The Champions League is around and like a routine there is debate and discussion around the tournament’s relevance and/or its structure and/or its format. The league in principle is rosy - providing a stage for lesser known club players and sides, but in the context of taking it to the level of say, a T20 World Cup, it appears woefully below that; both in terms of following/interest and level of competition. While there is a barrage of question marks on the existence of the tournament, here is an account to suggest a way to optimize the output from T20 cricket in general.
T20 cricket (in most countries) has four distinct ways of presentation - a domestic league (aka IPL), Champions League T20 (CLT20), international matches (during tours) & the World Championship. The way T20 cricket has emerged, each of the above entity is promoted like a gala event. But do we seriously need so much of T20 cricket? Picture this for an average Indian fan in 2012 - 6-7 weeks of the IPL, 2 T20Is versus New Zealand, 2 weeks of T20 WC and two weeks of CLT20; the consequence - very few aware that CLT20 2012 has actually begun! They said that T20 is a lucrative product and could face the issue of killing the goose; 6-7 years since it was introduced the fear is realizing.
Is there a way to keep the investors, stakeholders, spectators, players and the boards all happy simultaneously? - A clear no; but there could always be the mean path. The IPL & CLT20 were designed on their football counterparts in terms of structure but not in terms of tournament formatting. A huge reason why the EPL is so popular is because it provides an ‘exciting’ contest almost every week, keeping the anticipation factor intact and ensuring that the hype remains aloof over a period of time. T20 tournaments run over a few weeks and have the conventional structure of group stages and then the knock-outs.
Is there a case for T20 cricket to emulate the EPL in terms of formatting? International cricket cannot run like a league for that would require each team touring every other, every year! Champions League will have too many logistics issues; but IPL-like tournaments can do that. How can this be done? Here is an illustration: currently the IPL has 8 teams’ viz. 56 matches (home-away format); two matches per week and you reduce the tournament to 6 months. Matches could complement the home season, say one game between two test matches/ODI matches from September/October right upto February. In case of away tours during that period, the lost time could be compensated in April/May. For instance if a test match is scheduled to begin at Chennai, CSK could play one of its home games a few days before that.
This way the fans are kept engaged over a period of time, the tournament remains popular and things like too much cricket during the off-season (April-May) can be avoided. This could be the league point of view, but does that complement what international cricket would think? The issues with this thought are - we can’t have international players travelling for one week for a game or so, international players can’t be asked to switch on & off between important test matches. Security and ground maintenance could some secondary issues. But if there is some will, these issues have answers - typically IPL squads are 30-membered units and test matches could be spaced out more than merely 3 days. This structure could be emulated for other boards/countries as well, which allows club sides get to play on the backdrop of decent on-field/off-field buzz.
How does this help the entire scenario of T20 cricket? This could test the viability of IPL-like tournaments and reduce the stress on the club vs country debate. Domestic players are tested over a period of time, chances of boredom due to too many T20s at a time is reduced which could mean lesser low-attended games and decent TRPs. T20Is & World T20 stay where they are but that leaves no room for Champions League T20. Fair enough! Reasons follow. CLT20 struggles with context and neutral match scenario. Club sides deserve the stage, but it would only be worth if they have decent following. We can’t blame the spectators either, why would locals in South Africa/India overwhelmingly throng to watch say Sialkot Stallions versus Auckland Aces? The context issue has a huge relevance to CLT20 following. DD without Sehwag would still draw decent crowds at Ferozshah Kotla but would be tough to expect a similar response at say Durban or Jo’burg; which incidentally a Sehwag-less Indian side would still generate. It is not the most ideal moment (at the beginning of CLT20 2012) to present this perspective, but in the larger interest deeper thoughts need to go into this subject.