Aiming to go the football way

To make the football connection complete, the evergreen Anil Kumble trains with a football!-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Recently the Champions League Governing Council Chairman Lalit Modi spoke about “the need to have the Champions League on the lines of football’s UEFA Cup” and it was obvious that cricket’s shortest version was picking up brand-building cues from the ‘beautiful game’, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

The imagery and its reference points could not be missed despite the breathless hype and frenetic cricket that the Airtel Champions League has unleashed on us over a week. Before every match, teams assembled in a line and the rival captains exchanged jerseys in a move that smacked of protocol that preceded Europe’s famous football league games.

Recently the Champions League Governing Council Chairman Lalit Modi spoke about “the need to have the Champions League on the lines of football’s UEFA Cup” and it was obvious that cricket’s shortest version was picking up brand-building cues from the ‘beautiful game’. Messrs. Modi and Co., are keen to spread the willow game around to expand the market and to ensure that the ‘gentleman’s game’ thrives. Their thought-pattern is evident — what better way than Twenty20 and its leagues to grab attention in a shrinking world of two-minute noodles and speed-dating?

Modi, however, is quick to point out that one should not expect T20 to spread cricket’s gospel in an instant around the globe. “The football leagues in Europe have a 100-year history and it takes time to build these brands,” Modi said. Rahul Dravid added: “In Europe, fathers pass their season tickets to sons and that kind of fan-following is passed across generations but it is still early days out here and we need to wait.”

The football shadow might linger, but Modi said that spreading the game will initially take precedence over profits. “We are not here to make money, we are here to make the Champions League a global entity. We want even countries like Russia and Japan to get a feel of the game through live telecast,” Modi said. Champions League is many things to many people. For someone like Anil Kumble, the league presents an opportunity to display his competitive fires while for a domestic cricketer, it is all about proving that he can rub shoulders with the game’s best. “For me playing Twenty20 is critical as these are the only games I play though I got to admit that it takes that much longer to get over defeats. Earlier when you are an active cricketer you play non-stop and there isn’t much time to brood over losses or celebrate victories,” Kumble said.

Cape Cobras captain Andrew Puttick said that the Champions League presents an opportunity for domestic cricketers to learn more. “It will encourage domestic teams all over the cricket-playing world to give their best because the top two teams from each country will get a berth in the Champions League,” Puttick said.

The leagues — both IPL and Champions — might build new cricket brands but the large money involved is bound to truncate careers. When asked about whether he would opt for a freelance role like Andrew Flintoff, West Indian allrounder Dwayne Bravo said: “It all depends on the context and situation. It is an individual choice. It is a choice you make based on where your career is headed and how you see it finishing. I don’t have an answer right now and I need to think over it.”

It is an irony that is not lost on anyone. Twenty20 is supposed to energise cricket but it also has the ability to cannibalise One-Day Internationals and Tests as viewers hooked to a multiplex-culture and reality shows, like their cricket to be over in three hours. Meanwhile, Modi said: “Test cricket is the ultimate.” It’s a truth and a cliché that everyone utters, but it remains to be seen whether the International Cricket Council and the game’s various stake-holders will genuinely strike a balance between all three formats of the game.