x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Champions Trophy has become a victim of a capricious council

When it is dead and buried this summer, the Champions Trophy might wonder what on earth it did to deserve the kind of monumental indifference and apathy from the cricket community.

Australia's Brett Lee appeals unsuccessfully for the wicket of New Zealand's Brendon McCullum during the ICC Champions Trophy final cricket match in 1999.
Australia's Brett Lee appeals unsuccessfully for the wicket of New Zealand's Brendon McCullum during the ICC Champions Trophy final cricket match in 1999.

When it is dead and buried this summer, the Champions Trophy might wonder what on earth it did to deserve the kind of monumental indifference and apathy that passed for the normal reception it received while in existence. And that was just when the world was feeling OK about it; on most days, the Champions Trophy was outright dismissed as an offensive irrelevance.

It is not beyond the realm of reason to assume few people will even notice the tournament taking place this summer, let alone the fact that it will then die. That is the perversity of holding the tournament in England, where in any case ODI tournaments no matter how big or small are seen at the best of times as an unnecessary intrusion into the main summer calendar of Tests. This being an Ashes year, unnecessary intrusion might be the sweetest epithet the Champions Trophy gets.

Death has actually been due upon it for some time now; remember, the first obituaries began to be wheeled out after the over-long 2004 edition. Since the arrival of the World Twenty20, they have gained pace and volume. If there is anything worse than a prolonged death, it is expiring with nobody caring.

The thing is, there is no good and clear reason why it should die.

There is no reason, in fact, why the Champions Trophy should not be one of cricket's premier global events. Think about this. This is a 17-day tournament, featuring only the top eight teams in the world; the 15 matches will be played in three venues and that is that.

The last tournament, in 2009 in South Africa, was as lean as this one and played across only two venues, within driving distance of the other.

Is this not what cricket wants?

That tournaments do not stretch out, plump with not only needless games but hopelessly mismatched ones and usually in front of empty stands? The constant complaint about the past three World Cups has been this precisely: too long, too many pointless games, not enough competitive ones.

This format, of only the top eight sides playing across two groups, is a sharper, edgier test of quality than a World Cup bloated with easy points. The Champions Trophy should, theoretically, be the best global event since the 1992 World Cup, where nine sides all played each other once before the top four progressed to conventional semi-finals and a final.

The Champions Trophy should, theoretically, not die. It is, ideally, what the World Cup should be. There is a good chance, too, that this time round, with Australia no longer dominant and no outright leading force in favour, that it could be the most competitive tournament since its earliest years.

Yet it is only in keeping with the weird and confused nature of the birth and entire existence of this tournament a tournament that has too often felt to be effectively at cross-purposes to itself that it should be put away just as it has rediscovered its best shape.

It began, remember, as a means for the International Cricket Council (ICC) to earn some money between World Cups. It was also about spreading and developing the game further away from traditional members. Remember how the first two tournaments were held in Bangladesh and Kenya?

Imagine, only 13 years later, how impossible it is that Kenya will host another major cricket tournament.

But this is what the fact of its existence said most forcibly about how directionless cricket administration can be and how uncertain cricket's priorities have been over the past 15 years, especially since Twenty20 blew up.

Here was a tournament conceived purely to make money, yet inadvertently turned into a truer world cup than the World Cup itself. Administrators then made it out to be the villain in the postponement of the World Test championships to at least 2017 (the ICC wanted that event held this summer, but the broadcasting contract it had signed included at least one more Champions Trophy).

Here was the tournament all of cricket wanted: shorter, sharper, quicker, decisive. If that does not capture the muddled sense with which cricket is dealing with its various formats and the pressures on its calendar, then what does?

If it is any consolation, then they have at least found a suitable place for the last rites and burial. Holding it for a second time in England undermines one of the flimsy original purposes of the tournament to hold it away from major centres.

But fittingly, by ending the Champions Trophy in England, they are doing so in the land which introduced both forms of the limited overs game, only to completely struggle to come to terms with those creations.

 

osamiuddin@thenational.ae