Saturday 13 October 2012

Why and How the Champions League format needs to change

I'll start out by saying that I love the concept of the Champions League T20.

There needs to be more focus on domestic cricket, because that is a much more reliable way of growing the game than trying to grow it at the international level. Strong clubs/provinces will pick up players from lesser nations, and give them a chance to develop and succeed. A couple of examples of this from football are George Weah, who is from Liberia, but managed to win a Serie A title with AC Milano and obtained significant recognition for his skills that would not have been possible if he had only been playing for Liberia (who only twice even managed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations during Weah's 19 year career.

Likewise the New Zealand football team managed to go unbeaten in the 2010 Football World Cup, mostly thanks to a solid defense of Winston Reid, who had learned his football playing for a Midtjylland in Denmark, Ryan Nelsen, who had played for DC United and Blackburn Rovers Tommy Smith from Ipswich Town and Ivan Vicelich who had played for Roda JC and RKC Waalwijk in the Netherlands. It is hard to imagine those three players being as compotent if they had just played domestically in New Zealand, for the likes of North Shore, Christchurch United and Auckland City. New Zealand had such a solid defense largely due to the strong club nature of football.

The problem I have with the current Champions League is that it is not a fair competition.

Firstly every first class team is not able to compete, secondly the rankings are arbitrary, and not result based, thirdly the competition is set up in a way that has to much of an element of luck involved.

The Mountaineers from Zimbabwe won the Stanbic Bank Cup quite comfortably. But that is as far as they can go, despite having at least 7 current or former international players in their squad. Likewise the Dhaka Gladiators won the Bangladesh Premier League, contain 9 international players, but were not invited to the tournament.

The rankings are completely wrong. Every time Trinidad and Tobago have been in the tournament they have finished ahead of the South African teams and at least one of the Australia teams. Every time there has been an English team there, their top team has finished ahead of the second South African and Australian team. And yet South Africa and Australia get two teams in the main draw, while the English and West Indian teams need to qualify. This ranking system is ranking teams on how much money they can pull in, rather than how good they are. That is inherently wrong.

The third problem is with the tournament structure. The nature of T20 cricket is that the best team does not always win. However they will win more games over the course of a series. This makes it difficult to have a fair system that is concise enough to not drag on for months. However the current system is far from fair.

The big problem is the qualifying stage. A three team single round-robin is possibly the worst way to decide qualification imaginable. To demonstrate this I ran a simulation using the Pakistani domestic results from the last 3 years. I chose Pakistan because they were the competition that had one team being the most dominant.

The Sialkot Stallions have a formidable record. In the last 3 years they have lost only one match in the Pakistani competition. They have averaged 8.35 runs per over in that time, while their opponents have only averaged 7.23 runs per over. In a fair competition they should almost always make it through the group stages.

The only time they didn't win was the time where Pakistan also used the 3 team single round-robin method of qualification.

I took the Sialkot Stallions' results and then made 3 other teams who were all significantly less strong, but roughly equal to each other. They were all roughly average for other Pakistani teams. I then ran a simulation 1000 times. First with a 3 team single round robin, then with a standard 4 teams pool, where two go through. (if anyone would like a copy of the simulation that I used, just email me)

In the first option (3 team single round-robin) Sialkot went through 62.4% of the time. This means that they missed out in more than one in 3 of the tournaments, despite being a vastly superior team. In the second option, (4 team standard group) Sialkot went through 786 times. This meant that they missed out only 21.4% of the time.

With these numbers the 3 team single round-robin was 76% more likely to eliminate the best team.

I believe that the 3 team single round-robin should be avoided at all costs. Here is the format that I would like to see:

Teams: 3 from India. 2 from Australia, South Africa and England. 1 from West Indies, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. This makes 15 teams. The extra team then is either the team that won the previous competition, or if they already qualified the next best team from their country. For example, the last champions league winners were the Mumbai Indians. Mumbai lost the elimination final in the IPL, so they were effectively 4th overall. Hence they qualify for themselves. If instead RCB had won the final of the Champions League last year, then they would have gone through instead.

This then results in 16 teams. If we were to then have 4 groups of 4, going into 2 groups of 4 then to semis and finals we would need to play 39 matches. The matches could be played 3 per day for the initial round. (One morning, one afternoon and one night, with one double header and one played at another stadium). The second group round could be played 2 matches per day, and then (following a rest day (which would probably be used for travel for some teams) semi-finals and finals.

The whole tournament would easily fit within the 20 day window that the tournament has been using so far, and could even be squeezed to 16 days. (This would require the use of 2 stadiums that are quite close together - like Lords and the Oval, Chandigarh and Mohali, Centurion and the Wanderers, Eden Park and Seddon Park. etc)

It would also be a much fairer system. Each team would have exactly the same mountain in front of them. If anyone can win 8 in a row, they win the cup. In the current system Yorkshire could win 6 in a row, and only be in the semi-finals, where if (for example) KKR win 2 and lose 2 they could also potentially make the semi-finals. Something doesn't seem right about that.

So that's my take on the Champions League. Eventually I'd like it to get to a system where the champion from each country go through, then the next 6 are based on performance at the previous Champions League. So a team coming in the top 6 qualifies an extra spot from their country. (Similar to how the Basketball World Championships work.)


  1. Must confess Michael this is one of the most rational criticisms of the CL T20 format.Since the tournament started i have been bored of all the criticisms coming at it without providing an alternative format which you have provided.Most of these have been english commentators with one particular called the Middle stump taking his hatred to the CLt20 to the extreme and comparing BCCI and indian society to the apartheid regime !

    Coming back to the format you have suggested i completely agree to the abolition of qualifiers.Any team which is a champion of its domestic league should get an automatic entry into the main competition.Hence the 16 team format you have suggested is the only workable solution and i agree on that.I am not so sure about the scheduling method of having 3 matches in a day.It may or may not work but could be made workable keeping the time zones of participating countries in mind.Still an option to be considered.

    I have a different opinion on the 16th team.Maybe the top ranked associate member country like ireland or afghanistan could be invited to the tournament.Associate countries have very little chance of playing against the member countries and playing in the CLt20 may provide them with that option.Would like to hear your opinion on this.

    Again thanks for the constructive criticism provided in the article.Would seriously suggest you to send it to the CLt20 organising committee for consideration.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment. The option of an associate team is one I'd considered. However I think it's better to leave this to club/regional teams, and encourage then to pick players from associate nations. I think that will mallee the competition more legitimate and will be better for the development of those minor teams.

  3. The biggest problem with the CLT20 is that it isn't actually structured to develop domestic cricket globally, it is structured to give IPL teams another chance to milk the cash cow. That is the way of all international cricket at the moment, growing the game plays second fiddle to entrenching the power of the major nations, primarily India, England and Australia.

  4. Alex, I don't actually have a problem with tournaments run to raise money. However a good tournament should raise more money than one that is organised badly. The ICC said that they wanted T20 cricket to be aimed primarily at domestic cricket, to allow the counties, states, provinces and franchises a chance to make money. If the tournament was organised properly it would result in a wider audience, and hence more money for the top teams.