Akshay Iyer

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Akshay loves everything to do with cricket and has been a supporter of the South African team since 1991

Champions League’s Struggle to Remain Relevant

The Champions League Twenty20 TrophyThe Champions League Twenty20 Trophy

The Champions League Twenty20 Trophy

India’s World Cup win in April feels like it happened a decade ago. A week later started the IPL, and then the Caribbean tour. And less than a week after the long, nightmarish tour of England, we now have the third edition of the Champions League Twenty20 (CL T20) – a tournament, which, to be polite, hasn’t caught on with Indian spectators.

Nothing could highlight this better than the pulling out of Bharti Airtel from its five-year deal worth $40 million of being CLT20’s title sponsor last month. They’ve been replaced by another telecom behemoth Vodafone. Broadcasters ESPN-Star are buoyant and expect over $20 million in ad revenue.

While the corporate may still be tempted to buy advertising spots on the ESPN-Star Network, putting bums on seats – especially for matches involving non-IPL teams – continues to be a challenge. And that’s probably why the tournament organisers introduced a qualifying round from which three teams would progress to the main draw.

Bias Towards IPL Teams?

The qualifiers allow a fourth IPL team a backdoor entry to the main draw — an opportunity which Kolkata Knight Riders have taken, along with Somerset and Trinidad & Tobago. So what was supposed to be a competition between the best Twenty20 teams around the world has become heavily skewed towards the Indian teams.

Out of the 10 participants, four are Indians, two each from Australia and South Africa, and one apiece from West Indies and England. So much for even representation!

One could argue that Ruhunu, Auckland Aces and Leicestershire Foxes were weak for the main draw. But they deserved to participate as much as or even more than the Knight Riders — primarily because they are the domestic T20 champions of Sri Lanka, New Zealand and England, respectively. And KKR's best effort in four seasons is a fourth-place finish.

Compensating The ‘Home Teams’

Tournament rules heavily favour Indian teams. Where's the spirit of competition?Tournament rules heavily favour Indian teams. Where's the spirit of competition?

Tournament rules heavily favour Indian teams. Where's the spirit of competition?

That the CL T20 tournament rules favour IPL franchises can be further gauged by the fact that these teams are allowed to ‘steal’ the cream of the talent by compensating the player’s home team.

For instance, Brett Lee and Brad Haddin will play for KKR instead of New South Wales; and Kieron Pollard for Mumbai Indians when he could have played for either Somerset or South Australia. Those teams don’t have the financial muscle of the IPL franchises, and thus surrender their first-choice players.

Bending Rules

In another brazen act of bending the rules, the CL T20 technical committee has allowed Mumbai Indians to play five foreigners in their playing XI because of the “spate of injured first-choice players”. This only lends credence that this tournament is nothing if not another revenue-earning exercise for the concerned stakeholders at the expense of cricket and the sport’s fans.

No doubt Mumbai Indians have been dealt a blow. Several of their Indian players – captain Sachin Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma, Suryakumar Yadav, Ali Murtaza, Munaf Patel, Dhawal Kulkarni, Aditya Tare and Pawan Suyal have suffered tournament-ending injuries.

The technical committee has permitted Andrew Symonds, Dilhara Fernando, R Sathish, Sarul Kanwar and Abu Nechim Ahmed as the replacements in the squad of 14 — seven of them are Indians. The franchise can add a 15th member as it sees fit. But they obviously won’t at the moment, thanks to the fact that they can play five non-Indians.

Explaining their rationale, the tournament organisers said: “In the current circumstances, if the Mumbai Indians suffer one more injury to an Indian player, they will be unable to field a team due to CLT20 rules restricting teams to a maximum of four overseas players in any one match.”

“As a result, the CLT20 governing council has approved a recommendation by the technical committee that to ensure the integrity of the tournament the Mumbai Indians will be permitted to select up to five overseas players in any one team, provided those players were contracted to play in the 2011 IPL.”

Players like Dhoni and Raina have been playing non-stop since 2009. Players like Dhoni and Raina have been playing non-stop since 2009.

Players like Dhoni and Raina have been playing non-stop since 2009.

I am sorry, but bending the rules for one team reduces the integrity of the tournament. Mumbai’s position was unfortunate; but they now have an unfair advantage over the other three IPL teams, who can field four overseas players. Let’s not forget the other six teams have mainly home-grown players — some of whom have played for the country.

What About Injuries and Burn-out?

Harbhajan Singh pulled out mid-way through the England Test series with an abdominal strain, but is now all geared up to play for Mumbai Indians. It is uncertain if Gautam Gambhir, who suffered a concussion after his nasty fall in the Oval Test, will play for the Knight Riders.

Harbhajan’s case is a classic example of cricketers putting club before country. He could have rested a little more and spent time in the nets trying to rediscover his form.

Then there’s MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina, who’ve been playing non-stop for nearly two years. They’re unlikely to get much rest in the near future with this endless stream of cricket. But they’ve chosen not to skip the CL T20. Who would, with the glamour, glitz and riches?

Crowd Indifference

For the CL T20 qualifiers not involving KKR, there were hardly any spectators at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad. And even when they did, the attendance was only marginally better.

The same indifference could continue when the main draw begins, especially for matches not involving the four IPL teams. While the tournament offers exposure and rewards for domestic cricketers around the world, it may fail to whet the cricket lover’s appetite.

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