A sound idea fraught with risks

A preview of the inaugural International 2020 tournament which gets underway at Leicester on Thursday

Cricinfo staff

Phil DeFreitas: bowing out © Getty Images
While cricket's profile in England has not been this high for decades, the success of the England team could actually be to the detriment of the inaugural International 20:20 tournament, which kicks off at Leicester on Thursday. Such has been the public's interest in a thrilling Ashes series that the event will inevitably have something of an anti-climactic feel about it.
The concept itself shows vision. Assemble the best Twenty20 sides from around the world for a champions' league of domestic cricket. The format lends itself to such an event - the six-team tournament is condensed into three days, ideal for public and television alike. And it is television, especially Indian TV, which is the main reason for it happening at all. Leicestershire have strong links with Asia through Investors In Cricket, the county's financial backers, and they are the driving force behind the whole thing.
The main problem is that, while a football tournament of this type would inevitably draw the crowds, domestic cricket sides are on the whole unsexy from a marketing point of view. Add into the equation that there is no representation from Australia, New Zealand and West Indies - none have yet staged a Twenty20 competition - and the package is dangerously weakened.
The teams that are taking part leave a little to be desired. Leicestershire and Somerset are known quantities but neither contains big box-office draws. Nashua Titans, from South Africa, have a very second-team feel about them, because many of their star names - AB de Villiers, Justin Kemp, Andre Nel, Martin van Jaarsveld and Dale Steyn - have stayed away, opting to play in a Jacques Kallis benefit match, while Daryl Cullinan has retired.
The two Asian teams are Chilaw Marians from Sri Lanka and Faisalabad Wolves from Pakistan. While Faisalabad will send a decent side, the reality is that their star attractions, Naved Latif and Mohammad Hafeez, are hardly household names. And the first-string Sri Lankans are all playing in the Test series against Bangladesh, so Chilaw are unlikely to contain anyone familiar to the casual spectator.
Making up the numbers are the PCA Masters XI. At least this team contains some familiar faces, albeit rather aging ones. Phil DeFreitas, who this week mercifully lost his tag as the only active cricketer to have won the Ashes, bows out here. He is joined by Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan and quite a few who were only confirmed at the 11th hour. And To-Be-Confirmeds are not the stuff of good advance box office.
The only place that the matches will be shown live is in South Africa. India are rather preoccupied with the Test at Bulawayo, and in the UK, Sky Sports will be showing end-of-day highlights packages.
The organisers will also be glancing nervously towards the heavens. September's weather in England can be notoriously unpredictable, and with no reserve days, the entire event is at the mercy of the elements. Other late-season ventures over the years have been scuppered by cold and rain, and it was more by luck than judgment that the ICC got through last year's Champions Trophy in September unscathed.
The concept deserves to succeed, and if it can survive what is sure to be a difficult first outing, then the prospects for the future are good as more countries embrace the format. What they need at Leicester is good weather, a few more names, and a great deal of luck.
  • Cricinfo will be providing ball-by-ball coverage of the matches which start at 10.30am (BST) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
  • Anyone who turns up at the ground before mid-day on Thursday and Friday can gain free admission by mentioning Sony.
  • Schedule (all times BST - GMT+1)
    Thursday, Spetember 15
    Chilaw Marians v PCA Masters 1030 - 1315
    Leicestershire Foxes v Faisalabad Wolves 1400 - 1645
    PCA Masters v Nashua Titans 1730 - 2015
    Friday September 16
    Somerset Sabres v Faisalabad Wolves 1030 - 1315
    Nashua Titans v Chilaw Marians 1400 - 1645
    Leicestershire Foxes v Somerset Sabres 1730 - 2015
    Saturday September 17
    First semi-final 1030 - 1315
    Second semi-final 1400 - 1645
    Final 1730 - 2015