The Champions League, currently taking place in Bengaluru and Chennai, is not the sort of tournament that would ordinarily attract my rapt attention. It is brash, sparsely attended, accompanied by frantic and partisan TV commentary and is so lopsidedly in favour of the Indian IPL franchises as to make a mockery of the notion of a level playing field.
Furthermore it has been almost completely ignored by the British print media who seem to have boycotted it on principle. But, against all the odds, it has produced some of the most startling and entertaining cricket ever seen in the shortest format of the game. And until yesterday’s astounding and successful last ball run chase by Bangalore in possibly the greatest T20 match ever played, almost all the excitement has been generated by non-Indian teams.
First there was Trinidad & Tobago who, having qualified for the main event with ease from a mundane group, contrived to lose two matches they seemed certain to win despite on one occasion scoring only 98 runs. Were it not for the normally brilliant Darren Ganga’s brain freeze when he allowed a single off the last ball that turned inconceivably into two against Mumbai, it would be they instead of India’s golden boys, going through to the semis. Packed with anonymous spinners such as Badree and Narine, supported by anonymous all rounders like Kevon Cooper and led by the West Indian Brearley, their performances indicate that the Caribbean may finally emerge from its 15 year slump to challenge at international level once more.
The Aussies too have had their moments. Warner’s 135* off 69 balls was up there with the very best T20 innings of all time. Shaun Tait’s 5-32 in a losing cause against RCB along with Harris’ ton in the same game were cruelly (but spectacularly) overshadowed by the madness of the finale.
An almost impossible to credit seven games have been decided off the last ball with a further two going to the penultimate ball. And of course the Saffers have choked when in sight of victory; which is always fun.
But amidst all the insanity, one team’s achievements deserve to be praised to the heavens. For, whatever happens to Somerset in their outrageously re-scheduled semi-final in Chennai against Mumbai, they have confounded the tournament’s in built bias against them.
They resemble an Amish exchange student who, taken to the end of year party by his truculent and unwilling host, ends up shagging the prom queen.
You may recall that they were required to qualify in the first place. After all, who would think that a team from England (World T20 champions and no.1 test side) would be worthy of a place in the main draw? These qualifiers clashed with two meaningless T20 fixtures against WI so Buttler and Kieswetter were unavailable. In addition, Kieron Pollard, the gazillion dollar man, was required by Mumbai and so unavailable for Somerset.
They were then placed in a group with Auckland and Kolkata from which they weren’t expected to progress. But, in a thrilling last ball finish they knocked out the Kiwis and trounced a KKR side featuring Kallis, Brett Lee, Shakib al Hasan, Yousuf Pathan and Ryan ten Doeschate.
Remember that Somerset play in an 18 team domestic league in which talent is necessarily diluted unlike Australian sides. County teams are far from prosperous. Even the ones with test grounds couldn’t dream of a wages bill even a fifth the size of their IPL counterparts. And Somerset do not have a test ground. Shorn of their best players through illness (Tresco) and unavailability, they have relied on unsung young British talent (Snell, Waller, Compton, Gregory, Suppiah, Dibble – “who?” I hear you cry), buttressed by aging foreign journeymen (Van Der Merwe, Thomas, Murali Kartik) and only lately supplemented by Kieswetter and Buttler. They have lost only once in five completed fixtures, the best win/loss ratio of any side in the tournament.
And now, in a final desperate bid to be rid of them, despite finishing top of their group they must now travel to Chennai to play in unfamiliar surroundings against Mumbai so that RC Bangalore can benefit from a home tie they do not deserve. Yup, both IPL teams get to stay where they are despite finishing second in their group. The winners, NSW and Somerset, must move to accommodate this blatant attempt at securing a home winner.
Ordinarily such a transparently gerrymandered tournament would not deserve our attention. But what is unfolding in India right now is nothing less than the sporting equivalent of Revenge of The Nerds crossed with the Battle of Isandlwana. Ultimately it will probably end up OK for the Indian superpowers. Bangalore’s batsmen are finding their feet and Somerset will surely wobble in sight of the finishing line. But for a day or two at least, let’s revel in the triumph of the irritant.
If you would like to avoid hearing Ian Chappell ascribe moral degeneracy to English batsmen’s use of the sweep shot, join us live for audio ball by ball coverage of the semi-final between Somerset and Mumbai on Saturday 8th October starting at 325pm..