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How can the Champions League improve?
Ian Chappell and Shaun Pollock discuss what makes the tournament tick, and the challenges it faces in the future (34:20)
September 21, 2010
Related Links » News: Time for the unknowns to shine | Parochialism wanted Players/Officials: Ian Chappell | Shaun Pollock Series/Tournaments: Champions League Twenty20 Teams: Australia | India | South Africa
Time Out with Harsha Bhogle
How can the Champions League improve?September 21, 2010
Harsha Bhogle: Welcome to Time Out, we are in Durban today where the Champions League is on, I am with Shaun Pollock and Ian Chappell. We are going to look back whether this tournament is going right? Whether there is anything that makes it tick? What can be better about the tournament?
I will start with you Chappelli, what's the most exciting part of the tournament? What appeals to you most about the tournament?
Ian Chappell: Well, I think if you look at Trinidad and Tobaggo last year, that sums it up for me. They came unheralded to the tournament, but not only did they play good and winning cricket … they had a smile on their face. I remember growing up as a kid when they always used to talk about calypso cricket in the Caribbean, and obviously 1960-61 left a big impression on me, that time I was about 16-17 years old. That was the way they played, smile on their face, played terrific, competitive cricket. For years you've been hearing about how the talent level was going down in the Caribbean, and you suddenly saw Trinidad and Tobaggo playing this brilliant style of cricket, exciting cricket. You thought to yourself, "there is no lack of talent in the Caribbean, if Trinidad has got it then you assume that a lot of others have got it as well."
So I think that is the big thing for me. There were plenty of stars, IPL teams and a New South Wales team in the first year … there were plenty of stars that people know from international cricket. Then you get a guy like Kieron Pollard, who not many people had heard about, and he suddenly burst on the scene. To me that is the big attraction of the Champions League - you are going to get a team that is going to surprise you and you are probably going to get a few individuals that the rest of the world is suddenly going to find about. That's quite an attractive package.
HB: I saw that little innocence as well, the great joy of an unheralded group of players coming together. When the Redbacks [South Australia] ran onto the ground after beating Mumbai Indians from a tough situation, we saw that with the Warriors as well. Is there that bonding; is it greater at the club level? Is it the more innocent form of bonding almost?
IC: When you haven't won for 15 years mate, then you are going to get a bit excited.
Shaun Pollock: I think, just looking at it from a perspective of an international cricketer to have played against the best over all those years and toured the world and got to see the sights and sounds, for some of these provincial, state cricketers, they are never going to get that opportunity. So this is a real bit of exposure for them, to put their skills against some of the best in the world. When they won that game, its people that they played against [that] makes it so exciting for them. So I think that opportunity is just great.
From the Warriors' perspective, they are a good unit and they probably would have been really good and performed no matter where the tournament was held. From the Lions' perspective, the fact that it's in South Africa has given them a chance. Very inexperienced in their bowling line-up and they would never had half a chance if they had gone and played in India, so it worked out nicely for them. I just think that the exposure that they get, the fact that they can play against other people who don't feature day in and day out is going to be brilliant.
IC: I think there is one other aspect which is important. Shaun just mentioned the privilege of playing international cricket, and it is. But I don't know what it is like in South Africa but in Australia, you remind yourself every now and again that you are a club cricketer. It still sort of sticks in my mind, people come to me and say you are an international cricketer, and I say, "No mate, I am just a club cricketer who happened to play international cricket." And every now and again you need reminding that that's what you are - you are a club cricketer who eventually grew into being an international cricketer. When you are a star unit like Mumbai, and you get beaten by the Lions or South Australia, it's a very sharp reminder that basically what you all are is club cricketers; some have just grown more than others.
HB: Some lose their identity very quickly, and fall in love with the idea of being an international cricketer anyway. The players seem to like it, the broadcaster seems to like it, but it's taking a bit of time to catch-on with the public? Do you think it's a long haul? I think everyone looks at European football championship and says, "Wow, every game goes full." But that's got a legacy which goes back a long time. So do you see this tournament taking a bit of time to catch on with the general public?
SP: Yes, I think the interest will continue to be there, I think there is no doubt about that. But I agree that it will take a bit of time to catch on, and sometimes some of the rubbers, even in the European league football, you find some clubs like Panathinaikos or whatever, getting beaten 8-0 … something like that. Those games are probably not as good to support …
HB: It's a good one you chose, Panathinaikos, you are just trying to show that you can pronounce [laughs]
IC: [Laughs] Exactly, that's what it was about.
SP: [Laughs] Well, I think once it gets down to the semi-finals and the finals … the longer the tournament goes on, more strength coming out. England teams could not make it this time around. So once the strength is there, it will make the event even more exciting.
HB: I think one of the challenging factors for Champions League is that there is such a lot of cricket around … people are seeing a lot of cricket anyway, and are taking time to get used to the fact that "okay, my team is Mumbai Indians, my team is Royal Challengers, but I don't know anybody from Guyana or I don't know anybody from the Warriors, so I will watch my games and I will not watch the others."
So that is something that will take a long time to kick in?
IC: If I can draw a parallel, in Australia before the World Series cricket, the touring teams weren't that well known. Obviously some of the big names were. Then suddenly during the World Series cricket, you had a three-cornered tournament - with Australia, West Indies and the Rest of the World. And that's where the West Indies really captured the attention of the Australian public, and also they were coming back on a fairly regular basis. The Australians fell in love with West Indies almost, not quite to the point where they wanted the West Indies to beat Australia …
HB: Which would have been fun … [laughs]
IC: Wouldn't have been fun for the Australian players. But they were made to feel welcomed and suddenly Australia felt like that they can put on matches once the tri-series started. For instance, 1975, 1979 and even 1983 World Cup could only have been played in England because they had a multi-cultural population … if Sri Lanka played in a game somewhere, if Pakistan played in a game somewhere, not against England, it would draw a crowd. And suddenly you found that happening in Australia, you could have never held the World Cup in Australia until after the World Series Cricket and the triangular started to take on. So these things do take time, and I am sure that's what will happen with the Champions League.
HB: Looked at in isolation, if you didn't look upon it as a billion-dollar rights event, you would say that it's doing alright actually. In terms of the television ratings, this year a week into the tournament it's up about 25% of the previous year. But I sense it's almost too much pressure to make it succeed too quickly, because of the kind of investment that's gone into it.
SP: Yes, I think it's got to compete with something like the IPL, which has been successful particularly in India. It has got rave reviews around the world because of how well it has gone …
HB: And you enjoyed playing in it too.
SP: Yes, it was great. From our perspective, to be involved with other players from other teams to see how they go about, to just get a different feel. All those things as a cricketer when you've gone through your career is nice. Also, I think people out there like to see new kids on the block. This gives us an opportunity for guys who are not well known, like we mentioned with Pollard. He came out of the West Indies, we talked about him, we never saw his big skills, and he went to India in that Champions League, and he really put on a performance that got him noticed. People enjoy it, and I think it will go from strength to strength.
HB: This year they moved it from India to South Africa, and one of the things that we saw in India last year was that the India games were all full, but for the non-India games nobody was interested in watching. So is it almost better that it has moved to South Africa which has more sports-watching culture, do you think? Or do you think people will still only follow their sides and that will force the tournament to keep looking at where to hold it, because the non-home games are not drawing the same crowds.
IC: I think with India, everybody says that they are a cricket-crazy country, but I think they are more …
HB: India-crazy …
IC: India-crazy, and also star-crazy, and there is no doubt about that. So I guess that's a promotional thing that the cricket board, in conjuncture with the telecasters, has got to work on a little bit to present an appeal there that will get Indian supporters to come and watch cricket that doesn't involve Indian players.
HB: Shaun, you've been in a sort-of star-studded Mumbai side, where they bought a lot of players. And you've been in South Africa where there is a franchise culture and you don't have overseas players playing. First, do you think it's unfair on the South African franchises, the local teams that are playing against other sides that are allowed to bring in so many overseas players? Or do you think, only for the Champions League, should other teams also be allowed to pick two overseas players?
SP: I think around the world they are all allowed to get international players. I think in Australia they allow two, we allow them in South Africa. So it's not as though you can't get them. I think the teams that are playing together day in and day out over the years actually have a little bit of an advantage. I think if the IPL teams had to finish the IPL tournament and two weeks later start the Champions League, I think then they will really play well as a unit. But when they come together after a six-month break, they are probably not sure about what their roles where. Whereas, your local, provincial, state teams play together year in and year out, they know exactly where everyone fits in. I must admit that the Redbacks [South Australia] could have done with a Shahid Afridi, he would have added to their strength, and obviously Pollard. But I think it's got to be any way that you can create more interest and more strength in the teams to make sure that it's an even contest. That's when you will do better.
IC: I don't think the problem is so much with the Australian first-class teams, and probably not South Africa, and probably not England. But the problem occurs with first-class teams from New Zealand and Sri Lanka, more so. If they are losing star players, if an IPL franchise team keeps one of their star players, like Central Districts with Ross Taylor. That's a big blow because the pool of players in New Zealand is not that great. And I am not sure about the first-class competition in Sri Lanka. So I think that's where there is a bit of a problem, and a bit of an advantage.
If you get a team like New South Wales, for example, they have got depth of resources, and being played in late September, early October, for New South Wales it is perfect as they are going to have most of their international players available. So if they lose one or two to a franchise, they can afford to do. Even South Australia, if they were to lose Shaun Tait to a franchise, they would be in strife.
HB: Would you feel cheated, Polly? Say you were a Warriors player, you lost Jacques Kallis and you lost Mark Boucher, and then they played against you for Royal Challengers. Would you feel a bit cheated, one as a player and two as a fan?
SP: Yes, I would, particularly if the tournament is played in South Africa. If it was overseas, then it kind of goes with IPL and you don't mind losing to those teams. But in this case definitely. The Warriors have played well, but if someone like Kallis was added to them, would have made them even stronger. So maybe there needs to be a system, if you get through the semis and Royal Challengers don't make it then Kallis can jump ship or something like that … [laughs].
IC: I think the problem is more for the fans. And I don't think you can really have a situation where the player has four options. Not sure if there is any player who has got four options, but few have got to three options, and then it becomes hard for the fans, it's kind of confusing - "who does this guy play for."
I think a lot of IPL and the Champions League was thrown in a bit of hurry, probably it was a bit of knee-jerk reaction to ICL [Indian Cricket League]. So I am not sure that it was thoroughly thought through, and maybe they need to sort of go back to the drawing board and start to think about it. If a guy qualifies for a IPL team and a local team, then it's fine, I can accept that. But when you are qualifying for three or four teams, then it gets pretty confusing.
HB: I think Ross Taylor was in that boat, Dwayne Bravo was in there as well. What we are seeing now with franchises, and with teams in England and Australia as well. They call an overseas player to play one game. So Bravo would have played a little bit for Victoria, he made the whole journey and played one game for Essex, just in case they got through then they can use him. I think New South Wales did that with Brendon McCullum. So are the state sides now looking upon the Champions League as a big cheery, so planning to get their overseas players in for that, do you see that trend taking place?
HB: But it doesn't happen in South Africa, for some reason. It seems little more insulated.
SP: Yes, the tournament happens over a month and if they do sign someone they tend to get it for the whole period. But it's definitely an attraction, when I was in the county circuit, Durham was very keen on getting into the Champions League. It was a huge incentive for them to qualify. Someone like Pollard, he even played for Somerset. So I think he has become a bit of a Twenty20 specialist, gone around the world and played for different teams. For the teams in South Africa, England, New Zealand, who don't get much international exposure at the provincial level are dying to get into this competition.
HB: Is there also a feeling that, with teams from Australia, South Africa or maybe England, if they do come in - one is to win the Champions League, and two is to play well enough to get into the next IPL and make myself a nice little contract.
IC: I think that's an off-shoot for the lesser lights amongst the players, the guys who are not international players and don't have an international reputation. No doubt there is a huge incentive. You just have to look at Kieron Pollard, once again, to see what happened to him - from Champions League into the IPL, at a huge price. Cricketers are not stupid, and certainly not when it comes to the green stuff [laughs]. And they all know that, it's a big incentive.
HB: Do you see that happening in South Africa as well, that the aim really is - can I get a big IPL contract?
SP: Well, I think it's in the back of their minds, if they perform well then they might get a bit of chance. But I also look at some of the good international players, some of them on the fringes, were thrown into the auction, even in the second and third year, and none of them got snapped up. So I think there are a very few places that are up for grabs in the IPL. In the past they used to choose 10 international players, I think they have got clever than that now, they understand that they need only five or six. So there are not that many places available, and there are some quality international cricketers out there.
HB: Look at it, say, for a fringe player in South African side, who because of his schedule can't play county cricket in England. And the pound buys you lot of money here in South Africa, and those contracts are pretty good. So he doesn't get a county contract, he is a fringe South African international player so he doesn't get a lot of money playing for South Africa, decent I guess but not great. So he will have an eye on the IPL, to try and supplement his income, which will be several times more than what he would get from playing for South Africa.
SP: Yes, definitely. One example would be Neil McKenzie, he has played on the county circuit, and he has done alright for the Lions. If he has another two or three games, and he gets them through to the final, and performs really well, then he will be thinking, "Well I haven't really been considered for the IPL, but I will put my name in the auction and you never know what will come out of it." So there is no doubt that at the back of their mind they all would love to get an IPL contract.
IC: I think the underlying problem is that if your prime thought is that you are playing for money, then you are not going to be as good a cricketer, as compared to playing from the heart, because you love playing cricket and want to compete. And if you compete well then all the other things will come on top. If you take that approach then you will do alright. But I think if you play purely for money then I don't think you will ever reach your full potential, and that's my feeling.
HB: Played in September, is it a good time? This year it has rained in India so much that you couldn't have played in September? Is September the right time, or we are almost constrained to play it in September because that is the time when people seem to have time?
SP: It's perfect from a South African and Australian perspective, because it's start of their season. So there is no cricket on the go, and it's good preparation for them. England, it's probably good if you can make it a few weeks later, so that they finish their county scene and they can come and join in. So it works particularly for the teams, and where they position themselves as regard to their seasons. It's just all about the weather, and South Africa is good all through the year. And it was a pretty bit of no-brainer to bring it here, the success we had in the IPL, the amount of Indian people we have got living in South Africa, they always come out and support.
HB: No England, no Pakistan effectively. Does that take a bit of gloss away, for a South African viewer, I can relate to an Indian viewer, but for a South African viewer?
IC: I think you will find that it will be played a little bit later, even October. I am not quite sure what the constraints were this year, but there were some problems. But I think you will find it being played a little bit later which will bring England into it, and also I think certainly from the point of view of the telecasters, they really want as many Champions League as possible played in India. I think what would be ideal is if you played every other one in India. If Australia are a signatory, then they would obviously want to, at some stage, play in their country. So I think what you might find is that India will have every other one, and one will go to South Africa, and one will go to Australia. And if it's in late September or early October, then you are going to get England involved. It's a good time for South African players, it's a good time for Australian players, it's a good time for New Zealand players, and I am not sure about Sri Lanka, and what their best times are …
HB: What it does though is that it just takes the Twenty20 culture further, isn't it? And as someone said the other day, watching Pollard bat, I don't know if he is taking the game forwards or backwards, seeing him just hit every ball out of the ground. And someone said, I don't know about that, it's certainly going higher, don't know about forward or backward. It's only making Twenty20 a stronger form, more dominant form of the game, is that where you want cricket to go?
SP: I am not too sure, the jury is still out. There is no doubt that it has created a lot of interest in cricket around the world. Whether it is good for the game, time will tell. I wouldn't want everyone to play like Kieron Pollard, and the true test of the game still comes down to your mental strength, your physical strength, your abilities … and that's in Test cricket. So I wouldn't want over exposure of it, but I think from a provincial, state perspective, these guys aren't really over exposed, they have one tournament, and to have an international one, where they can compete with the guys from the rest of the world is good for them.
IC: I think, one of the things that the administrators have to really look at seriously is - if you cheapen the six then eventually if so many sixes are being hit then it becomes a second nature to the fans. There, I think you have got a bit of a problem, because it will just become like a guy hitting a four, a two and so it doesn't mean so much. But then the other problem we have got is that then flows to the other games. You suddenly have lot of fans going along expecting sixes to be hit all the time in one-day cricket, and perhaps not quite as much in Test cricket. But they are still expecting sixes to be hit. I don't think you can afford to cheapen sixes too much. When you hit them 127 metres then that's a six. I reckon I would like to see about 90 metres, I think, or maybe 90 yards is an ideal boundary. To me the way to judge these things is with a spinner. If the spinner beats the guy through the air, and he miss-hits the ball then the ball should stay in the park. Now, if it falls safely then so be it. But if the spin bowler is good enough to fool the batsman, getting to mis-hit it, then there should be an opportunity to catch it, it shouldn't go for a six. If you've got a 55-57 yards boundary, then that is ridiculous in my opinion. But I don't know how they are going to get around that because some grounds are small.
HB: But people are going to watch Kieron Pollard bat and pick up big contracts around the world, and they would say - "I want to bat like Kieron Pollard." He could well become the torch-bearer of the new generation, we want to bat like Kieron Pollard, we want to hit every ball into the stands. But not everyone can do it?
IC: No, but there is another aspect here. If you go back to the early days of one-day cricket, and still - what were people saying? They were saying, "Isn't the fielding fantastic, isn't the running between the wickets fantastic?" Well, if you've got all sixes and fours, then where is the running between the wickets? And you are taking out two very important aspects of cricket, and exciting aspects of the game of cricket. Plus, Shaun would have played at the MCG before the ropes were pulled in … it was a huge ground and defending totals at the MCG was very difficult …
HB: If you ran hard …
IC: Yes … you hit the ball into the gaps and you could easily run three. Also the other thing it did, it made athleticism and good strong arms very important. Because if you couldn't throw then the guys are likely to run four …
HB: So that is one very good reason why India would never let that happen, athleticism and strong arms [laughs].
IC: Yes, but I mean those are two important aspect of the game of cricket. And you can't afford to eradicate important things from the game of cricket.
SP: I think Michael Bevan made an art of it, placing the ball in the field and taking twos.
HB: If there is one thing that you would like Champions League to do, what would it be? You are happy with the way it is, is there something else that you would like to see in the Champions League?
SP: No, I think I would want strength against strength with many of the teams that have won around the world. I don't know how they have worked out the pool A and B this time around; with all the winners in one and the others in B, and that doesn't quite make sense to me.
Having played in international scene, played and toured the world, you come back and you often get your provincial team mates saying to you - "What's it like, what was your experience like?" So I would like those players to get a bit of international exposure, to be able to go and experience Indian conditions. For example, Doug Watson, most capped Natal player all-time, never got to play outside South Africa. He played all his cricket here. He would have loved to have just gone and experience the tournament and play couple of matches in India or Australia, or something like that. If that's what it does, gives those provincial players a bit of an international feel, gets them to go and play cricket around the world, then I am all for it.
HB: Apart from the boundary lines, which is a common concern for all Twenty20 cricket. But for the Champions League, specifically, is there something else that you would like to see?
IC: No, I think the concept is good and it will take a while to build it up. I would just like then to think a bit about the qualifying rules, so that you don't get …
HB: Mismatched games?
IC: Well, there aren't too many mismatches; but if you can eradicate even one or two mismatches then that improves your tournament. And I think the methods of qualifying just need to be looked at a little bit.
HB: My own view is that I think they are trying too hard to make it work too quickly, because of the money that has been put behind it. Suddenly you get things like return of investment kicking in, there are questions being asked in the board room, and whether your money is delivering the returns it should. I mean …
IC: Isn't that the modern culture though, Harsha, to a degree …
HB: It is, and the person who has bid that kind of money is always under pressure. But I am sure European football took a long time, I don't think the European Championship just sort of kicked in the very first year … so we all try and compare it with football which has a legacy that goes much further back. So I would like to see patience. I think, five years from now it would kick in.
The only problem is that it is far too much geared towards India. It's almost as if - does India like it? And if India doesn't know the overseas players, then what can we do to make it work? I sense, it's almost like the other teams are sub-castes, and the leading caste is the India audience, and I think that's a bit of worry to me.
SP: [laughs] Where does the money in world cricket lie?
IC: See, that's not just the Champions League problem but that's a problem for cricket overall. The other thing that is a problem for Champions League, but for cricket overall, the programming is insane. We will come back to the thing that you are probably sick to death of hearing me say Harsha. Until you fix the structure of the ICC, and the flaws in that, you can't fix all these problems. We are just … I was nearly going to say something that would have to be eradicated.
IC: But we are just blowing in the wind, until you fix up the structure of the ICC, because you can't fix all the other problems. But, I mean, Shaun is a much more recent international player than I am, but even in your time …
SP: Only just, only just …
IC: Yes, yes I was thinking about your father, sorry [laughs]. But, even when you were playing the scheduling was starting to be ridiculous, and now it is ridiculous.
SP: Yes, it is. But I suppose at the end of the day, if there is decent money … there is a carrot that is dangling in front of you, the guys suddenly find a bit more energy in the body.
IC: I think, also, it's a problem for the administrators, because they are shelling out a lot of money to the players and they feel that the only way of getting it back is by playing a lot of cricket. But I think they need to start thinking quality rather than quantity. I think you can get similar amounts of money by having quality tournaments, and perhaps a little less of them. And also working on the old comedian theory - always leave them laughing. In this case, always leave them wanting more. You can kill all of these things by over exposure.
HB: Sometimes you can offer too much, and then people say that it's just another tournament. It's happened with India, Sri Lanka for example. We seem to be playing each other every Thursday afternoon, and every Friday morning, and every Sunday evening. So people say, "it's just another tournament." And I think the Champions League needs to worry a little bit, like everything else, of over exposure. But they are talking about giving it a slot in the FTP by 2012, and that might give it a little identity of its own. But overall, are you happy with the Champions League?
SP: Yes, I have enjoyed it, the ones that I have watched. I have always been a fan of, and I think it will go from strength to strength.
IC: I think one thing that they could do, is to make people more aware, in the other countries, like South Africa, Australia, New Zealand …
HB: About the other teams …
IC: Yes. Let's say Big Bash in Australia, throughout the tournament they should be hammering home the fact that if you win this or you come second, then you go to the Champions League and this is the sort of prize money on offer. So you are building up an expectation or an awareness that when Victoria and South Australia qualify, you as a Victorian fan or a South Australian fan, have something else to watch as well. Something that you really need to be really interested in, and I think that is something that they need to push it a bit harder.
HB: The only problem with that is that there is such a lot of cricket going around that the fan may not get caught up with that, because he is seeing some international cricket somewhere else. It's a problem as you pointed, and there is a lot of it around.
But I think the example that both of you are talking; the one that comes to mind is Davey Jacobs. I looked at the Warriors side, and I said - there is Botha, there is Boucher, there is Kallis who might have been there, there are lot of these stars and who is this Jacobs, who is the captain of the side. Then I saw him play, and I said - not bad, he can play, and he certainly can field. So that's been the big revelation for me. So hopefully we will increase the education.
SP: Well, I think too. When the IPL was put together, it was a no-brainer for the Indians. Because you are going to see how your fringe Indian players perform against the best in the world, they are going to have best coaching. The selectors will see them perform against people like Brett Lee and all those things. The same things happen in the Champions League, if the selectors in South Africa were thinking whether Davey Jacobs is upto scratch, is he upto the standards. He has four-five good performances in this Champions League against good quality attacks, and then they [selectors] would say, "Okay, he is ready for the job."
HB: We will wait and see. I think actually we should give the Champions League three or four years to build on. That's my view on it. Thanks Shaun and thanks Chappelli. For the numbers game with S Rajesh, listen to the complete show
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