of people who turned up?

We are, but that's affected by rain unfortunately as well. The opening match was unbelievable. The final, a lot of these matches were sold out. It also brings new people to grounds that have not supported cricket in the past, so very happy with it.

Is it a weakness of the Champions League that it's almost got to be too India-centric?

You can never underestimate the value of Indian teams playing in the tournament. The focus is not to deprecate the IPL, but still have the value of a large IPL influence and yet open it up to the world. It's wonderful playing the IPL teams - they're strong, well-structured and coached, but you can benchmark against it as well. Twenty20 brings teams closer. It's good to have the best of the IPL combined with the rest of the world.

How do you make the league stronger? For example, in the qualifying round, teams played one match and then were virtually out after losing.

Stronger teams from the members taking part will make it stronger, with the value in having strong and good players in it. Structurally, you can look at it. We're going to have a debriefing on the tournament, get inputs from all stakeholders, team owners, officials, also the broadcasters. It is an evolving tournament and I can't see it staying the same for the next five or six years.

Is it possible for the tournament to move to Australia, with the time difference etc?

That's probably an issue. Ultimately, it's also important to have a strong television product. The financial model relies a lot on broadcasting rights and you've got to take that into consideration. I can't say we'll never have it in Australia, but you've still got to pay the bills and listen to your biggest investors and that's probably broadcasting as well. I think there's something wonderful and romantic about playing in India.

Numbers Game (35.43 - 38.02)
Question: In the Champions League 2012, the spinners from which team had the poorest economy rate?