Anyone who raises doubts whether the Champions League was a successful tournament should just read what Peter Roebuck has written. The hard-to-please former Somerset captain, and currently a highly regarded columnist, has gushed about the just concluded competition terming it as "thoroughly enjoyable" and hailing it as "the most compelling event of its sort staged in recent years. Long may it last".
Such heady praise is hard to come by especially from one of the stern critics of various aspects of the game. But I am sure he will find support from many quarters. For example, both Simon Katich, the captain of New South Wales Blues, and Stuart Clark, an important member of the victorious team, have rated the triumph very highly. The novel concept, the correct duration, the interesting format and the engaging fare dished out by some of the leading players in world cricket all made it a tournament to remember.
The cynics might point out that the TRP ratings were not very encouraging. The die hard local fans might complain about the fact that the three Indian teams were knocked out before the semifinals, thus diluting the interest in the tournament. All the same, it must be said that the Champions League saw much of the razzle dazzle associated with cricket’s newest and shortest format and those who have preferred not to catch the action really missed out on something.
Like Roebuck, Graham Thorpe could not hide his enthusiasm for the Champions League. In his column, the former England batsman hailed it as "a priceless experience for the players’" and went on to add that the stakes were very high with there being a huge amount of pressure on every player because of the format, the money and the prestige involved. "The feeling of sheer pressure is something which you cannot coach into young players and for many of the guys this will be a unique experience which can only be beneficial. I definitely see the tournament as very close to international level and it represents a perfect platform for less-established county players to make a name for themselves," he said. And as a veteran cricket observer who has been closely following the game for half a century and writing professionally on it for 40 years, I readily admit that I was glued to the TV set during many matches which were marked by maddeningly fluctuating fortunes and pulsating finishes.
Tournament Commissioner Lalit Modi has been quoted as saying that he hopes to make the Champions League global, just as the IPL which, due to unusual circumstances, was staged this year in South Africa. According to him, the Champions League would be taken to non-cricket playing countries as a means to expand the game's reach and get other countries to embrace cricket and he would like to believe that on the way the tournament will result in the rapid growth of club cricket around the world.
Looking back on the inaugural competition, it must be said that it will not be difficult for Modi to achieve his objective. Despite the TRP ratings, the Champions League had much going for it. All the ingredients that have made Twenty20 so spectacularly successful and entertaining were intact. And the fact that the tournament was contested by 12 top club teams from seven Test playing nations added spice to the flavour. The keen contests, the several performances that enthralled the spectators who turned out in good numbers and the unpredictable nature of the format, all combined to make the Champions League a success. There is little doubt that the fortnight-long tournament was marked by 'cricketainment' – the phrase coined by the raging success of the IPL.
The Twenty20 format in which one over can change the entire complexion of the game makes pre-match predictions meaningless. But in the Champions League, given the different surfaces that were made available to the contestants, we saw several delicious contrasts. So, while on one hand we saw totals of 213 for four, 184 for five, 193 for four, 188 for two and 189 for five being notched up, we also saw teams restricted to totals such as 91 for nine, 98 for eight, 95 for eight, 84 all out and 90 for nine. Modest totals of 114, 118, 130, 144 and 149 were defended successfully; one match was tied with the teams scoring 119 each and there was increasing evidence that the batsmen were under as much pressure as the bowlers.
So much for the original theory that Twenty20 cricket is all slam bang with bowlers like lambs to the slaughter. Over the last couple of years we have seen this theory no longer valid, but the Champions League tore it to shreds. Increasingly bowlers have been enjoying a major share of the spoils in the format. The sight of Trinidad & Tobago going into their games with an off spinner, a leg spinner and a left arm spinner was one that pleased the connoisseur no end. While batsmen rose to the challenge and played innovative strokes to almost outrageous levels – a very important aspect in this abridged format – we also saw spinners open the bowling. And the fact that they spun webs around the batsmen, harried them incessantly and helped their team to win matches defending modest totals was something one would not normally have associated with Twenty20 cricket. Yes, it’s not just pace bowlers but spinners too have a major role to play in this format – a point driven home by the Champions League.