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The Champions League should shed its elitism

Hamid Hassan celebrates the wicket of Anamul Haque AFP

And so the Champions League T20 comes to an end. Of the four semi-finalists, three were IPL sides, joined by the token BBL franchise. For the fourth time out of six the champions are from India; the other two times it has been an Australian team walking away with the winner's trophy. Sometimes even the worst-laid plans of men and mice don't go astray.

The conclusion would be that Australians and Indians are better than the rest of the world at T20. This is an argument that starts to crumble once you look at World T20 records: since the first tournament in 2007, India have failed to reach the semi-finals in three of the following four editions, and Australia are yet to win it. There is nothing, at least on the international stage, that separates these two from the rest. On the local stage, though, there quite obviously is.

They may not have the most talent but they do have the most money; and increasingly that is all that matters.

The Champions League T20 was designed as cricket's equivalent of the UEFA Champions League, and while the cricket version may fall short in all other aspects, it has grabbed on to one truism from the football version - the richer you are, the "better" you are. Not since 2003-04 has a team outside the select group of "superclubs" won the UEFA version, and with six out of six the cricket version is upholding that principle too.

The sad truth is that Barbados Tridents can enter this competition as "champions" of their domestic tournament, but they don't even have the services of their two highest run scorers (Shoaib Malik and Dwayne Smith) and their captain (Kieron Pollard) from that tournament, all of whom were instead representing teams from the two richer boards. And that is a problem that will persist when you have multiple domestic T20 tournaments employing players from the small talent pool that cricket provides. Money talks, and it ends with a West Indian not playing for the West Indian champions, whom he captained, but instead playing for an Indian team that fails to even qualify for the tournament proper. Explain that to a cricket novice.

But instead of being a rich man's plaything, a chance for the big boards to appease the broadcasters who don't have the rights to the IPL, this tournament could have been something else, something better.

"Many of the best of this generation played for the Galatasaray team that won four consecutive Turkish league titles and the UEFA Cup at the turn of the century. Now imagine if cricket allowed its Turkey, its Galatasaray, to succeed in a similar manner"

It could serve as a chance for domestic players from the smaller countries to make a name (and perhaps a fortune) for themselves - an aim that is greatly handicapped by them having to qualify for the tournament proper itself. All franchises are equal here; it is just that some are more equal than others.

From 1954 to 1996, the Turkish national football team failed to qualify for a major tournament. As one of the biggest countries in UEFA through that time, to consider their performance an underachievement would be selling it short. In the early '90s, the development of a better infrastructure, and Turkey's rise, allowed a better generation of footballers to emerge. This group also benefited from another by-product of Turkey's improving economy and the changing football landscape - they were the first generation to play with and against better players more regularly. The expansion of the UEFA Champions League (and the UEFA Cup) and the import of foreign stars allowed Turkish football to have a resurgence. Many of the best of this generation played for the Galatasaray team that won four consecutive Turkish league titles and the UEFA Cup at the turn of the century. They also played with genuine international stars like Gheorghe Popescu, Claudio Taffarel, and most significantly Gheorghe Hagi. This Turkish generation would reach the quarter-final of Euro 2000, and follow it up with finishing third in the 2002 World Cup.

Now imagine if cricket allowed its Turkey, its Galatasaray, to succeed in a similar manner. Imagine a world where the Champions League T20 includes the Afghanistan national team, playing under the guise of a franchise, with one caveat: they are playing with a handful of borrowed foreigners. Imagine an Afghanistan team that includes, say, Shahid Afridi, Junaid Khan and Umar Gul (all Pashto speakers themselves). What could the Afghan players learn from a fortnight or so sharing the dressing room, the hotels and the pitch with experienced internationals like that trio? What could Hamid Hassan or Shapoor Zadran learn from having Junaid and Gul standing at mid-on and mid-off for them? How much could Afridi teach them - in 18 years he seems to have gone through everything imaginable a cricketer could go through (and some things that weren't; for example, treating the cricket ball as an apple during a one-day international). This could be the greatest experiment in the progress of amateurs to professionalism since the Packer World Series.

Or perhaps an Irish team playing as a franchise, only with Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin back in their ranks? Add a disgruntled ex-ECB player wanting to prove a point and with years of playing in different countries for a number of franchises. Imagine how this generation of Irish players could benefit from such an experience. Could this not allow them to bridge the gap from Associate to Full Member?

I was put in mind of all this after reading Tim Wigmore's excellent interview with Aasif Karim, which outlined the fall of cricket's "11th nation" into the obscurity of the Associates. Wouldn't Kenya have benefited from more inclusivity? It is quite frankly ridiculous that their reward for reaching the semi-final of the World Cup was to be given a grand total of 11 ODIs against Full Members in the three years following this achievement.

Perhaps - and this may sound revolutionary - playing with and against better players might actually make sportsmen better. Perhaps an exercise like the Afghans playing in Pakistan's domestic cricket (as they did in 2011-12 or as Bangladesh's representative team did in 1996-97) might actually benefit their progress. Perhaps being paid more, with better team-mates and coaches, might actually accelerate the development of cricket's developing nations. Perhaps the Champions League T20 ought to be more than just another event to fill already full coffers.

But alas, there is no money in that. And what is the point of playing and organising cricket if profit isn't your sole motive?