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Tanya's Take

Manchester United Cricket Club?

What if the football behemoth took to cricket? It might be the only way England could produce a winner in Champions League Twenty20

Tanya Aldred
Tanya Aldred
Arul Suppiah falls for a duck to CJ de Villiers, Eagles v Somerset, Champions League Twenty20, League A, Hyderabad, October 16, 2009

Somerset in the Champions League: "of interest to people living between Bristol and Chard"  •  Global Cricket Ventures-BCCI

My littlest brother Tom got married last week in Dublin and I was sure cricket wouldn't get a look in. But his future father-in-law turned out to be a bit of a history buff, and with a glass of wine in hand and a flourish of his accent he told us that the Irish counties where the big English landowners used to live and which historically played a lot of cricket are the same counties that are now best at hurling. Which was both bizarre (can hand-eye co-ordination really be inherited just like that?) and quite a relief - at least our legacy wasn't all bloody.
Over in India, the English baby has mutated in different ways, far removed from London's influence. Now, being honest, I haven't really had my finger on the pulse of the Champions League. I knew Marcus Trescothick had come home and that Sussex and Somerset had been struggling, but after that I was shamefully out of the picture. And I don't think I'm alone - the mainstream British media has not been gobbling up the competition with any relish.
On Tuesday night we flicked the telly on to watch the other Champions League, Liverpool against Lyons, but came across the highlights of Delhi playing the Cape Cobras on EuroSport. It was pretty flamboyant stuff, particularly from the wicketkeeper, who managed to concentrate and not talk gibberish as he was interviewed between balls.
Even after that briefest of glances it seems unlikely that an English side is going to win the Champions League any time soon. Bigging it up at the County Ground, Taunton, is one thing; competing against hardcore and rested Australian sides in the razzmatazz of Delhi quite another. And it seems unlikely to capture the imagination over here in the way the football version has done, because the followings of counties like Somerset or Sussex, loyal and devoted as they are, are still pretty parochial. As a veteran county reporter wrote of Somerset's exit in an email the other day, "It's only of interest to people living between Bristol and Chard."
Shane Warne may have won the original IPL with his team of young upstarts, and the three IPL sides in the competition may not have done as well as expected, but increasingly, depressingly, money is going to become more important. After all, the winners of this competition will collect US$2.6 million. And they'll be back for more.
You can see the logic now of the idea mooted by the big counties like Lancashire and Surrey last year for English cricket to be a bit more radical with its proposals for a new Twenty20 competition. A combined Northern or a London side would have a more realistic chance of success, and a bigger fan-base.
More interesting still would be if they were to be put out to franchise. Could it be that anyone from up high at the other Old Trafford was watching that Delhi-Cobras game too and was tickled by the idea of being the first club to take part in Champions Leagues in two different sports?
Could Man United branch out with Manchester United T20 CC or North United T20 CC, flash around a large amount of cash, get in the best overseas players, give the academies a massive cash injection and lure dejected but talented southerners up north?
Manchester United are already pretty big news in India, but they'd be happy to be bigger in such a lucrative and expanding market. If they thought there were wads of cash to be made out of cricket, they might start sniffing the leather.
United have dabbled in diversification before, lending their name to a basketball team when basketball was threatening to boom in England on the back of Channel 4's Monday-night coverage in the eighties, but they have never managed to match the successful multi-sports operations of some of their major continental rivals. Cricket could just be a perfect fit.
The links between the two Old Traffords are close - they go further than the car parking and banqueting payoffs that help sustain Lancashire whenever United are at home. David Gill, United's chief executive, sounded like a cricket fan when he was interviewed by Jonathan Agnew on Test Match Special a couple of years ago - shortly after United had beaten Chelsea to win the Champions League - and perhaps the fact that no other mainland European football club would be in a position to capitalise might appeal.
So could Man United branch out with Manchester United T20 CC or North United T20 CC, flash around a large amount of cash, get in the best overseas players, give the academies a massive cash injection and lure dejected but talented southerners up north? Football fans in Asia buy into the idea, replica shirts can't be printed fast enough, cricket's popularity multiplies tenfold, and hey presto, everybody is happy. Repeat the formula around the country - surely there is only a limited amount of money Russian billionaires can spend on footballers before they get bored - and you will have a Champions League winner within a couple of years.
I don't think I really like the idea, though. I like cricket as a cheese-and-pickle-sandwich-and-a-cup-of-tea kind of game, with players pottering around and having a drink with the members after play, not being millionaires with properties on manmade islands off Dubai. I like the 18 counties, with all their traditions and peculiarities. I like the way the Championship is still, just, the most important thing both to the players and the spectators. But you can see the temptation.

Tanya Aldred lives in Manchester. She writes occasionally for the Guardian