Champions League semi-final preview, or, Elvis has left the stadium

Submitted by Rick Eyre on October 21 2009, 11:00 pm

"What I have seen in India is Bollywood, whereas we are more Under Milk Wood. If you compare the match we played against the Deccan Chargers the spectator experience was like an Elvis Presley concert. I think back to Twenty20 finals day at Edgbaston and it was like watching Des O'Connor."

- Somerset CCC chairman Andy Nash, as quoted by Nick Hoult, The Telegraph, 19.10.09

As I was sitting in the coffee shop this morning listening to a recording of Elvis singing "Can't Help Falling In Love With You", I was thinking of two things: (i) What has Mr Nash been smoking? and (ii) the Twenty20 Champions League has indeed been more interesting than I had expected. And not just because New South Wales and Victoria were hours away from meeting in the first semi-final at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi.

Twenty20 is such a blink-you'll-miss-it game that it's hard to take form or reputations seriously. Ask the England team beaten by Holland in the World Twenty20 last June. But there is a clear message in the failure of all three Indian franchises - the Deccan Chargers, the Delhi Daredevils, the Royal Challengers Bangalore - to reach the final four. And franchise is the key word.

The four semi-finalists - New South Wales, Victoria, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Cape Cobras - are all established organisations. They represent an established and well-defined area (which, in the Cobras case, is a five year-old merger of Western Province and Boland), they play and train together most if not all year round, and they are selected and nurtured on merit. The Chargers, Daredevils and RC's are soldiers of fortune. The money on offer is extremely compelling, and the individual talent on display is at times awesome, but the team bonding is where?

And home town advantage? The Deccans, across the 2008 IPL and the 2009 CLT20, have played nine games at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Hyderabad. They've lost all nine. For all the spectator interest and support in this Champions League, the Royal Challengers, Daredevils and Chargers may as well have been called India Blue, India Red and India Green - except those names were already taken.

I don't think Twenty20 is the all-dominating future of cricket - my views have barely changed since I saw New South Wales' first Twenty20 home game in January 2006. I do, however, think that city-based cricket teams, rather than the present state-based associations, probably represent the future of Indian domestic cricket - but encompassing all forms of the game, all levels, both genders. The current IPL franchising system, where teams are little more than expensive fashion statements for movie stars, is not good for the game, and not good for the prospects of Indian teams in a global Champions League.

None of this explains the ultimate failure of the two English county representatives. Not even Chad Keegan's shark-fin haircut could help Sussex score a victory, while the Dylan Thomas XI peaked early with their one-wicket win at the Elvis concert. And nothing in the realm of human existence can explain the Otago Volts.

But it was the Wayamba Elevens, from north-western Sri Lanka, who highlighted the vagaries of the T20 game. Thrashed by the Daredevils, then knocking off the Victorian Bushrangers in perhaps the "upset" of the competition. Then off home, thanks for coming, cheque's in the mail (and well worth it thank you very much!).

And so to pick some winners in the semi-finals. Seriously, any one of the four remaining teams could win the title, and the online betting agencies reflect this view in their odds at the present time. Of the four bookmakers I checked, New South Wales are tournament favourites at the range from 2.75 to 3.00; outsiders Cape Cobras range from 4.25 to 4.75.

I'm going for New South Wales to beat Victoria on the dodgy Delhi pitch tonight, and the joyous Trinidad and Tobago to take the sting out of the Cobras on Thursday night. Then, it will be the Blues on Friday night in the greatest match in Champions League Twenty20 Final history!

Finally, to take us out, here's the King himself performing "Can't Help Falling In Love With You". Is this what you had in mind, Andy Nash?