The most lucrative tournament in the ICC calendar is underway again. It is the fourth edition of IPL 2.0 – better known as the Champions League Twenty20. But looking at the advertisements that preceded the tournament, one could not but help get the nauseating feeling that the IPL is now held twice a year, what with the captains of the four IPL franchises (who all of course, qualified directly) telling viewers to ‘watch out for them’.
Effectively, the Champions League is indeed, a more globalized version of the IPL. To prove its spreading popularity, the bandwagon has shifted to South Africa this year, as in 2010 (but don’t be surprised if the final is played in Chennai). There is an absurd rule in this tournament that allows a player to choose between more than one team to represent. The thing is, since cricket has a limited player pool across the world, you will find the modern-day Twenty20 specialist criss-crossing the world, and thus ends up playing for multiple teams.
But come the Champions League, its a no-brainer, because the IPL franchise bullies leave no stone unturned to pack their team with only the best. Hence, all nine players who were eligible to play for more than one team this year, duly opted for their respective IPL teams. in return, the club that loses its player to the IPL franchise, gets paid a handsome sum by the cash-rich latter as ‘compensation’. Naturally then, you have the IPL teams getting stronger, while the rest of the pool is supposed to be satisfied with the cash they get.
In the 2009 edition of this tournament, Kieron Pollard shot to fame by blasting an 18-ball 50 for Trinidad and Tobago against eventual winners New South Wales. With the IPL ‘scouts’ always on the prowl, Mumbai Indians snapped him up later, and hence he turned out for his IPL team in 2010. Talk about club loyalties. Similarly, when T and T were back in the league (Guyana played in 2010) as the Caribbean team in 2011, it was Sunil Narine who garnered attention.
Even before the talented spinner could make his West Indies Test debut, Kolkata Knight Riders swooped down and grabbed him – and selfishly didn’t let him go until they had won the IPL title this year. By then, the West Indies had lost Test series to Australia and England, but who cares? Narine will therefore turn out for Kolkata in the Champions League, and my gut feeling is that Samuel Badree might be the next one to turn his back on his native club for the glitz of the IPL franchises.
If this is really supposed to be a global tournament, then why on earth half the number of teams with direct qualification are from India? This was touted to be an inspiration from football’s UEFA Champions League. Really? Do we see say, Christiano Ronaldo choose between Real Madrid and a Portuguese club? The Champions League T20 has an inherent flaw, which leads to confused loyalties. Add to that, the chopping and changing of IPL teams every couple of years, and the concept of building a ‘fan base’ goes for a toss.
So far, cricket’s franchise model has failed to create strong ties with the spectators (except probably, a few of the IPL teams, whose scatter-brain fans think that the wounds of an overseas Test thrashing of the national team will be soothed by an nondescript IPL title). Any club team needs at least a core group of players over a number of years to build a fan base. But in the world of Twenty20, loyalties are where the cash is.
The World Twenty20 at least had meaning as an international tournament. But the Champions League, except for the ‘highest cash prize’ tag, has absolutely no relevance. To say that a Twenty20 club (read IPL club) has become a ‘Champion of Champions’ (as the many random movie stars who appear in the course of the tournament to promote their films proclaim) is indeed laughable.
Since September 8, the only format played has been Twenty20. The overdose will reach new heights by the time the Champions League ends. The only people who will gain are the cash-rich as well as the cash-strapped boards, and probably a few of the IPL clubs. I seriously doubt there are fans vociferously supporting Uva Next or Auckland Aces this season. If Twenty20 has to sustain interest, it has to set its priorities right, rather than massacre the golden goose time and again.
Meanwhile, I am already looking forward to the Test season after a long Twenty20 period – it is like finding the light at the end of the tunnel. South Africa in Australia, England in India – two mouthwatering clashes. Champions League T20 anyone?