x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The Shane Watson saga shows up elementary mistakes

Recall of Australian from the T20 Champions League highlights a competition flawed fromthe start, writes Dileep Premachandran.

Australia's Shane Watson has been playing for the Sydney Sixers in the Champions League Twenty20. Carl Fourie / Getty Images
Australia's Shane Watson has been playing for the Sydney Sixers in the Champions League Twenty20. Carl Fourie / Getty Images

When it was envisaged, with Lalit Modi at the helm, the Champions League Twenty20 was supposed to be the short format's crown jewel, cricket's answer to football's Uefa Champions League and Rugby Union's Heineken Cup and Super XV.

Four years on, it has become the child with the evil stepmother, or the guy who gets sand kicked in his face at the beach.

Had it been a proper competition instead of a made-for-Indian-television event, there might have been more people bemoaning its fate - low fan engagement, poor crowds, dismal TV ratings and administrative apathy.

But it's hard to feel any sympathy for a tournament that has been so flawed from the start.

Forget the bias in favour of teams from India, Australia and South Africa, whose cricket boards carve up the proceeds from an astonishingly sweet TV deal - US$975 million (Dh3,580m) over 10 years - signed with ESPN-Star Sports.

How can you take an event seriously when some players are eligible to represent as many as three sides? Or when Indian Premier League contracts make it very clear that a foreign player will choose the franchise over his home state or province.

Given how lucrative the competition is - just participation guarantees you $500,000 - teams and franchises around the world have generally been positive about it.

But cracks have begun to appear even within the boards that back the event, and that has become most evident with Australia's team management recalling Shane Watson before the Sydney Sixers contest the business end of the tournament.

John Inverarity, one of the selectors entrusted with resuscitating Australian cricket after the home Ashes debacle in 2010/11, fired the first salvo when he spoke to News Limited about the upcoming Test series against the No1-ranked South Africa.

"It is anything but an ideal preparation," he said. "You just have to do your best but having the Champions League where it is now is not in the best interests of good preparation for the first Test."

James Sutherland, who would have rubber-stamped Watson's recall in his position as Cricket Australia's chief executive, said: "We are reviewing his load and circumstance very closely.

"We're concerned about Shane. His injury record is unfortunate and what that tells us is that we need to monitor him and manage him very carefully and we are."

Michael Clarke, the captain who launched the Australian season with a passionate speech that drew on the deep-rooted traditions of the country's cricket, was even more blunt in his assessment of the Watson situation.

"Watto didn't play one Test last summer, so we don't want that to happen again, we want to manage him as well as we can, but in saying that Watto's no different to any other player, he's got to be performing to be picked in that team," he said.

"We beat India 4-0 without him last summer. He is a big player for Australian cricket, but he needs to be performing."

The counterpoint came from Stuart Clark, the former Australian pace bowler who is now the Sydney Sixers' general manager. "They want Shane to prepare for Test cricket," he told The Sydney Morning Herald. "I understand those reasons - I just wish someone had told me this 15 months ago.

"Cricket Australia made it very evident when we said what are the value in Australian players [to us]? They said they can play cricket in the Champions League. That was obviously not conveyed to the high-performance team who don't give two hoots about the Champions League."

For now, Australia is the only country where the country-versus-club debate is raging, but English sides - Yorkshire qualified for the main draw this year - have already announced that a scheduling clash with the county season will prevent them participating in the years ahead.

In India, any discontent is rumbling beneath the surface for now. But expect a mini volcano of angst to erupt should the national side start poorly in the upcoming Test series against England.

There will be those that ask, with good reason, how a Twenty20 tournament in vastly different conditions was beneficial for the likes of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir.

While they, and other stalwarts of the Test side such as Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, R Ashwin and Suresh Raina prepare for the long form with games in the mini version, others like Yuvraj Singh have been playing themselves back into fitness and form in the Duleep Trophy, a zone-based first-class competition that once pitted India's best cricketers against each other.

If it had been run properly, with well-defined rules and a slot in the calendar that did not clash with domestic seasons and international matches, the Champions League might not have been so unloved.

But as things stand, smacked by the same hands that were supposed to care for it, it is unlikely that it will ever grow from infancy to maturity.



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