September 7, 2010

Parochialism wanted

For the Champions League to gain the sort of profile its football counterpart enjoys, the fans need to feel connected to their players. The current format disallows that

The inaugural Champions League final in Hyderabad last year was a game to savour. For once, the two best teams in the competition had come the distance, and the game swung this way and that for much of the 40 overs before Nathan Hauritz, smacked for a monstrous six the ball earlier, held his nerve and Kieron Pollard fell for the bait. There were more than 20,000 people watching and New South Wales - a team full of Australian internationals past, present and future - were worthy winners.

For those on the periphery, it should have been a showpiece occasion. Only, one thing was missing. You would have struggled to find too many folk from Trinidad & Tobago in the crowd. The Sydneysiders were equally conspicuous by their absence. Imagine West Side Story or Fiddler on the Roof without the soundtrack, and you begin to get some idea of how weird it was.

World Cups bring people together behind the national standard, but the whole idea of a club competition is to appeal to the parochial. What makes a Champions League football game at Old Trafford or the San Siro so special? It's not just the teams on the pitch, but the atmosphere on the terraces. The invisible yet tangible link between player and supporter. Local pride at stake. Resisting "foreign" invasion. Without any of that, cricket's Champions League was just a made-for-television product.

And while thousands made the tortuous journey to Uppal to watch the game, the stadium was half-empty. The lukewarm response could be seen in the TV ratings as well. Apart from the Caribbean, where Trinidad & Tobago's progress past the likes of the Deccan Chargers became a matter of regional pride, the competition left no great imprint on the cricketing psyche.

One of the most engrossing games I watched last year featured the Sussex Sharks and South Africa's Diamond Eagles, with a bowl-out required to separate the sides. There weren't even a couple of thousand watching at the Feroz Shah Kotla, and as the promising CJ de Villiers sealed the game, the yells of delight from his team-mates echoed around the vast empty theatre.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India, Cricket Australia and Cricket South Africa have invested considerable time and resources in the event, but any thoughts of one day being on par with football's Champions League or rugby union's Super 15 are just wishful thinking. That will never happen as long as the format doesn't change. The home-and-away flavour was a huge factor in the growth of the European Cup, and playing in front of "neutral" crowds just doesn't hack it.

A Redbacks fan will get animated if he or she sees the team take on the Bushrangers at the picturesque Adelaide Oval. But will they even care if the team is playing the Mumbai Indians at the Wanderers, a time zone far away? How many will sacrifice sleep and risk going to work red-eyed and fatigued? Even with all the Hotspot-Hawkeye gizmos in the world, can you build a fan base through television alone?

Imagine Peyton Manning having three teams to choose from when the NFL playoffs start, or Lionel Messi playing for Barcelona, Chelsea and Bayern Munich

For the tournament to have legitimacy, the qualifying procedure also needs to be standardised. At the moment, the emphasis is on the IPL teams, no matter how disastrously they performed last year. You cannot have arbitrary invites for a global event, and a Twenty20 competition with no representatives from Pakistan and England is as incomplete as a football one with no clubs from Spain or Italy.

Most of these teething troubles can be sorted out with astute management, but if the Champions League is to be taken seriously by sports fans, the frankly ludicrous player availability rules have to be ripped up and written anew. Had English clubs been invited to play this year, Pollard would have been in a position where he could have represented three teams - the Mumbai Indians, the Redbacks and Somerset. Imagine Peyton Manning having three teams to choose from when the NFL playoffs start, or Lionel Messi playing for Barcelona, Chelsea and Bayern Munich.

It's one thing to have freelance Twenty20 stars like Pollard but without a system that forces them to choose which colours to pin to the chest, the idea of a level playing field is compromised. Last year, with the exception of Dirk Nannes, who picked the Delhi Daredevils over the Bushrangers, players who faced such conflict of interest chose their home team. That hampers the IPL sides, who find it hard enough in any case to match the togetherness and spirit of other teams.

Without a fixed spot in the calendar, and no season to permeate into the fans' consciousness - football's Champions League starts in July and ends in May, breaking only for a couple of months in winter - the competition faces a struggle to find its identity. If it is to become one of the great sporting spectacles, a home-and-away format needs to be found. Without that, it will be little different from the dime-a-dozen Idol shows found on telly.

When Paris hosted the first European Cup final in June 1956, 38,239 people turned up at the Parc de Princes. Even those not interested in sport have heard of the team that won that night. But while Real Madrid went on to become the biggest of global sporting brands, the team they beat 4-3 that evening slipped into obscurity.

Unless you're a sports tragic, you won't even have heard of Stade de Reims. Their fate is what awaits the Champions League if the administrators don't get it right.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 10, 2010, 13:10 GMT

    This is just another BCCI Brainchild to loot money. India is a land of end less possibilities , so why anyone should bother.

  • Jose on September 10, 2010, 2:04 GMT

    For some reason, I like this tournament & this concept better than the IPL (even though it was not a big hit with the crowds in India last year, but for me, it was very good and 2 best teams played in the final :-)). it is very short and you will get to see a mixture of best domestic teams across the world... I hope it becomes a success in the future, even though this is also T20.. ~ Note:- I want either Victoria/RCB to win this tournament ;) :P

  • Liam on September 10, 2010, 1:32 GMT

    If you really want a Champoins League, invite the winner of each country's domestic Pretendy/Twenty competition, ignore IPL made up teams and hold the comp in a different country each year or scrap the competion altogether, because the highest levels of the game are internationals and cricket does not need any extra comps . Oh and to Balldinho, clearly you have no understanding of the game, as a batsman whether you are playing limited overs, first class, social or backyard cricket you want to hit the ball as far as you can and score runs and as a bowler you want to take wickets. PURE CRICKET AT EVERY LEVEL!

  • Hari on September 9, 2010, 12:53 GMT


    You're bang on, as always, when it comes to the sociology of cricket! Finals should be in the country of one of the finalists.

    Not sure if Pak can be accommodated in the present atmosphere. England has to "learn to adjust" and find "space". They are no longer the monarchs of world cricket and won't be treated as such.

    Bangalore will be ever ready to host the finals if RCB makes it to this year's finals! :)

  • J Ranjith on September 9, 2010, 4:01 GMT

    Come on, people need to think judicially. How can you compare football clubs with cricket clubs? In football, they ply less for country so they have such elaborate fixtures. If same case happen in Cricket and play home-and-away matches for each clubs, people would start crying over the schedules and how it affects the game and national loyalty. And, this is just the second version of CL T20, and you need to give some time to get it settled and thats why sponsors have gone for 10 year deals judiciously. Surely this tournament would catch well because cricket fans are more intelligent and appreciative of any country's clubs, only thing is fans need some time to understand the teams and it would surely take few years. Moreover, it would make people watch domestic league games of each country to follow who comes for champions league. I'm interested so, in T20 or first class. Parochial fans would find it difficult to grasp this CL T20 but not die-hard fans of Cricket. Now just wait and see.

  • Dummy4 on September 8, 2010, 19:42 GMT

    Couldn't agree more. Who supports these hybrid, made up teams. They are all basically nomadic teams with no affiliation anywhere.

    IPL ok in India, but champions league is a real dogs dinner that seems to belong no-where in particular.

  • Lukesh on September 8, 2010, 14:47 GMT

    I think everybody see's the potential of the CLT20 as one of the biggest tournaments in cricket. It definatlely needs a lot of work to achieve this. There should be equal reprisentation from all countries, not 3 from IPL, 1 from West Indies, etc. All test nations should be able to field teams and teams from India's domestic T20 league (not IPL) should also be given a spot. I also agree that instead of hosting the event in a different country each year, they should have home and away matches with the teams playing in front of their home crowds. This would ensure more spectators at stadiums and greater television viewership.

  • Satish on September 8, 2010, 11:50 GMT

    By the way, anybody notice the absolute sell-out last night? Pakistan(with Afridi, Guil and Akhtar and 2009 winners!!) and the current World Champions England were playing in England (not the Kotla) and wow it was choc-a-bloc!!

    No wonder India needs to learn how to encourage crowds when two foreign teams are playing!!

    Anyway England seem to be plucking their Test stars, like mangoes from an orchard, from all over the world...South Africa-Ireland "B" might even win the Ashes. That apparently seems fine so why not a player choosing to pick a team for the CLT?

  • Dummy4 on September 8, 2010, 11:08 GMT

    Im TIRED of people saying this isn't *REAL* cricket and Test is Pure, you all need to stop listening to pundits like Michael Holding and Bob Willis. Test Cricket is NOT the purest form of cricket, when every kid picks up a Cricket bat in his Backyard he does not play as if its going to last for 5 days, he tries to hit the ball as FAR as he can and score runs. Sounds very much like 20/20 doesn't it?? PURE CRICKET FROM THE GRASS-ROOTS!

  • Dre on September 8, 2010, 5:18 GMT

    Cricket should have been more global and thats the root of all the difficulty. There was once upon a time where cricket was bigger in W.I., Eng and Aus. Now it gets much more competition from other sports which are less time and cash consuming. In other words, part of the opportunity to spread the game was lost not only in the countries where it is still big but most crucially in countries where other sports will pretty much now keep cricket out. When such a big sport is played by so few, money and politics hold bigger clout than the sport itself. This is one thing that a truly global sport like football boasts. That is why home and away and general neutral following and 1 player per club system can work in the football Champion's league. The pool, the interest and the fan following is HUGE. If cricket wants a 1/2 chance, it MUST SPREAD. Rich countries must reach out to Associates, 1 place to start.

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