x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Modi's biggest challenge

Domestic troubles lie ahead for India unless the many problems surrounding short-format cricket are addressed.

The IPL chairman Lalit Modi claims the Champions League will help cricket at grassroots level.
The IPL chairman Lalit Modi claims the Champions League will help cricket at grassroots level.

India could be considered part of the epicentre of world cricket, but it will suffer if administrators continue their short-sighted approach which is damaging the domestic sport in the country. The Champions League is a venture put together by Cricket Australia, Cricket South Africa and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

But whose annual one-day competition pales into insignificance because it clashes with the new event? India's. The Challenger Trophy started in 1995. It was the brainchild of the cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar's firm Professional Management Group, aimed at bringing the cream of one-day talent together to compete against each other. Apart from domestic cricket, Gavaskar himself profited from keen competition at inter-office cricket where he represented Associated Cement Companies then Nirlon Sports Club in the Times Shield.

These matches used to draw huge crowds at the various maidans and gymkhanas of Mumbai, but star value has dwindled. Players found new excuses to avoid the tournament and suddenly there was less anticipation and excitement. Recently, the BCCI named the trophy after NKP Salve, the man responsible in taking the 1987 World Cup to India. Surely he deserves better. The Challenger took a further beating this year. At least 20 players who could have been seen in action there were in the Champions League.

Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli are just some of the names missing from the event. If a clash in dates was inevitable, there is always an option to postpone the tournament. Cancelling it would mean the BCCI would be open to criticism but scratching big events is not unprecedented. The 50-50 Deodhar Trophy was scrapped this year because of scheduling problems.

At the same time, the BCC organised its first Corporate Trophy which was a huge flop. India's domestic state becomes more of a joke considering that Lalit Modi, the torchbearer of the Champions League, said before the start that cricket's latest extravaganza would help domestic cricket get stronger. I wonder how many would believe this comment from him: "The objective here [referring to the Champions League] is not to make money, it is to build the game, to build club-level cricket, to find and nurture new talent. Money is not the criteria."

Modi talks about how his brand will help cricket at the grassroots. I hope he does not mean introducing the Twenty20 format of the game to cricketers at a young age. That will be a sad and unproductive day. Local coaches are struggling to ward off the entry of reckless cricket in batting and bowling techniques. It is depressing to hear some of them say that kids only want to watch Twenty20. One of the biggest ironies of the Champions League is that it does not involve an Indian domestic team.

Co-organisers Australia have two - New South Wales and the Victoria Bushrangers - and South Africa have the Cape Cobras and the Titans. How is that for imbalance? Shamefully, Indian domestic cricket is not represented because the domestic Twenty20 tournament was not held last year. If the Champions League aims to facilitate the growth of domestic cricket, it has made a very poor start. Ironies do not end there. Several India players will admit privately that they do not enjoy playing Twenty20 cricket.

When the second season of the Indian Premier League was in doubt because the Indian government could not guarantee security to teams, one player told a journalist friend he hoped the tournament would be cancelled. Ultimately, it was played in South Africa. If Twenty20 supporters reckon the players enjoy taking part in it, they are mistaken. Sehwag has said he prefers one-day internationals and Tests. Sourav Ganguly recently said that there could come a time when people will not enjoy Twenty20 because of overkill.

I was reminded of Ganguly's opinion when a news report last week revealed organisers were offering free passes to the public for the Champions League. Notions and opinions do change but one cannot see the Champions League doing much good for Indian cricket. Maybe there are too many cynical voices when it comes to the league. But many of those are from well-meaning cricket lovers who will only be delighted to be proved wrong.

At the moment, the Champions League resembles a circus where cricketers have to perform all sorts of tricks. And ringmaster Modi cannot be disobeyed. Clayton Murzello is Group Sports Editor of Indian newspaper MiD DAY sports@thenational.ae