Matthew Hayden is not the first person to point out that it is time to bid goodbye to the Champions Trophy. Three years ago, when it was India’s turn to host the tournament, they tried to convince the ICC that the tournament served no purpose . The Board knew that a bilateral series could raise more money; it was less trouble to organize, and there would be no ‘pointless’ matches, the bane of the Champions Trophy format.
The tournament has served its purpose. It may have been significant at one time, but the conditions under which it was born no longer obtain. When Jagmohan Dalmiya was President of the ICC, he mooted the idea of what was then known as the ‘mini-World Cup’ in 1998 for two very good reasons. The World Cup was not yet an ICC event, and the plan was to make some money for the governing body which would own the new tournament. There was too the noble idea of spreading the game beyond the Test-playing countries.
Thus Dhaka and Nairobi played hosts, but by 2002, that ideal was abandoned when the tournament was held in Sri Lanka and then in England. By 1999, the World Cup became an ICC tournament, after it had previously been managed by the respective host countries. Television rights had made the pocket money the ICC earned from the Champions Trophy irrelevant. Twice in recent years, the Champions Trophy was held just five months before a World Cup. It was like going through the motions to satisfy the international calendar.
And now there is an additional format. Twenty20 is more likely to directly affect the 50-over game rather than Test cricket. In the next decade, it is conceivable that only two forms of the game will exist, the oldest and the latest.. That is the best way for the sport to survive – to have the two formats as different from each other as possible. Fifty over cricket is a compromise in this scenario, with neither the ebb and flow of the one nor the perpetual excitement of the other. In fact, the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent might well be the last; it is difficult to see the format surviving till 2015. Twenty20 is set to change the way the sport is viewed.
Television rights could, of course, alter that equation. When ESPN signed a contract for a billion dollars, it took in the next two World Cups and three Champions Trophy tournaments. It would be silly to keep a championship alive merely to fulfill a television contract. On the other hand, ESPN have a right to receive what they pay for or be compensated for it. If the Champions Trophy is seen as the lesser evil, it will continue to be kept alive artificially.
The core of Hayden’s argument (apart from a window for the IPL to “build a fan base” for the sport) is that there are too many meaningless matches being played round the year in the shorter format. A four-year World Cup cycle seems ideal, but a two-year cycle for the Twenty20 World championship might be overkill. While the ICC contemplates the frequencies, and the efficacy of a world Test championship, the Champions Trophy is a distraction, merely adding to the workload of the players.
Despite the spin given to it (“preparation for the World Cup” is one theme, “something to look forward to between World Cups” is another), it has not succeeded in capturing the imagination of the spectators. The previous tournament in India left the fans unmoved, and that should have been warning enough.