Are There Too Many IPL Teams in the Champions League T20?
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Assessing the worth and legitimacy of four Indian teams in the ongoing Champions League Twenty20 is somewhat tricky, for it's an issue riddled with imbalances and contradictions.
Although the tournament aims to pitch the world's best T20 franchises against one another on an international stage, the complications of a skewed cricketing landscape prevent the tournament from delivering the prototypical experience.
Revenue doesn't want to bow to representational balance. Ditto for television rights. Immediate entertainment and long-term sustainability are also counterproductive forces, while much the same can be said for international reach and elite competition.
In short, the desire to ensure the tournament is an immediate success, both financially and entertainment-wise, overshadows the distant goal to conduct a pure, global event.
Ideally, the CLT20 should see the champions from all of the domestic T20 leagues automatically entered into the group stage of the tournament. In that idealistic vein (England's county fixture clash aside), the Faisalabad Wolves, Kandurata Maroons and Otago Volts should all have bypassed the now-concluded qualifying phase.
If that were the case, the leagues of India, South Africa, Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies would all be represented in the tournament's group stage.
Yet instead, we're left with four Indian teams, only one of which topped their domestic competition, while two champions are discarded before the real event even begins.
For an event that is marketed as a global playoff, as a method to determine the champion among champions, it's a genuine flaw in the concept.
Undoubtedly, this is due in part to the ownership of the Champions League. With the tournament owned and run by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Cricket Australia and Cricket South Africa, it's easy to see why the CLT20 is geared towards the franchises of those administrations. The effect of that power has meant the group stage of the tournament more closely resembles cricket's equivalent of the G8 summit.
Furthermore, the BCCI's share of the event is 50 percent, dwarfing that of the other two stakeholders, which causes many to also argue that the Champions League is merely an IPL 2.0.
However, to argue that the tournament should be switched to its best theoretical form is far too simplistic.
Part of the Champions League's appeal is that it pitches some of the game's biggest names head-to-head. Since its introduction in 2008, the franchises of the IPL have garnered significant notoriety and loyal support.
The names of the franchises are now immediately synonymous with T20 cricket and the teams' players are internationally recognised. That popularity and brand strength are what drive television-rights contracts, attendance figures, sponsorship and investment.
While it's admirable to suggest that Otago should be granted automatic qualification, it's undeniable that the Volts simply can't conjure the expansive audience that Chennai or Mumbai are capable of capturing.
As cricket continues its rapid move away from its traditions, as the game becomes increasingly thought of as business, star-power and marketing potential become ever more pertinent.
The whereabouts of that star-power further complicates the issue, for the depth in quality that exists among the various domestic leagues is as distorted as the game's power struggle. The strength of the three administrations that own and run the Champions League has resulted in the world's elite talent residing with a select, privileged few.
Should four Indian teams feature in the CLT20?
Consequently, the presence of four Indian teams in the current CLT20 is currently a positive. The tournament is simply more popular to a greater audience (and of higher quality) in its present incarnation.
Yet, that's not to say that the Champions League's current form is a sustainable, long-term model.
The countless domestic T20 leagues around the world have resulted in a frustrating monotony to cricket globally. The lack of differentiation between competitions across the cricketing landscape has meant that the importance of each individual match continues to wane.
If the Champions League is to be viable as a long-term event of global significance and stature, it must greatly separate itself from the other T20 tournaments that already litter the calendar.
Financial success must be balanced with global representation, the pressing requirement of immediate entertainment needs to be considered against long-term interest in the concept.
If football's UEFA Champions League resembled something of a Premier League with a couple of European teams thrown in, it would quickly cease to exist.
The CLT20 faces a similar conundrum in the not-so-distant future, for it runs the risk of putting together a greatest-hits compilation comprised of tracks from just a couple of albums.
It's that balance—those contradictions in the tournament's existence—that make its long-term, sustainable future a challenging one.
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