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The Champions Trophy may be remembered with fondness and a touch of sadness. But will it be missed?
June 24, 2013
It's strange how we begin to love something we were once uninterested in, just as we're about to let it go. Like the book we received as a birthday present - about a subject we would never read about - that will be thrown out during spring cleaning. Or the pair of jeans, worn once, that only takes up wardrobe space. Or even the Champions Trophy.
Cricket's most neglected and often despised tournament has taken its final bow even though most people now want it to stay. Fans. Media. Even players. Four years ago in South Africa, these same people were seeing off the tournament's penultimate edition with great relief, knowing there was only one more to come.
The most common criticism then was that it was a meaningless title - not quite a World Cup, not quite a knockout, with no place among cricket's elite competitions. What started as a tournament to help grow the game in so-called smaller countries never managed to maintain an identity. In its childhood in Dhaka and Nairobi it was an elimination event. Then it became a more complicated beast, as teenagers tend to be, and involved a series of qualifying matches that made it longer and more tedious.
Over the last two competitions, the organisers found a recipe that works. Both the 2009 and 2013 events had two groups of four teams each, followed by a semi-final and a final. In 2009 there were some complaints, but this year the Champions Trophy is being praised for the same format. It has been called slick and on-point. Perhaps the glut of 20-over competitions that have sprung up in the interim has something to do with the change in attitude but it's not the only cause.
The World Cup can become a drag because there are too many matches and too many teams. The organisers have yet to find a way to balance extending the format to teams that deserve and need exposure and limiting the scope of a tournament to give it relevance.
There is talk of the 50-over tournament getting smaller and the T20 version expanding. That would be one way of preventing the continuation of an old boys' club but until that happens, there is a reason to play the Champions Trophy (and there has been talk of the ICC reconsidering the future of the event). The Champions Trophy is a good stopgap between an event that is big enough to justify its name as a World Cup and one that remains small enough to sustain competition throughout.
That is not to say every match of this tournament has been thrilling. The semi-finals were particularly disappointing for their one-sidedness but the group stage included one tie and four other matches that ended in close margins. Perhaps as a result, interest in this Champions Trophy has been high. Eleven of the 15 matches have been sell-outs but more notably, more than three quarters of the people who went to watch games - 78% - had not attended a live cricket contest in three years.
As with any global event, the public's reaction is somewhat dependent on the participation of the home team. A multicultural society like the United Kingdom is a little different because the progress of the subcontinental sides has a large bearing on actual bums-on-seats support. Pakistan failed to live up to expectations, even though they had a touring "Stani-army" following them, but the progress of England and India to the final had a positive effect on the event as a whole. The one obviously poorly attended game was between Sri Lanka and New Zealand in Cardiff, though the teams made up for that with a humdinger of a match.
|Despite changeable weather, the tournament was not completely washed out by any measure|
Despite changeable weather, the tournament was not completely washed out by any measure. There was one no-result, which was also the case in 2009, and two rain-reduced affairs. While drizzle always gives people a reason to complain about a venue, conditions have been conducive for interesting cricket. Drier pitches at the start of the tournament assisted spinners far more than was expected, and tricky batting conditions and the rule change of two new balls ensured that no team apart from India was able to run away with a total. Lower-scoring games are usually more gripping and this tournament proved that yet again.
And then there were the off-field matters that had just the right amount of spice to keep the event in the headlines. England's ability to reverse-swing the ball and the alleged ball-tampering claims roused the technically minded, while Australia's after-dark activities had the perfect tinge of scandal for the rest. It also didn't hurt that they served as appetisers for the Ashes.
By now cricket's attention has already turned to that series. The Champions Trophy will be hauled out when India hark back to their list of achievements or when someone wants to complain about the winding nature of a World Cup in two years' time.
The way it ended - with a final that was almost washed out - will disguise that it was actually a fine event. Few would argue that India and England were the best two teams on show. The former showed off a successful transition from big names like Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag to younger talents like Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shikhar Dhawan. England's aggressive bowling unit perfectly complemented their watchful batting approach. Over a full 100 overs, theirs would have been a balanced contest and provided a stern test of the skills both had displayed in the tournament. It could also have provided an accurate measure of who the best one-day side in world cricket is at the moment.
An era of one-day cricket is over. Chances are the Champions Trophy will be remembered with fondness and a touch of sadness, the sort we have when we think about a long-ago teddy bear that we decided was best left out of sight.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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