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By Partab Ramchand
Following the stupendous success of the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa three years ago the experts had warned that the ICC should not kill the goose that lays golden eggs by organizing too many such games. But cashing in on the craze for cricket's newest, shortest and most exciting format not unexpectedly there was an alarming increase in the number of such matches. It just has to be a case of too much T20 that diluted interest in the just concluded Champions League for realistically speaking there was much to admire in the tournament.
The inaugural edition of the Champions League in India a year ago had its own share of bouquets and brickbats but there were more of the former and less of the latter. Even a hard-to-please critic like Peter Roebuck gushed about the 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 seemed hard to believe especially from one of the stern critics of various aspects of the game. But he actually found support from many quarters. For example I remember that both Simon Katich the captain of New South Wales Blues and Stuart Clark an important member of the victorious team 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 cherish.
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.
Much the same words can be said about the second edition of the tournament and as a veteran cricket observer who has been closely following the game for more than half a century and writing professionally on it for over 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. The cynics may say that like last year the TRP ratings were not very encouraging. All the same it must be said that the Champions League saw much of the razzle dazzle associated with T20 and those who preferred not to catch the action really missed out on something.
That said I must admit that the spark associated with last year's event was missing this time. Perhaps anything new, anything fresh catches your fancy that much more and the inaugural edition of any tournament has to occupy a special place in the minds of cricket fans. Remember the sensational impact that the IPL created the first time around? There was much to enjoy in the just concluded tournament by way of fine performances, close, pulsating finishes and high octane action all of which is the hallmark of this brand of cricket. But somehow something was missing and I have to put it down to too much T20 cricket. Yes too much of a good thing can be counter productive.
The original theory that Twenty20 cricket is all slam bang with batsmen having their way while bowlers are like lambs to the slaughter has long been quashed. And the Champions League demonstrated in no uncertain terms that bowlers can enjoy a fair share of success. What was particularly gratifying was to see spinners share the spoils along with pacemen. Chennai Super Kings taking the field for their league game against Warriors with two off spinners in Muthiah Muralitharan and Ravichandran Ashwin and a left armer in Shadab Jakati along with the part time spin of Suresh Raina thrown in was a sight that pleased the connoisseur no end.
While batsmen rose to the challenge and played innovative strokes to almost outrageous levels – an essential aspect in this abridged format – we also saw spinners have their way weaving webs around the batsmen, harrying them incessantly and helping their team to win matches while defending modest totals. Ashwin and Murali ended up as the two leading wicket takers in the tournament and this was perhaps the ultimate recipe for Chennai Super King’s success.