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An Identity Crisis CL T20

While Champions League T20 is being branded as the battle between the world's best T20 teams, it has proven to be nothing else but an extension of IPL that has failed to attract fans
 
FOR a team like Ruhunu, a berth in the Champions League T20 provided tons of motivation to win Sri Lanka's inter-provincial T20 tournament that concluded in August. However, its most famous son -- Lasith Malinga -- will turn out for the more 'celebrated' Mumbai Indians in this year's edition.


Chennai's Subramaniam Badrinath plays a shot in front of empty stands
during the 2010 CLT20 at Kingsmead Stadium in Durban. PIC/Getty Images


In many ways, Malinga sporting the blue and golden stripes is only good for business. But that's not where the disproportion ends.

When this ill-fated tournament had its very first edition cancelled owning to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, there were doubts in the fraternity if it would ever get underway. While it did kick off in 2009, decent TRPs (overall 1.36 TVR) have been confined to games featuring IPL sides, Central Districts (from New Zealand) revealed non-payment of prize money (for the second edition) in May, and the title sponsor pulled out recently.

Window in ICC FTP
Perhaps the only consolation came recently with the ICC providing the event a window in its Future Tours Programme (FTP). With the Indian team's debacle in England, one wonders if there would be any improvement in TRPs.

With host broadcasters ESPN Star Sports having paid a whopping $ 975 million to acquire the rights for the tournament, efforts are on from all quarters to make it a hit.

Most recently, the talk doing the rounds is that this tournament was devised purely to give more exposure to 'Brand IPL', hungry for TV space post hibernation.

Until last year it was almost a given that every IPL side -- that can so easily pay up the Rs 1 crore fee to retain a player also eligible to appear for another team -- will get its full squad.

For example, New South Wales would love to have opened its bowling with Doug Bollinger but that's reserved for the reigning IPL champions Chennai Super Kings. Ditto other international stars locked in by IPL teams.

This year, however, players, who will get paid a lot more playing for their respective IPL sides, were given 48 hours to advise organisers which team they would represent. The results? IPL teams still got the cr me de la cr me.

This year's event that would run from September 23 to October 9, could feature as many as four IPL teams (out of the 10 overall teams) if Shah Rukh Khan's Kolkata Knight Riders get past the qualifying round (September 19-23). Talk about a level playing field.

Could you imagine a situation where Lionel Messi is eligible to play for Barcelona and Liverpool going into a Champions League? What does that do to the identity of a club? Why not have some Indians (not playing CLT20) represent some of the other sides to make the event more competitive?

Shane Watson, who will play for home side New South Wales this year, could be playing for Rajasthan Royals next year. How will that help the brand loyalty of either side?

The history of sport, and of television, has shown that fans need clearly defined teams to express their loyalties. Given that, the future of CLT20 is uncertain.

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