An overdose of anything leads to mediocrity and lack of interest. Administrators have been accused for some time in trying to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs with respect to Twenty20 cricket and the ongoing Champions League in South Africa is a case in point.
Coming immediately after the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka, it was inevitable that the competition would draw only lukewarm interest and the fare itself would be second rate. It is impossible for cricketers to maintain a high level of play when there is too much cricket whatever the format and that has come through clearly over the last fortnight. Even the elements seem to be against the conduct of the tournament with as many as four no-results thanks to wet weather.
Former Australian captain Ian Chappell who believes in calling a spade a spade has rightly come out strongly against the current scheduling in a recent article. The ICC Future Tours Programme is governed by T20. Every time a tournament in this format is announced it affects the functioning of the FTP which is unwieldy as it is.
Chappell in fact has gone as far as advocating that one of the three formats should be dropped if the mushrooming growth of Twenty20 is not restricted. This has been the subject of much discussion ever since T20 became ragingly popular. The cynics have raised questions about the continuation of Tests and ODIs.
But whereas it is unlikely that cricket’s traditional format will be dispensed with, the more viable solution would be to considerably reduce the number of ODIs for a start. I have always believed that the three formats can survive side by side but the scheduling should have the proper balance.
Actually a reduction in the number of tours, tournaments and matches would help for the schedule for some years now has been marked by feverish activity all over the cricketing world. Staleness creeps in among the cricketers for it is impossible to maintain high standards of play continuously over a lengthy period.
Then there is the issue of fitness and the number of players suffering injuries - serious or otherwise - is quite a problem and a direct result of too much cricket. After all there is only so much a human body, however fit, can take. That is why, now and then, you have players giving a particular tour or competition a miss though the cynics will see the monetary aspect behind this decision.
All these unpleasant aspects of the game have been driven home by what one has seen in the Champions League. Whereas the T20 World Cup saw the game’s newest and shortest format in all it glorious best, it has been diametrically opposite in South Africa.
It is not that the teams do not have stellar names. After all, the competing sides are the leading club sides in their respective countries and some of the participants are the leading names in world cricket. But somehow the tournament has not caught the cricket follower’s fancy in any big way.
The staleness is there for all to see and to make matters worse the matches have generally not lived up to the reputation of T20 which is supposed to produce pulsating games, last over and last ball finishes, perhaps even being decided by the Super Over. So many of the games have been woefully one-sided, the results have gone along predictable lines and the tournament from any angle has been a negative advertisement for Twenty20 cricket.
It is to be hoped that the semifinals and the final will produce cricket more in keeping with T20’s reputation and the tournament could still have a rousing finish. But that will not solve the problem of too much cricket and a scheduling that has gone haywire. As it is, next year will see the final edition of the Champions Trophy and few will mourn its demise.
When it was first played in Bangladesh in 1998, the enthusiasm was terrific and Wisden hailed it as "a tremendous success." Over the years interest waned, Wisden’s keenness turned to cynicism and by the time the fourth edition was held in England in 2004, the almanac was terming it as a "a terrible tournament, ill conceived and ill executed."
For the next edition in India in 2006, the verdict was that it was "the unwanted stepchild of international cricket." If the proper steps are not taken more such competitions could meet with the same fate and that includes T20 too. The authorities cannot afford to be smug about this. They would do well to remember that ODIs were a craze in the 80s and 90s but now the lukewarm interest in this format is there for all to see.
Cricket is fortunate to have three formats instead of just one as was the case till about 40 years ago but this also calls for a balanced, methodical approach by those running the game. Sponsorship money is important but it should not be the only criteria.