The cricket caravan rolls on and on from one competition to another and from one country to another. Last week it was the fourth edition of the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka. This week it is the fourth edition of the T20 Champions League in South Africa. There seems to be no limit to the appetite for cricket lovers the world over or for those backing the game's newest and shortest format or playing it. There are innumerable sponsors, the TV ads are incessant and there is non-stop media coverage with even the minutest detail being discussed by a panel of experts as Twenty20 has apparently evolved from slam bang cricket to a game of strategy and tactics.
As one who started following the game in the days when only Tests were played and we were glued to the radio commentary, when there were regular seasons when cricket was played and yes, there was an off season that lasted some months I am flabbergasted at the hectic scheduling that everyone associated with the game these days has to put up with. It's a year round game now but no one seems to mind what with the kind of money and glamour at stake and so the jamboree continues.
There is also no doubt that T20 is the dominant format of the game these days. The number of tournaments the world over, the mushrooming of various T20 leagues and the almost maniacal following it has among everyone - players, administrators, sponsors, media, fans - has meant that is in the 'in' thing these days even as the cricketers themselves may parrot loudly that there is nothing like Test cricket, that the traditional format is the ultimate test. For those who dole out the huge amounts of money it is only the slam bang variety of the game that matters. When the bubble will burst is anyone's guess but at the moment T20’s popularity is at its zenith. It rules cricket much more than Fifty50 when that format was at its peak in the 80s and 90s.
And so for nearly 20 days the focus and the discussion will all centre on the happenings in the Champions League which has been gaining in popularity with each passing year. New South Wales won it in the inaugural year in 2009 but over the next two years two teams from India - Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians - inscribed their names on the trophy. The qualifying rounds have just been completed with Auckland Aces and Yorkshire having made it to the main draw. Much was made of the participation of a team from Pakistan, the Sialkot Stallions but they have been eliminated at the qualifying stage itself. The others who didn't quite make the grade were Hampshire, Trinidad & Tobago and Uva Next from Sri Lanka.
The tournament proper commences on Saturday and there are 10 teams in the fray. Leading the challenge are four teams from India, Delhi Daredevils, Chennai Super Kings, this year's IPL champions Kolkata Knight Riders and the holders Mumbai Indians. England will be represented by Yorkshire while Australia's representatives will be Perth Scorchers and Sydney Sixers. The Titans and the Lions will represent the hosts while Auckland Aces will carry the New Zealand flag. The participating teams are in two groups with the top two from each qualifying for the semifinals. The final is scheduled for October 28.
Both groups promise to be closely contested. While group A consists of Kolkata Knight Riders, Delhi Daredevils, Titans, Perth Scorchers and Auckland Aces, group B will have Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians, Yorkshire, Lions and Sydney Sixers. As we have seen in any T20 tournament it is next to impossible to correctly predict the winner given the unpredictable nature of the format.
This is even more so in the case of the Champions League for with the best teams of each country taking part picking the champion side at the start of the tournament would be an exercise in futility. Every team seems to be equally matched and balanced in all departments of the game and even the chances of the two qualifiers cannot be ruled out going by their performances at the preliminary stage. Moreover with each team playing four matches one bad day at the office may not lead to its elimination at the group stage.
The only thing that can be safely predicted is that the tournament will be marked by a high level of cricket, pulsating contests, thrills and spills, last over and last ball finishes, perhaps with the odd Super Over thrown in as it further cements the raging popularity of Twenty20 cricket. Oh yes, and the following will be over enthusiastic while the TRP ratings will be sky high since cricket fans just can't have too much of T20 at the moment.