So long, Champions Trophy

Sport24 columnist Antoinette Muller (File)
Sport24 columnist Antoinette Muller (File)
Swapping the Champions Trophy for a Test championship is daft

It took 15 years, but the ICC Champions Trophy eventually became something people seemed to quite like. Eight teams in a short, sharp and slick format which will now be laid to rest as a 20-over shootout which never should have happened in the first place. It might yet splutter back into life in zombified confusion in a few years, though.

The tournament started out as something which was meant to grow the game in smaller countries and it was called the ICC Knockout when it first started in 1998. It was called so again in 2000 and then changed to the Champions Trophy in 2002, but it took until 2006 before the ICC realised that short and sharp is what’s needed in an ever-growing gluttonous diet of international cricket.

It will now be put to rest to make way for the ambitious Test Championship, provisionally scheduled for 2017. That tournament will have just four teams in it and the ICC still has to convince broadcasters that it’s a good idea.

When the idea was initially hatched, it was due to be played this year until the ICC realised that it had a commercial obligation to stage the Champions Trophy and that broadcasters were pulling their noses up at the thought. And they are still pulling up their noses at the thought. Cricket is a commodity now and it needs to be made attractive to those who make money from it. A Test Championship isn’t very attractive to sponsors and broadcasters. The way to decide the participants is also a bit absurd.

The four top teams will square off, going by the current rankings, this year would have featured South Africa, England, India and Australia. While it’s hard to argue against three out of those four teams being the top of the crop, what about the sides who have a slim chance of making it into the top four spot, who might never get a chance to play in such a tournament?

Until 2017, when the Test Championship is scheduled for, the current Future Tours Programme is skewed heavily in favour of England and Australia. Both sides will play over 30 Tests, with 15 of those Tests being between each other. India will play 28 while South Africa play a paltry 22. Even New Zealand have managed to squeeze in 31 Tests. It probably won’t see the Black Caps edge themselves into the top four, but it still makes for some confusing scheduling. Managing so many nations and ensuring equal playing opportunities for all is doubtless difficult to get right, but the blatant discrepancy between the two sides is a disgrace.

Bangladesh and newly instated Zimbabwe play just 16 and 14 Tests respectively. With such a bare schedule, even if they suddenly manage to produce a team of players who can beat everyone they play against, it’s unlikely that they will claw their way into the top four.

Growing nations will struggle for the opportunity to share in the Test Championship glory meaning that the quaint notion of generating more interest in the longer format of the game does nothing but ostracise smaller nations by making the sport more elitist. Let’s not even get started with how associates are treated, that’s a column for another day.

If the focus is growing the game in already established countries, competitions like the Champions Trophy are a good way to do so. All Test playing nations have the chance to make it into the top eight of the ODI rankings and, in turn, allowing everyone to benefit from the revenue and the exposure it has to offer.

The Champions Trophy could return, the ICC has hinted, but for now it remains shelved and that is a massive shame.

Of course it had its faults, with no reserve days scheduled for either the semi-finals or the final and the last match being reduced to 20 overs to decide the winner of a 50 over competition.

The ICC, at the last minute, decided to adjust the playing conditions and add on an extra hour to the playing time to ensure they get a game out of it. A bizarre decision which now leaves one wondering if this can now be applied to other games and if one-day internationals can now carry on until 2am, provided the lights are working? Nobody will ever really know the answer and, while it was a shame that the final of such a fun and enjoyable competition ended just short of a farce, no tournament is perfect.

Even those who have a severe dislike towards one-day cricket could find some delights in a slick competition that took a while to develop - but will now be laid to rest wondering what could have become of it.

Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly about soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will have her...

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.
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