The final edition of the Champions Trophy is troubled by an old foe, yet again!
In 2000, the ICC Knockout trophy was thriving and making all the right noises. Into its only second edition, the tournament was a welcome getaway from the long-drawn gathering that was the Cricket World Cup.
The quaint surroundings of the Nairobi Gymkhana Club and New Zealand’s triumphant campaign provided the neutrals further reasons to rejoice in the 13-day African jamboree. The match-fixing issue, unearthed earlier in the year, still pricked cricket’s conscience and the event seemed to have considerably embalmed the wounds.
India found two men of promise in Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh, who made their ODI debuts in the pre-quarterfinal against the host. The team was weakened and stung by the match-fixing controversy and captain Sourav Ganguly exorcised the ghosts significantly by taking it to the final.
At the end of the competition, cricket could look forward to better times. So could the ICC Knockout trophy.
The latter’s dream was, unfortunately, fragmented in a couple of years’ time. The biennial competition’s format underwent a cataclysmic change. The origins of the tournament’s demise, which sees it being organised for a final time this month, lie in that decision.
The event shed its knockout character to make way for a league-cum-knockout setup. This followed the arrival and, most importantly, a longer stay of teams like the USA, Netherlands etc. Consequently, there were more insignificant contests.
ICC, enveloped by some mystery affection to the idea of promoting the sport in uncharted territories, just ended up creating a tournament that, wait, wasn't too different from the World Cup! It was the same old thing, just played more often.
The three subsequent editions were held at regular intervals. The 2002 tournament ended with the horror of a rained-out final on two consecutive days. The following event was largely damp, only lit up by West Indies’ thrilling win over England in the final.
In 2006, Champions Trophy arrived in India and became insignificant. It says a lot about the tournament when its greatest talking point, even after so many years, remains Sharad Pawar being shoved by Ricky Ponting after receiving the silverware.
The competition then didn’t return until 2009 due to the terrorism-created insecurity in Pakistan, which was slated to play host the previous year. In terms of a spectacle, 2009 saw the Champions Trophy touch its nadir. The tournament was about nothing, which is a pretty bad thing if it’s not a show called Seinfeld.
Again, most contests lacked thrill value and, well, Australia lifted the trophy one more time.
Four years later, the competition now hopes to leave a positive impression while being sheepishly ushered on its way out by the cricketing fraternity. In 2000, match-fixing’s shadow hung heavily over the tournament. Now, it’s spot-fixing.
Over the past 13 years, cricket’s journey has been pock-marked by numerous blows to its reputation. The latest blow, arguably, runs the deepest.
The Indian team is led by a captain facing serious charges of conflict of interest. Its fans can certainly be forgiven for letting cynicism and scepticism overtake their passion for their team. Though the rest of the side is not suspected to be involved in any of the wrongdoings, the players’ enthusiasm for the IPL clearly militates against the revelations on the murky dealings within the tournament.
And now, we have another case of corruption in cricket with Bangladesh’s Mohammad Ashraful admitting he was involved in match-fixing.
The speed at which these disclosures have been thrown at the public is unsettling. To assume the depravity runs deep would not be an impulsive assessment. Cricket does need to wash its dirty linen and that too under the suspicious gaze of the public.
The Champions Trophy, unfortunately, will begin on Thursday under this unmoving gloom. It didn’t do too badly in almost similar circumstances 13 years ago. Now, it would do really well to bring back the pleasantness to the sport.