What the Champions League needs is a ‘Best of the Rest’ team. Part of the reason for the falling viewership has been the lack of home heroes to support. No Tendulkar, no Harbhajan, no Yuvraj translates into no fanatical interest in a tournament that pits the almost best Twenty20 club teams from around the world against one another.
And since increasingly Twenty20 teams are bound to be scratch combinations bringing together an opening batsman from one country, a couple of middle order players from another and a spinner from a third and so on, a slot can easily be found for a ‘Rest’ team that will contain players whose club sides do not qualify.
This could be an international team, with players from different countries in the Twenty20 tradition (hardly a couple of years old, and we already speak of a tradition!), or a ‘Rest of India’ side as was popular in the old Pentangular days and survives today as a permanent team in the Irani Cup, playing against the Ranji Trophy champions of the previous season.
If international, we could see the likes of (assuming everybody is fit) Pietersen, Flintoff, Jayasuriya and so on in a team with Indians, or if not, we could have had a team this year comprising Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Harbhajan, Dhoni, the two Pathans and others.
The idea of a world tournament – even one involving clubs and not national sides – is to have the best players participating. This is good for the game, good for the gates and good for the television viewership which makes the difference. While the Champions League was being played, the Indian players were involved in the fairly meaningless exercise of the Challenger series which, now that it is named after a former Board President seems likely to remain on the calendar for the benefit of the fringe players.
When the national team to play Australia in a seven-match one-day series starting later this month is chosen, it will be interesting to see if there will be a surprise selection from among those who played in the Challenger series. If it was such an important tournament, it should not have been played alongside the Champions League; and if the argument is that it was a platform to display 50-over skills, then why put the players in the Twenty20 Champions League at a disadvantage before national selection?
If – as some, including players are arguing – the shorter game is a stepping stone to the one-day international, then we only have to remember what India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said about harbouring such a misconception. In the hierarchy of formats, there is Twenty20, the ODI and Tests. To assume that a good performance in the Twenty20 would automatically lead to a place in the Test squad is as silly as to assume that someone who makes a test match century in five hours is the ideal candidate for the shortest version of the game. Still, it is possible for the average test player to adapt to Twenty20 than it is for the traffic to flow in the opposite direction.
Yet these are early days, and perhaps in future, the Champions League could be tweaked to bring in the real champions of the format – the individual players, rather than the teams. The format which was introduced so fans could support their local sides seems tilted in favour of the individual regardless of which team he plays for. It may be an unintended consequence, but the marketing men can take advantage by introducing a ‘Rest’ team.