Really, what is the point of cricket’s Champions Trophy?
It is a question which you are unlikely to hear presently. Not when the top eight cricketing nations have converged in the United Kingdom, just a few days away from the 2017 edition. Not when all players have turned up at pressers, expressing how excited they are to be playing the tournament.
But, shock and horror, it wasn’t too long ago when it was the Board of Control for Cricket in India (yes, the same ones who mulled a boycott of this edition) publicly shared similar sentiments.
“We want the tournament to be taken off the calendar in future,” the BCCI had said in 2006, unhappy at having to host the tournament that year. “The tournament is a financial burden on the country which hosts it. The ICC should organise just one main event, the World Cup, in an already overcrowded calendar.”
Unsurprisingly, the BCCI’s main bone of contention then was that they were forced to host and play in an ICC tournament when they could make much more money through bilateral series. Eleven years later, much water may have flown under the bridge, but that did not stop the BCCI from attempting to use the Champions Trophy again as a bargaining chip. Food for thought: if this was a World Cup, would the BCCI still have talked about a pullout?
World Cup or Champions Trophy?
But coming back to the original question that was raised in 2006. Amidst the glowing previews and the warm-ups, here is an important question: what is the point of this Champions Trophy?
Is the tournament supposed to crown the world champions, the undisputed rockstars of the One-Day International format? No, not really. That honour goes to the much-maligned World Cup, last held in 2015. So then, why have all the top eight nations come together to play in a tournament called the “Champions” Trophy no less?
Funnily enough, this year’s edition wasn’t even supposed to be held. The 2013 tournament was supposed to be the last one, with the Champions Trophy being replaced by a World Test Championship in 2017. But pressure from broadcasters won in the end and here we are again, back to play out a “mini World Cup” two years on from the actual one. It’s likely to continue as well – India is slated to host the 2021 edition.
Where’s the context?
For all the criticism it faces about overlong scheduled and flawed formats, the World Cup, as it deserves to be, is an iconic fixture in the cricket calendar. There is history about the event and a deep regard for feats achieved in the tournament. Think some of the biggest names in recent history: Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, Arjuna Ranatunga, MS Dhoni…and there’s an ever-lasting memory associated with them.
And it’s not just the big names. The World Cup is often criticised for being diluted due to the large number of non-Test playing nations, but sometimes they are the ones who provide the most heart-warming moments. Sri Lanka’s win over India in 1979. Kenya dismissing West Indies for 93 in 1996. Kenya reaching the semis in 2003. Bangladesh beating India in 2007. The joyous Ireland story.
In contrast, what do you remember from the Champions Trophy? Do you remember who won it in 2006? Or that it was held in 2009? Australia won both times, by the way.
It’s a sentiment which Ravi Shastri, a man hardly known for being diplomatic, shares. “Which event has so many world champions? What do you need Champions Trophy for? What are you trying to prove? Who remembers (who won them in the past)?” he asked, recently.
There’s the fanciful notion that the Champions Trophy is more competitive than the World Cup because it has the top-eight ranked teams. That is true, but the tournament takes it to another extreme, making it a lottery. Win four games and you win the tournament. Lose a game, or heaven forbid, have a match washed out, and you go home, left high and dry.
Don’t dilute the World Cup
The tournament was originally conceived in 1998 by the late Jagmohan Dalmiya to generate funds for associate cricket nations. The first two editions were held in Bangladesh and Kenya. Now, it’s become a meaningless tournament to add to the already busy schedule cricketers experience. And of course, another chance for the ICC to schedule as many India-Pakistan matches as possible.
This is not a typical leftist attack on capitalist revenue mongering. For cricket to be a global, international sport, finances and money are richly required. The ICC has, in recent times, taken laudatory moves towards providing context to an increasingly sterile global game with their Test Championship and ODI league proposals.
Now, they need to take that spirit of reform further. Have one flagship, iconic event for each format and build your sport around that. The World Twenty20 is fine, and there was talk of having a World Test Championship. The World Cup has been already been trimmed down to 10 teams. So why have another tournament with just two fewer teams? Scrap the Champions Trophy. As Shastri would say, cricket may well be the “real winner” as a result.