2004 June 1, 2013

A turkey of a tournament

The 2004 Champions Trophy 'deserved to be ranked … in the list of the Great Sporting Fiascos of our time'

"The 2004 Champions Trophy was a terrible idea from the start, a turkey of a tournament," wrote Matthew Engel in the Notes by the Editor in Wisden. "It deserves to be ranked … in the list of the Great Sporting Fiascos of our time." An entertaining final won in autumnal twilight aside, few would argue with Engel's scathing review.

The Champions Trophy, which spluttered into life in 1998, has never shed its image of being a poor man's World Cup. Aimed at producing funds for the developing countries, it was and is widely perceived as being designed primarily to fill the ICC's coffers between lucrative World Cups. The demands of the international calendar allied to the intransigence of the ICC's own more powerful members meant it has struggled to find its place and few will mourn, if as seems likely, the 2013 edition is the last.

The 2002 tournament in Sri Lanka failed to even produce a winner, a result of it being scheduled in that country's rainy season. With a World Cup in 2003, few felt the need for yet another global event in 2004 other than those running the game. It was England's turn to host, but the packed summer schedule meant the event was squeezed in at the fag-end of the season.

The marketing men might have tried to convince people it was still summer but everyone else knew it was autumn with its early sunsets (on the occasions the sun shone) heavy dew and too often Stygian gloom. The ECB proved the saying there are lies, damned lies and statistics by spouting facts about September being drier than July or August. While quite probably true, it ignored small points such as temperature, daylight hours and the type of rain.

From the off the tournament was going to be a hard sell - there had been seven Tests and 14 ODI in England in the previous four months - but the ECB and ICC made it even harder by promoting it late and, at times, almost apologetically. When it was abundantly clear ticket sales would be wretched - other than for India and Pakistan's matches - they failed to take action. As with previous and subsequently World Cups, the official attendances bore little resemblance to the dismal numbers at the matches as they included giveaways to people who never turned up.

Even when the teams arrived there was little hype. The UK media could be forgiven as it was the football season after all, but a series of warm-up matches passed unnoticed. At Southampton, Australia's game against the county was played out behind closed doors for fear of annoying other counties who had not been given a practice match.

By sticking to a format used in 2002 and widely derided, the ICC further added to the situation as it ensured many early matches were meaningless and unappealing. The inclusion of USA and Kenya - both suffering from dire administrations and blighted by infighting - added to the pointlessness of some fixtures and provoked Ricky Ponting to break protocol and criticise their presence after Australia had taken under three hours to crush USA.

The headlines that were made in the build-up were all negative. The ICC's hard-line policy on spectators bringing in products not made by official sponsors was aimed at appeasing corporations angered by ambush marketing by rivals, but they just attracted scorn and ridicule.

Fans were greeted by a phalanx of security guards whose main purpose too often appeared to be to find and remove the wrong type of soft drink or crisp. They also managed to add to an awful experience by causing long queues despite the poor spectator numbers. The unfortunates recruited to impose the rules bore the brunt of spectator anger.

One fan noted that he had his non-conforming lunch brusquely snatched from him and dumped in a wheelie bin but had been allowed to take in a penknife. Newspapers pounced on the absurdity, despite clodhopping and ineffective attempts by the ICC to downplay the situation, and gleefully reported the sight of a gateman at Southampton helping a spectator pour unauthorised cola into an empty bottle of the approved brand so it could be admitted.

The ridiculous nature of the corporate stranglehold was underlined by the fact that punters could not buy England shirts at club shops because their sponsors - Vodafone - were rivals of one of the official "partners".

The opening day featured England against Zimbabwe at Edgbaston which only 3000 (even officially only 5000) watched, believed to be the lowest attendance for a home England ODI. At The Oval New Zealand thrashed USA in front of a few hundred (official attendance 4,500). I looked on with a bemused American friend. "If this is a premier global tournament, why doesn't anyone care?" he asked as he scanned the almost deserted ground.

At Edgbaston the opening ceremony consisted of ICC president Ehsan Mani shaking hands with the England and Zimbabwe players. Coming as it did after a long delay caused by drizzle, it was hardly surprising he was booed by the paltry crowd who just wanted some action.

The opening over summed up the whole affair as Tinashe Panyangara, Zimbabwe's 18-year-old opening bowler, bowled seven wides. "Fortunately, many at Edgbaston missed his embarrassment as they were being interrogated in specially built ICC cells for drinking fizzy pop not approved by the organisers," an ESPNcricinfo correspondent wrote.

And so it rumbled on. India's matches were well supported but otherwise attendances, Engel noted, "ranged from the paltry to the pathetic". Even England's semi-final against Australia was played out at a half-empty Edgbaston. The demands of broadcasters meant the whole tournament took place on three grounds (Lord's wisely declined to get involved) which further led to poor ticket sales.

One of the three, the Rose Bowl, given a chance to show it was ready to host major matches, failed in spectacular style. Tales of spectators taking hours to get out of the ground were commonplace as the park-and-ride system collapsed and the adjoining motorway became gridlocked.

Despite the lack of spectators there were still crowd problems. Six stewards were injured when drunken fans invaded the outfield at the Australia-New Zealand match and there were also scuffles when India took on Pakistan.

In the games themselves, the conditions meant that the toss was vital and all but two of the toss-winners chose to field; when Pakistan decided to bat in their semi-final against West Indies it led to a flurry of match-fixing discussions, so odd did it seem. Bob Woolmer, their coach, later explained he had chatted with people who knew ground conditions before making the call. Of the seven matches which were (on paper) competitive, only once did the side batting first win.

The final, despite finishing in near darkness, provided a rare good-news story and West Indies were popular winners, not least because of the way they galloped home.

The last word, as is often the case, goes to Wisden. "Overall, the main memories will be of cold and wet, of organisational disasters and of the general sense of a doomed competition that did cricket far more harm than good, all of which was obvious and avoidable."

What happened next?

  • The next edition of the Champions Trophy took place in 2006 in India. The BCCI was keen it was the last tournament, stating that it was a "financial burden" for host nations and that only the World Cup was worth promoting
  • The ICC took note of issues with underperforming Associate countries but rather than review qualification it threw them out completely. In 2006 the top six teams in the ICC ODI Championship plus two teams chosen from the other four Test-playing teams who played off in a pre-tournament round robin qualifying

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Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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