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     Volume 5 Issue 115 | October 6, 2006 |

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The Trophy Without Any Takers

Nader Rahman
Celebrating a damp squib

The much-criticised Champions Trophy starts from tomorrow. It is, as many put it, a money spinning event, which merely adds to the unflattering schedule of non-stop cricket. There is a sense that cricket has reached its saturation point. Hardly a day goes by without some international fixture; what is even worse is that no one can be directly blamed. The respective cricket boards blame the International Cricket Council (ICC) for their punishing schedule, while the ICC rightly points out as soon as there is anything more than a two-week break, the cricket boards organise a bilateral series or tournament which falls outside the ICC approved schedule. Case in point was the recently concluded DLF cup in Malaysia featuring India, Australia and the West Indies.

While I do agree with the ICC that every nook and cranny of a calendar year is filled with tournaments that fall outside the ICC schedule, I also sympathise with the cricket boards who claim that plying nine Test nations on a home and away basis over six years is just too much cricket. On top of that if one adds the World Cup, then quite rightly so the Champions Trophy will remain the joke that it is. Currently it is a tournament that no one really wants; it comes right after summer in the northern hemisphere and early spring in the southern hemisphere. Rightly so that is traditionally a time when most international teams take a little time out, to gear themselves up for the next season. If even that time is taken up by another meaningless ICC sanctioned tournament then where is the international cricketer to turn to?

It is ironic that this year's Champions Trophy will be the first time that dope tests will officially be performed on two random players from each side. The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) has come to the party and now cricket will join the ranks of cycling and athletics and a host of other tainted sports, to be under the cautious eye of WADA. With the current tour schedules and non-stop cricket all year round, endurance-enhancing drugs will slowly make their way into cricket. It only makes sense, if one is always on tour and every performance is scrutinised by a host of TV channels and half-witted commentators, that there will be extreme pressure to perform, that too at high levels on a daily basis. Eventually, I believe that it will lead to widespread drug usage by the cricketers. Then again the blame game starts, the ICC will blame the boards and the boards will blame the ICC. Here I will stick my neck out and say the ICC is more at fault, they seem willing to organise tournaments like the Champions Trophy and soon the Twenty World Cup without taking into account the fact that those tournaments simply do not generate interest amongst the public and their respective countries. They are also missing out on the bigger picture, that by arranging tournaments during the traditional off-season, the burden they put on the players is immense. That burden may bear fruit in the years to come, with a massive drug scandal. The international cricketer is constantly under the spotlight; to keep up his levels of intensity and endurance throughout the year is a tough task, especially when the governing body arranges cash cow tournaments seemingly every year. This will merely push the next generation into over drive and they will eventually fall to the lure of performance-enhancing or even designer drugs to maintain some semblance of mind, body and soul.

The Champions Trophy needs to be revamped; it has become the cricketing version of the Carling Cup in football. The bigger teams see it as just another tournament and send in their youth teams, while for the smaller teams it means silverware as well as a place in European football. Very simply, the Champions Trophy means nothing to top eight Test teams, maybe the West Indies care but that's only because they are the worst of the lot and they are the defending champions this time around. But to Bangladesh and Zimbabwe it means the world, that is equally ironic because this time around it is more than likely that they will not even feature in the main draw. The only difference between the Carling Cup and the Champions Trophy is that in the Carling Cup the big teams send out their youth squads and everyone knows it; in the Champions Trophy when one even suggests that a youth or under strength squad will be sent that cricket board is threatened by the ICC. That happened to Australia earlier this year, when they said that they were toying with the idea of sending an experimental team for the tournament, only to get a mouthful from the ICC. Now it seems like the ICC has a say in what teams will be selected, maybe next they will announce who will win the toss and which team will bat first.

Victorious, but who really cares?

The Champions Trophy will never be a major draw in the international scene, firstly because of its timing and secondly because of format. The format has changed innumerable times with this year being the most shambolic. The bottom four nations in the ICC One Day International (ODI) standings will play each other once, with the two best performing nations heading for the proper group stage of the tournament. The whole tournament is spread out over a month when the World Cup is just six weeks long. If the ICC are to stick with keeping this a major tournament then they will have to streamline the schedule, and make it a knock- out competition like the first edition in Bangladesh, which held eight games in nine days. Every successive competition has been larger and far less attended than the first. Even then some people will still call for the tournament to be scrapped altogether, and I am not against that idea at all.

If that were to be the case then the ICC could use the tournament as a youth and associate member tournament. If matches could be taken down to first class status and each of the 10 Test playing nations could send their A teams, possibly with an age cap of 25. Along with the A teams, they could invite the top six associate member teams and then over an extended period of time organise a schedule that would give everyone a fair number of matches and for the associate members it would be fantastic practice. By doing so, the youth systems and players on the verge of their national teams will be given a chance to shine, by still representing their country; along with that the associate member teams will have the opportunity of a lifetime by competing with national level cricketers. This also gives the main teams time off from their gruelling schedule, as well as promoting new talent.

Alas, my suggestions will probably fall on deaf ears, and this year's Champions Trophy will take place amidst great pomp and pageantry. This meaningless tournament looks set to continue. If only the ICC could wake up and smell the discontent. Wisden once described the competition as "the tournament that veers between being the second most important in world cricket and a ludicrous waste of time". No points for guessing what I think of it.



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