Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Ninth Post : Go Away Champions Trophy ... Nobody Cared About You.

Now that the champions trophy has played its last gasp of its last game EVER perhaps its time to take a look back over its history, its origins, where it went wrong and why nobody really cared about it.
Don’t believe that nobody cares about it, well by way of proving how little people care about it I could tell you that south Africa won the first champions trophy in its inception year to shed the reputation of being perennial chokers at important points in world tournaments and New Zealand have also won it to shed their reputation of being perennial semi finalists in world events ... but nobody would believe me if I did say it, and the ones that did wouldn’t care. But first, some background …
It all started with the best of intentions (or at least the best of intentions that the I.C.C. ever manages). Back in 1998 the I.C.C. decided to add a second multi nation One Day International cricketing event to its schedule. The outward reason was to promote cricket in developing markets and use the money raised during the tournament to pump back into cricket in the nations below full member level, increase funding to emerging nations, increase exposure, increase promotion, increase involvement and spark the public perception/awareness in these countries. Introduce an injection of cash to help infrastructure and also give a phillipe of interest to the general public.
Growing and nurturing the game to a newer, bigger more global audiences.
But it was mostly to provide another stream of revenue during non world cup years to the ever increasingly money hungry governing body.
The world cup brings a huge amount of money into the I.C.C. treasury and its growing every event. But the world cup event is only once every four years. Something was decided to bridge the down-time between cash cows and the ‘Champions Trophy’ was born into existence.
The ‘Champions Trophy’ has always had a tough time gathering people affections for it. Not blessed with having the prefix ‘World’ attached to it and not actually being a ‘World Cup’ has seen it start from behind the balk line from the start. Easy to overlook, easy to misunderstand and easy to not care about it has always been standing in the cold part of the shade cast from the world cup, overshadowed and overlooked.
Dressing it up as a promotional tool for emerging nations differentiated it from the world cup but making it an official I.C.C. event required all the full members to attend despite their reluctance at having another obligation in an already (even then) crowded calendar.
The compromise was to produce a short event and the “The I.C.C. Knockout Tournament” was held in the cricket mad and emerging nation of Bangladesh in 1998.
The nature of the knockout event meant that the entire tournament lasted only ten days and that every game mattered. South Africa won it and it is a reflection of how little this tournament meant or means to the world that this is never mentioned. Because nobody cares. Bangladesh (not being a full member at the time) weren’t even allowed to participate in an event they hosted.
Nether the less, the event did raise the profile of international cricket even further in their country. So mission accomplished, I suppose.
The second instalment of this event was held in Kenya as they had been identified as an emerging nation in need of some development assistance along the way. They at least were offered the chance to qualify for the event they were hosting by playing a qualifying knockout game against England. They lost and took no further part in the tournament.
New Zealand won it and as a testament to how little this means to world cricket it is never mentioned by them, or anyone, despite it being their only world tournament they have ever won. But nobody cares.
In 2002 a change of format and a change of name was hoped to bring some extra emphasis to a competition that nobody really cared about and the ‘I.C.C. Champions Trophy’ was born proper. Dropping the knockout format (one of the things that was exciting and imaginative from the original inception) to a more standard group stage and now expanded to include the 10 full members and two qualifiers from outside the test boundary it was billed as a mini world cup. Being dubbed a ‘mini world cup’ would in most cases be a boon but the champions trophy has only ever been seen as a lesser tournament. Because nobody cares.
Unfortunate timed to be played a mere five months before the actual world cup, and in the Sri Lankan monsoon season, led the tournament to be a damp squid (pun intended) and interest was limited. It didn’t help that rain washed out the final and also the reserve day for the final leading to a bizarre circumstance whereby 110 overs were bowled, over two days, and still a full one day international was not achieved.
This led to the ‘Champions Trophy’ to be shared by India and Sri Lanka, and ironically the ‘Champions Trophy’ failed to produce a champion.
It was also during this competition that the focus started moving away from being a kind of ‘Goodwill Games’ for the associate and developing nations to a more mainstream (and bland) tournament.
Two associate nations were invited to play in the group round of this version and Kenya and the Netherlands made the best out of the opportunity afforded them, but the focus had changed from helping to develop/promote cricket in these countries (imagine the benefit The Netherlands would have gained if this had been played in their backyard) to merely inviting them to play a couple of games against the big boys. And as soon as this tournament was over the talk about how there were too many boring games against smaller nations clogging up the group games started.
2004 it was England’s turn to host the event and they did everything they could to make it a forgettable and dreary event. From scheduling it deep into September to not really promoting it with enthusiasm. The rain showed up in abundance and did a good job of making sure the spectators didn’t. Kenya and America were the developing nations invited to play along this time and both failed miserably to capitalise on the opportunity either during the comp (both getting knocked out without a good showing in any of their games) or after it (both failed to use the event to promote cricket in their home countries and both have fallen down the world rankings since this event).
The only good thing to come out of this event was the West Indies winning it and talking of how this was the beginning of a resurgence in west Indian cricket and not just another false dawn. (It was another false dawn by the way.)
In 2006 the tournament was moved to India and only the ten full members were invited. The move away from helping emerging nations and inviting developing nations into the fold is now complete. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if the money raised from these events ceased going toward associate nations too.
Australia won it. Nobody cares.

The 2008 edition was due to be played in Pakistan. It was cancelled. Nobody cared.

In 2009 South Africa held the event. Australia won it. Nobody cares.
The rise of Twenty/20 cricket and the ubiquitous tournaments they produce including the every 2 years (on average) world Twenty/20 has seen the misunderstood, unpopular and unnecessary champions trophy being cancelled for good after the 2013 edition in England. (India won it. Does anyone care? Nope, didn’t think so.)

The last edition was an invite only event for only the top eight teams in the world.
This event has now changed so much from its original intentions that it is now excluding full member nations from its exclusive little club!!!
But the entire media were sold on the idea of exclusively having the top eight teams going at it, among themselves, in a short, sharp competition. It’s as if this is the only selling point it had to offer.
But I can’t help but think that the tournament has missed a trick in its farewell swansong by ignoring both its initial concept, that of helping develop cricket in emerging nations, and of not inviting them along to show how much they have developed since this concept was first conceptualised.
England held the 2013 event making them the only nation to have hosted the champions trophy twice but why England, the oldest and most developed of all the cricketing nations, was allowed to host something meant to be for developing nations once is a mystery, let alone twice, especially when there are three of the top four ranked developing nations right next door to it.
Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands form three major emerging nations, as far as cricket goes, and between the three of them could have easily held a tournament of the size and stature like the ‘Champions Trophy’. The exposure gained would have been invaluable and the excitement raised could have carried participation rates upward for many years afterwards. Just the sort of thing the ‘Champions Trophy’ was invented to do.
There could even have been a concession made that England gets to hold the final of the event, spreading the good will around, making it truly a ‘land’ of cricket.
The fact that this was never even considered shows a lack of forward thinking and missed marketing opportunity by the I.C.C..
Even if this type of promotion of the game was unthinkable to the I.C.C., who these days seem intent in keeping cricket as closed a club as possible, perhaps a quality warm up competition could have been incorporated.
The invited top eight could have played a warm up round against the not invited full members (Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, who, I’m sure, would have loved to be involved somehow and not ignored outright) plus the top six emerging nations from outside the test fold. At current rankings these six teams would be Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, Afghanistan, Kenya, and the U.A.E..
By grouping two major nations against two developing nations and splitting these groups across four nations eg. Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands and one more European nation… nominally France, would have given the build up to the tournament a proper zing to it (do you think Bangladesh or Zimbabwe would be happy about being left out of the tournament proper? You’d expect some hard edged cricket from them, even if it was only a warm up game for the invited bigger nations.)

It would also have served as a litmus test to see how much emerging nations had developed since the inception of the ‘Champions Trophy’. The progress of Ireland and the development of Afghanistan have been the standout story from the emerging nations and they would have loved to have the chance to put up some good performances against full members before a competition they had not been invited to. I can't imagine any soft games given these conditions.

Before this recent edition of the champions trophy Ireland played two ODI games against Pakistan. They tied one and lost the other by 2 wickets pushing the Pakistanis close all the way, and yet there is no opportunity to show the world how far they have come by playing in the competition that is partly responsible for their progress.
To add further insult to injury, the few games that were played against the full members by the associates in the run up to this comp weren’t broadcast by any television station in any land, not being deemed important or interesting enough despite being awarded full One Day International status (the Ireland v Pakistan was broadcast via YouTube through cricket Ireland's home channel but the Scotland v. Pakistan and the Netherlands v. South Africa matches weren’t so lucky), meanwhile several of the unofficial (and not conforming to One Day International standards) warm up games featuring full member against full member were privileged to full broadcast from the might of Sky broadcasting.
Further evidence of a skewed perspective if ever there was one.
And so, the ‘Champions Trophy’ has finally been put to rest and out of its misery. Its good riddance for good. No more missed opportunities or ill advised changes to its fundamental concept. The ‘Champions Trophy’ is dead. Nobody cared when it was alive so goodbye, so long, and long may it remain dead. The full members will just have to find some other way to ignore the emerging nations.
The ‘Champions Trophy’ is to be replaced by a test nation championship. A championship that is exclusive to the test playing nations and that only the full members are invited to participate in. I’m sure that it will fare better

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