There came the much anticipated announcement this week that there is to be an annual Twenty20 Champions League which will take place in the autumn out in India or the Middle East. However, the format of the competition leaves much to be desired and hardly qualifies it as a true League of Champions, especially when compared to the footballing equivalent.
For starters, it features just eight teams! Now, you would assume that this would be the Champions from each of the major Test playing nations. Unfortunately not. Sorry New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies and Sri Lanka, you’re not cutting the mustard. How exactly can a tournament be claimed to be that of the Champions, when the four domestic Twenty20 Champions from half of the major Test playing nations are not present? Domestic sides from these countries are still competitive and would definitely add value to the competition in a number of ways, not least in terms of increased viewing figures and truly global interest. That point needs addressing immediately.
So it’s good news for India, England, Australia and South Africa then. The two finalists from each country’s domestic Twenty20 league will battle it out for the much coveted £2.5 million prize on offer. Who though is going to be turning out for each side? What of the Aussies, Saffers and Englishmen who play for the two Indian sides who qualify each year from the IPL? Will they represent their Indian fantasy side, or their domestic side? An obvious example is Dimi Mascarenhas, Hampshire Hawk, or Rajasthan Royal? What of Makhaya Ntini, Chennai Super Kings or Border? Justin Langer, Somerset or Rajasthan? Albie Morkel, Durham, Chennai or Easterns? It could become a real problem and there appears to be no official guidance. A limit on foreign players will obviously be required, as in the IPL, but the format could still lead to clashes over which player will play for which side, with money most likely the deciding factor.
Could this entire tournament in fact lead to problems within the domestic game? With such a massive prize as £2.5 million being on offer, does that not immediately elevate Twenty20 cricket to the status of be all and end all for the majority of county sides, as that type of money is just not otherwise available to county sides who are reliant on ECB handouts to avoid going out of business. Will the winner of the tournament not subsequently be on a completely different playing field to the other domestic sides in terms of what players it can attract and how much it can afford to spend. The UEFA Champions League has arguably led to such an unbalanced situation in this country and others, with Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Roma, AC Milan, Juventus, FC Bayern and such like almost ever presents in the competition and also of course the leaders in their respective countries. An imbalance already exists between grounds with and without Test Match Status, but this potential new imbalance could be even greater in a decade, so will need to be carefully monitored.
Key to the success of English teams in this competition will be the creation of an English equivalent of the IPL. There is not as much money floating around English county cricket, but people still turn up in their droves to witness this format. The best way to rival the IPL is to create a self-sustaining viable long-term competition of our own which will keep English players here and still be able to attract quality overseas players, with touring countries the most likely supplier of many of the overseas players for the tournament. The creation of a county based Twenty20 Dual League format of 9 sides per division and therefore 16 matches per side would be a good start. Determining who starts in which league could be based upon each sides record in Twenty20 since it’s inception with the 9 most successful sides starting in division one, from which the top four sides would progress to a finals day to decide an overall winner, with the two finalists participating in the Champions League. Meanwhile the top two sides in the second division should be automatically promoted, while the third placed team should face a home play-off against the third bottom team in the first division, with the fourth placed team facing an away play-off against the fourth bottom team in the top division. This would help to maintain competitiveness throughout the entire round of sixteen matches in both divisions, with the majority of sides still having something to play for come the seasons end.
This format would not lead to overkill, given that currently each side plays 10 matches minimum, with the possibility of 3 more matches (Q/F, S/F and Final). A limit of four overseas players per side should be set with the extra gate and television money being used to finance these signings and England players should be allowed to participate, with the gap between English Summer International Series being made greater to allow the new all inclusive Twenty20 League to be played in the five weeks across mid-summer, from the last week of June until the end of July. The first set of three Test matches, five ODI’s and two International Twenty20 matches could be played from the second week of May through to the third week of June, whilst the second set of four Test matches, five ODI’s and two International Twenty20’s could be played from the beginning of August until the third week in September. Meanwhile the Pro40 should of course be culled to free up more space in the domestic programme. The proposals are not unworkable, but flexibility will be required.
Twenty20 cricket is undoubtedly popular and as such needs to cater to demand. We must not get carried away with it and flood the market, but we do need to respond to the IPL and the increased demand for it. Our answer needs to be sustainable and attractive and I believe that the above competition would be. It needs to feature England's best players and the above format could do. There is space in the calendar for such a competition if we simply shuffle the international series roughly two more weeks apart. Touring country's players could often provide a lot of the season's overseas players with it being positioned in between series and would provide a good warm-up or warm-down for such players. The County Championship format should not be touched, the number of Test matches should not be reduced, but the Pro40 can be sacrificed, a small increase can be made to our current Twenty20 competition (which would also make it fairer, rather than regional) and England players can take part and earn some more money, because fans will pay more to see them and more of them will turn up to watch them.