A popular meme on the social networking site Facebook defines the Indian Premier League as a T20 tournament where seven teams fight amongst each other to decide which one of them will play against Chennai Super Kings in the final. In a similar vein, it won’t be a misnomer to call the Champions League an extension of the IPL, where a few T20 teams from around the world hassle to play against the IPL heroes.
Although the tournament was initially conceived as a battleground for champion T20 teams from across the world, within a matter of years – like in most other things related to cricket administration worldwide – India have taken upper hand in the scheme of things. So, as it stands now, in a single edition of the tournament four of the twelve teams can be teams from the IPL. With England having declined participation since 2012, the tournament now remains mainly a three nation affair involving India, Australia and South Africa. While teams from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and New Zealand usually find themselves going through the qualifiers, a team from the Caribbean Islands is almost a certainty in the main round.
But, no matter how much narrowed down the tournament might get, as long as it is played on Indian soil and features IPL teams, packed stadiums and high television rating points won’t be difficult to garner. The Indian television viewers, who now seem to be at the centre of global cricket broadcasting, will undoubtedly enjoy the return of ‘T20 Nights’ just ahead of the approaching festive season.
As far as the players are concerned big prize money is at stake. But even apart from that, for the young players from across the world, it will be huge experience to play in front of such crowds. Moreover, lesser known players stand a chance of grabbing eyeballs of not only the cricket-lovers but also of the IPL team owners and thereby landing up with fat pay cheques in the coming editions of the IPL. The likes of Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine have done that already. For the likes of Daryl Mitchell (Northern Knights) or Niroshan Dickwella (Southern Express), this will be a huge opportunity. No wonder that the Northern District players have arrived in India well ahead of their opening fixture in order to “acclimatize” to the conditions. It only goes on to show the level of seriousness with which this young team from New Zealand is considering the league.
Even for young Indian players like Kuldeep Yadav, Akshar Patel, Manan Vohra or Aditya Tare this will be another opportunity to showcase their talent. In the absence of Shakib-al-Hasan, the young ‘chinaman’ bowler Kuldeep might be thrust with big responsibility by the KKR management. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the added pressure.Talking about pressure, someone who has already responded well to that is Akshar Patel. It was his performance in the IPL that saw him end up in India colours in the ODIs against Bangladesh. However, T20 is a cruel game where once you start leaking runs it gets extremely difficult to pull things back. Akshar will be aware of that. So will be the likes of Vohra and Tare. If they can prove that their batsmanship is not only about the occasional flashiness and momentary brilliance, their nascent careers will get a huge boost.
For perennial ‘India probables’ like Robin Uthappa and Wriddhiman Saha, performance, or the lack of it, in this league might not be of any major significance but fans would love to see them score. The ‘ever-promising’ Uthappa surprised all and sundry with his consistency in the IPL, which eventually handed him the orange cap, and KKR the trophy. A failure in the Champions League might just mean a re-surfacing of jeering tongues. The more unfortunate Saha – unfortunate to be playing cricket around the same time as MS Dhoni – would love to grab whatever opportunity comes his way after that scintillating hundred in the IPL final.
And then there will be players who might not put much store on the tournament but the very prospect of watching them wield their crafts will be mouth-watering for the afficionados of the game. Not that he would have played any differently had it been a tournament of greater import, but a short T20 tournament without much at stake might just bring the best out of Virender Sehwag. And if that be the case, Indian cricket lovers will have a gala time for the next few weeks. Other veterans who are no more part of their respective national teams – like Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh, David Hussey – might just grab the chance to ignite the remaining bit of fire within them. And then there are some forgotten names like Yasir Arafat, Neil Mckenjie and Justin Kemp. Viewers will be hoping that they do something worth-remembering this time around.
Among the teams, not all look very well balanced, though. Most of the non-IPL teams have suffered heavily with some of their major players choosing the IPL sides over the home teams. Barbados Tridents without the services of Dwayne Smith, Kieron Pollard and Shoaib Malik will be a hugely depleted side from the one that won the Caribbean Premiere League earlier this year. Kolkata Knight Riders, the IPL champions, will consider themselves more unlucky to lose some of their key players like Morne Morkel and Shakib-al-Hasan to injury and disciplinary issues.
However, teams like the Cape Cobras from South Africa and Perth Scorchers from Australia have a settled look around their teams. Both the teams boast of a few explosive all-rounders in the likes of Robin Peterson, Jean Paul Duminy, Adam Voges and Mitchell Marsh. All match-winners on their day they can singlehandedly take their teams to glory.
Among the Indian teams CSK, as always, look formidable. If Suresh Raina, arguably the best T20 batsman in the the world, continues from where he left in the IPL, bowlers will be in for a torrid time.Dhoni would just hope that his foreign recruits do not let him down at crucial moments. King XI Punjab, on the other hand, already has a batting line up to envy; if their bowling manages to do a decent job and the management somehow finds a way to fit in Thisara Perera, the trophy might well be theirs.
The surprise element, however, might come from a team from Pakistan, the Lahore Lions. Consisting of international players like Mohamed Hafeez, Naseer Jamshed, Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal, Wahab Riaz and Aizaz Cheema, it is a team to be wary of. Although it is currently going through the hurdle of the qualifying phase, one only hopes that they appear in the finals, for both cricketing and non-cricketing reasons. A good show from them will surely send a strong message to the IPL team owners and the BCCI, who seem to be doggedly determined not to allow Pakistani players to take part in the money-spinning league. If that happens, cricket will be the winner.
But we will have to wait for a few more days to find that out. Till then, let civil wars breakout in Indian homes over the control of the television during the prime time. ‘T20 Nights’ are back.