22nd May: Sunrisers v Rajasthan Royals, 14:30 GMT
24th-28th May: 2nd Test, Headingley
Albeit a year late, when the first ball is bowled in the 2009 Champions League T20, world cricket will have taken a new step into the unknown. Now it is a somewhat tried and tested unknown for T20 cricket has already established its identity, and fan base for that matter, across major cricketing markets in the world. But what brings the unfamiliar part to the table is that different teams from different parts of the world will compete for the honors.
The English can stake a claim that they first tested new waters with this shortest format of the game and have led to a sort of revolution. But it is the Indian Premier League that probably has the right to say that they created a storm with a foreign idea and have sailed the same storm, now as a solid ship for two years. This tournament though is another test for the same vessel, though the challenges are pretty different. For one, gone is the familiarity with the teams that we have seen built from scratch in our on backyards, it is the unpredictable identity of the teams in the fray that has to arouse the crowds again!
It is an exciting mix that is the Champions League T20. Almost all players know each other and have played against each other, but in different circumstances. Even then what to expect is something that will need ample time to ponder as the stakes are high. A simple case in point here; Jean Paul Duminy recently faced Ajantha Mendis in the Champions Trophy, at home, and was beaten mercilessly by the guile of the spinner. He will be wary of him all over again but only this time he also has the unheard of Wayamba Elevens to contend with. Can any one say that this team from Sri Lanka cannot go on to claim the prize?
Something similar can be said of Otago who hail from the land of the Kiwis (and the Elves). Or for that matter the Caribbean team, Trinidad and Tobago. Can you ever underestimate a cricket team from that part of the world? We have seen a wee bit more of Sussex and Somerset; we know that New South Wales and Victoria will play the ruthless cricket that Australia are known for; and we can even hope to see the Cape Cobras and the Eagles from South Africa play around as strong contenders but maybe will choke by the time the knock-out stage arrives.
The teams, that maybe the best known are the three Indian teams, and that is not just by the fans but the opposition alike. The reasons as afore mentioned being that the whole world has watched them being put together piece by piece. Add to that, some of the players from these teams have returned to their national domestic teams which mean that chinks-in-armor will be divulged in full. Why these three teams, Delhi Dare Devils, Bangalore Royal Challengers and Deccan Chargers, may still be the favourites is because of the knowledge of the local conditions.
The prominent weakness, as revealed by Bangalore coach Ray Jennings, is that these teams do not get together for more than two months in a year. Yes, jelling on-off could be big trouble but try telling that to the franchise owners who have paid the big bucks and they will kick you where it hurts the most. Mr. Jennings may have already given the home teams a good enough excuse, so here’s hoping that they do not have to give that in the end.
For there in lies the biggest test of this tournament. True, the Indian masses have taken to this format like the proverbial fish to water, but then again the IPL has the same stars that they worship, day in and day out. Most of them will be missing in action over the course of the next two weeks, so the administrators will be hoping that new heroes rise to the occasion and pull the people in. Maybe another Brendon McCullum kind of innings is needed right at the start and every one will breathe easy. The stage is the same for the first match, Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, so fingers are crossed for some déjà vu.
Hearing Lalit Modi speak on the eve of the first game – he seems perennially excited – about taking this tournament to the level of the UEFA Champions League, that maybe a target too high, yet. Before anything, cricket is going through an identity crisis at the moment and needs to find a global pedestal like football, all at the same time. The first problem might just have been solved with a good Champions Trophy in South Africa showing that there is place for all three formats of the game still, and the second can take flight from the preceding thought, if this inaugural edition turns out to be a roaring success. We will know in two weeks!
© Cricket World 2009