From money-spinner to damp squib

Cricket Champions Trophy: Teams will be eager to emerge winner in the last edition of the tournament, starting today

From money-spinner to damp squib

The Champions Trophy, which was always treated like an unwanted child among ICC events, will be abandoned once and for all after the current edition beginning here on Thursday.

Caught between calls for protecting the supremacy of Test and the onset of an extremely addictive Twenty20, one-day internationals have been increasingly losing their relevance because of inherent lacunas in the format. Notwithstanding the numerous tweaks in ODI playing conditions to make them more attractive, there has been little progress in that direction.

It, therefore, comes as little surprise that the Champions Trophy, formerly known as the ICC Knockout Trophy, will be the first casualty as the world governing body looks to trim the packed international schedule.

Started as a money-spinner in 1998, the biennial event had all the trappings of becoming a popular fixture in the calendar. The format is compact and only the top eight teams in the world compete for the title. There is no fear of lopsided affairs or mismatches, at least on paper. Yet, the fact that it will be consigned into history is a bit ironic.    

It’s difficult to pin-point any particular reason for the failure of the tournament to take off. Though officially it is touted as the second most important event in the ICC calendar, it never attained the desired success. In a way, its official status as the mini-Word Cup, became its undoing. With the World Cup being the ultimate prize, neither the teams nor the fans took the Champions Trophy too seriously.

To draw a parallel, it’s a lot like Duleep Trophy in the Indian domestic calendar. The longer-version tournament, which has just five teams derived from each zone and consisting of the best players in the country, has slowly lost its importance over the years even as the long-drawn, inter-State Ranji Trophy continues to remain the primary event.    

Also the hap-hazard scheduling, with total disregard to weather conditions, did little to help of the cause of the tournament. There was no bigger shame than the fact that even after two days and 100 overs, the final between India and Sri Lanka in 2002 couldn’t be completed.  

The last event held in South Africa, perhaps, was the final straw that forced the ICC to shun its baby. In the last six editions, though, the event witnessed some poignant moments, none being more so than West Indies’ title triumph at The Oval in 2004. The Caribbean victory over hosts England in the final was as popular as their win over Sri Lanka in the World T20 final last year.

Interestingly, this is the only ICC event that New Zealand, ever the underdogs, and South Africa, always among strong favourites, have won. While the Kiwis defeated India to lift the trophy in 2000 in Kenya, South Africa were the champions in the inaugural edition in 1998 in Bangladesh. The event in 2000 was special for India for it threw up two of the most talented players -- Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan.

On its last legs, the tournament could see some serious following for that very reason. India, joint title holders along with Sri Lanka in 2002, will want to be the undisputed winners. If they manage to do so, they will become only the third country after Australia and the West Indies to have won all the ICC events. Also, this is the only trophy missing from skipper MS Dhoni’s impressive CV.

South Africa, without the likes of Jacques Kallis and Greame Smith, will look to shed their chokers’ tag under AB de Villiers and outgoing coach Gary Kirsten. Australia, the winners in the last two editions, aren’t the same force but can’t be ruled out from completing a hat-trick of wins. Pakistan, always dangerous and unpredictable, would want to add the trophy to their World Cup and World T20 wins while the West Indies appear the most equipped side to land the spoils.

England, the only top cricket-playing country to have won no ICC title, will be keen to end that long drought in their backyard. But their performance against New Zealand in the one-day series has been hardly encouraging. Kiwis have shown they can excel in these conditions with their impressive performance against England while an inexperienced Sri Lanka can prove a tricky customer.

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