Champions League T20
Champs: Acid test for T20
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer, previews the Champions League Twenty20
Champions League Twenty20 logo (File)
Cape Town – These are suddenly slightly hesitant times for Twenty20 cricket, only a handful of years back hailed by many as spectator-appeal salvation for the game.
Surprise, surprise, the almighty clamour to schedule matches in the format has only led to too much chocolate cake, as it were, quickly bringing on fits of nausea and lethargy.
Perhaps not unrelated to tawdry revelations of “spot-fixing” in one-day cricket – and the Test game seemingly far from exempt – only some 4 000 spectators reportedly went through the gates for the second T20 international between England and scandal-rocked Pakistan at Cardiff on Tuesday. Ground capacity? Around 15 000.
It is, of course, very late in the extended English season and the nights have ceased to be balmy, which hardly helps.
Now a not dissimilar backdrop faces the second Airtel Champions League T20 tournament, starting on Friday with a Wanderers match-up between the Lions, one of two South African franchises playing, and IPL luminaries the Mumbai Indians.
After all, early spring is not yet fashionable cricket time for many South Africans, some of them still nursing limp wallets after the soccer World Cup and battling merciless cost-of-living issues into the bargain.
The general climate of cynicism around cricket as a whole right now will hardly help, despite a particularly vigorous, undeniably impressive marketing drive by the CLT20 organisers and Cricket South Africa.
Excited press releases along the lines of “Wayamba arrive in SA!” have flooded media organisations: you’d swear Messrs Iniesta, Messi, Robben and Ronaldo were due in the country anew.
Jokes aside, of course, many of cricket’s genuine box-office names will be gracing the 16-day, 10-team event: surnames like Tendulkar, Muralitharan, Hayden, Hussey and Malinga require no deeper information to lure fans, and a decent chunk of South Africa’s best cricketers ought to only add to the appeal.
The big challenge will be to generate strong television ratings – the Indian-hosted debut for this tournament last year fell short of expectations – and get bums on seats to matches not involving the Lions or Warriors.
A strong dose of double headers should aid the process, but will there be a meaningful stadium “vibe”, for instance, when Mumbai Indians play the South Australian Redbacks in a standalone match at Kingsmead in mid-tourney?
Naturally T20 cricket’s core, pretty youthful devotees want to see sixes galore and electrifying chase-downs of totals in the vicinity of 180 or 200.
Whether early-season pitches at the quartet of South African venues to be used – Wanderers, Kingsmead, St George’s and Centurion – will facilitate such slog-fests rather remains to be seen.
Indeed, the tournament may involuntarily tickle the fancy of some “purist” cricket enthusiasts because good, orthodox batsmanship (think Kallis, think Dravid, think Jayawardene) may be required to step to the fore at times on strips that could either err on the side of slowness or offer some spitefulness in bounce and seam movement when conditions are moist and nocturnal.
Those factors certainly came into play at a roughly corresponding time last year, when South Africa hosted the 50-overs ICC Champions Trophy.
Trying to tip winners of a multi-national jamboree in the chaotic environment of T20 is a bit like predicting the outcome of an ant race: you really have little clue.
It can come down to such matters as which players arriving at the Champions League have been turning out with some consistency in the lead-up – several South Africans, brushing off winter layers and cobwebs, may find it hard to hit the ground running (or read: time their strokes sweetly) in this format after very little prior “middle”.
But home-town knowledge will spur the Lions and Warriors’ cause, especially the vagaries of winds and weather as summer waits to take any pronounced root.
The game of cricket could do with some good cheer. With a bit of luck – and it may need a lashing or two of that – the CLT20 will deliver on that front.
There is a widespread theory, after all, that this “club” level of the game is the area T20 should be focussing on for its sustainability, rather than potentially over-killing the biff-bam by retaining international contests in the code as well.Here are some unashamedly random observations, in alphabetical order, about the 10 participating teams:Central Stags (New Zealand)
Some sexy surnames: Er, OK … Sinclair, How
General: Not a prolific start on the sexy surnames front, eh? Veteran batsman Matt Sinclair and captain Jamie How are familiar Black Caps, but a name like George Worker suggests exactly that of the New Zealand visitors: they’ll be workmanlike and adhesive and possibly sport a retro moustache or two. But they probably also won’t bristle with T20 “wow” factor … losing Ross Taylor to his Indian franchise was a bit like a lorry spilling its whole consignment of champagne on a pass.Chennai Super Kings (India)
Some sexy surnames: Dhoni, Bollinger, Hayden, Hussey M, Raina, Muralitharan, Morkel.
General: Ah, that’s better. No shortage of swashbuckler appeal here. (Few IPL-based sides are low on bling, are they?) They have in their ranks some true legends of the game and still others who hit a very long ball. Will Albie Morkel’s bowling continue to be a noticeably dodgy link in his otherwise barnstorming makeup? Or has he come up with an off-season “plan”? This tourney may start to tell us.Guyana (West Indies)
Some sexy surnames: Sarwan, Deonarine, Chattergoon, Dowlin.
General: Yes, only Ram Sarwan of those four looks even vaguely suited to the pantheon of West Indies legends one day. South Africa’s tour of the Caribbean earlier in the year only underlined the Windies’ broad, hapless slump. But at least T20 has introduced some renewed sense of oomph to the region … even if the trees were planted by a crooked benefactor! Squad names like Foo and Bishoo suggest someone is about to catch a cold. Can Guyana be “hotter” than that here? The jury’s out.Lions (South Africa)
Some sexy surnames: Petersen, Alexander, McKenzie, Vandiar, Van Jaarsveld.
General: South Africa’s Standard Bank Pro20 runners-up haven’t exactly raked in the trophies in recent years. But the Lean Machine is showing new buds of “Meanness” at last and might use home advantage to sneak a semis spot if they play a little above themselves. Craig Alexander is expected to be brisk, Jonathan Vandiar and Jean Symes bring youthful zest to the batting and Neil McKenzie and Zander de Bruyn offer balance at the crease through rich experience -- and recent county form.
Mumbai Indians (India)
Some sexy surnames: Tendulkar, Duminy, Singh, Malinga, Pollard, Bravo.
General: If you haven’t heard of Sachin Tendulkar then you are visiting our planet from Pluto. And is JP Duminy going to resume his quest to be the next big thing after a pronounced blip? Kieron Pollard is over-rated, I say … now watch him start the event with a six-ball 36, of course. All three IPL sides should be competitive, but remember these will not exactly be Indian belters …Royal Challengers Bangalore (India)
Some sexy surnames: Kumble, Dravid, Kallis, Taylor, Steyn, White, Uthappa.
General: They’ve made their rightful steal-back of Messrs Taylor and Kallis from enemy Champs League teams – at a not-to-be-sniffed-at price – which suggests they mean business. And indeed they may well be the business, when you examine the various prongs to their fork. Dale Steyn will be skiddy and slippery as ever under lights. I know I wouldn’t fancy taking guard …South Australian Redbacks (Australia)
Some sexy surnames: Manou, Ferguson, Tait, Christian.
General: Speaking of wobbly knees at the crease, who relishes a dose of big, enigmatic Shaun Tait on strips not yet guaranteed to be 100 percent true? He was timed to have bowled the second-fastest ball ever this year, and will try to go one better, I’m sure, in the thin Highveld air. Callum Ferguson is back on our shores after several decent knocks in Australia’s losing ODI cause in 2008/09. Few Aussie sides are walkovers.Victorian Bushrangers (Australia)
Some sexy surnames: Hussey D, Hodge, McDonald, Nannes, Siddle.
General: Bryce McGain’s back! Remember him? He is the luckless leg-spinner who debuted for the Baggy Greens against South Africa in the dead-rubber final Test at Newlands two seasons back and was smacked all over the place as the Proteas ran riot in their lone required innings of 651. His figures were 18-2-149-0 and he has not played for the Aussies since. Will he have the yips for the Bushrangers? We’ll see. But there are other high-quality names here, and the Victorians could go a long way.Warriors (South Africa)
Some sexy surnames: Botha, Ntini, Boucher, Ingram, Prince, Theron, Tsotsobe.
General: South Africa’s T20 champions, and boasting pretty formidable depth these days – even without the Royals-poached Kallis. They play four matches in front of their not-quiet Port Elizabeth support base and that alone is a major tonic if, indeed, the locals flock through the turnstiles in droves. Bowling depth is a special feature; there ought not be too many freebies on offer to rival batsmen.Wayamba Elevens (Sri Lanka)
Some sexy surnames: Jayawardene, Maharoof, Mendis, Mubarak, Herath.
General: There is no questioning the pedigree of some of the Sri Lanka internationals who fortify Wayamba. The big question is: how will they adapt to local conditions, especially if the nights are chillier and windier than they are used to? The national team, after all, has a dicky record on these shores. I don’t see them as semis material.