It may be just a trifle early to pass judgment on the Champions League -- the 20-20 tournament between top domestic teams from various cricket-playing countries. But I'll do it anyway. #FAIL! #FLOP! #BORE!
Are you watching it? Is anyone? Frankly, I watch it only in passing, if I happen to be channel surfing and there's a game on. Every time there's an ad break (and we all know how often that is), I switch channels and usually forget to come back! There's actually more interesting stuff elsewhere on TV!
So what's the problem, wasn't 20-20 the big new hit form of cricket? Aren't these teams the best of the best from the cricketing world? Why is it that the Indian Premier League works, and Champions League doesn't seem to?
The game is of course the same, the rules are the same. Three of the IPL teams are playing the CL. But the problem is the other 9 teams. They may be good, but they aren't interesting! Really, the Otago Volts? Or Sussex Sharks? Even with a couple of good players each, they're not likely to bring in the average T20 fan.
With the sheer amount of money in the IPL, each of the 8 IPL teams has a galaxy of bonafide international stars, some current, some recently retired, but all of them capable of drawing the crowds. Any IPL game has at least 5-7 such stars competing. Even the relatively poor performers like the Mumbai Indians have Sachin, Sanath, Bravo, Duminy, Zaheer... sure to get people to tune in! Then there's the attraction of seeing the youngsters -- at least two in each team -- whose occasional brilliant performance adds to the romance of the sport. A Manish Pandey scoring a 100, or a Dhawal Kulkarni graduating to the Indian team on the basis of his performance against the world's stars.
Which brings us to an observation -- the success of the IPL probably lies more in its star power than in the quality of the cricket itself. Of course the presence of great cricketers also ensures a high quality of cricket. But I'd wager that the CL doesn't suffer significantly in comparison, in terms of quality. It just lacks the star power in most games. So the audience for T20 seems to be more enamoured of stars than high quality cricket, or even close finishes.
I believe T20 leagues will flourish in the future. But these will mostly be domestic leagues. Within say, England, a domestic T20 league could become popular -- well, certainly draw more than the traditional 2 men and a dog! There's a long tradition of county rivalries, and enough identification with the English national players. Similarly, Australia, South Africa and the West Indies could well have successful domestic T20 leagues. India, by the way, probably cannot -- too many domestic teams, which means not enough quality.
But the real attraction will continue to the the IPL. There's probably no room in the calendar for yet another, month-long international T20 league, with stars from all the countries participating. By virtue of being the first mover, and having the financial muscle to attract all the top stars, the IPL has grabbed hold of the eyeballs. An abbreviated international tournament like the CL has little chance of success in the next few years. As a concept, it borrows heavily from European football of course, but it's too premature. Only when the domestic leagues are firmly established with each team having a solid, reliable fan base, can the CL concept be expected to draw attention. Till then, I'll wait for innovations like the 20-20-20-20 to fructify!