The Champions League Is Contrasting Visions Of The European Cricket'Future > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - Champions Leagues - contrasting visions for European cricket's future

The Euro T20 Slam has an impressive supporting cast signed up to join marquee signings

As Europe's remarkably venerable club competitions heat up in a sweltering continental end-season, the traditional flow of the European cricketing summer will be disturbed this year by the advent of not one but two new competitions; both international in scope, both drawing inspiration from football's Champions League, and both aspiring to be the headline competition of the European cricket calendar, albeit with very different visions of how to get there. The new Euro T20 Slam, the latest in a flurry of new franchise T20 leagues springing up across the Associate World, will bring global talent and attention to Europe when it kicks off in Amsterdam at the end of August. But today, in a few select municipalities at least, the focus will be on La Manga in Southern Spain, where the inaugural European Cricket League, a nascent continental club championship featuring domestic champions from six continental European countries, gets underway.

Of the two the most high profile is without doubt the ET20 Slam, which held it's player draft in London two weeks ago. The first such league hosted across multiple ICC members, the Slam is a collaborative undertaking between Cricket Ireland, Cricket Scotland, the KNCB (Cricket Netherlands) and their commercial partners Woods Entertainment and GS Holding - the parent company of the Mercuri Group, the principal backers of the Global T20, a similar initiative in Canada the second edition of which is currently being contested in Brampton, just outside of Toronto.

The Slam is a somewhat more ambitious affair than its Canadian sister league, Mercuri apparently unfazed by substantial losses from the first edition of the GT20 and committing to a somewhat more expansive competition in Europe, hosted across three countries with six city-based sides representing Dublin, Belfast, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Edinburgh and Glasgow facing off in a double round-robin league phase leading into semi finals, the 33 matches split across three rounds, with Amsterdam's VRA ground hosting the first 10 matches from August 30th, before the entire competition decamps to the Grange at Edinburgh for the next round starting September 6th, and then on to Malahide, Dublin for the final round and finals. The "travelling circus" model will presumably keep costs down to a degree, and is an improvement on the GT20's single-venue schedule, though three of the six "franchises" - Glasgow Giants, Rotterdam Rhinos and Belfast Titans - will effectively have no home matches in the first edition.

No such expense has been spared on the rosters, however, with an impressive supporting cast signed up to join marquee signings Brendon McCullum, Shane Watson, Rashid Khan, Babar Azam, Luke Ronchi and Chris Lynn. The exact remuneration for the headline signings has not been made public, but it was apparently sufficient to persuade Khan and Ronchi to opt for the Slam over the CPL, for which they initially appeared on the draft long-list.

But the principle question that hangs over the league is whether it will really capture much attention in its home markets. Despite the ET20 Slam's official website confidently announcing that "Cricket Fever Grips Europe," the announcement of the new league went entirely unremarked-upon in the Dutch mainstream press, and merited only the most perfunctory of coverage in Scotland and Ireland. As with the GT20, it seems that the principle target audience of the new league is to be found in the Subcontinent rather than at home, a notion that draft compere Darren Gough's entirely unapologetic unfamiliarity with local Irish, Dutch and Scottish players did little to dispel. The team names, too, raised some sceptical eyebrows, with names like Rotterdam Rhinos, Dublin Chiefs and the Amsterdam Kings having been picked seemingly at random, the latter betraying a curious unfamiliarity with the Dutch capital's history as a bastion of republicanism, though thankfully later changed to the "Knights" at the behest of its new owner.

Yet if both of Mercuri's new competitions might be cynically dismissed as carpetbagging, it's worth noting that the GT20, for all its failings, did draw the eyes of the cricket world briefly to King City last time round, and the money from the competition remains the principle reason Cricket Canada, now relegated to the second tier of Associate competition, is able to maintain a roster of professional cricketers. Though Full Member Ireland, as the unquestioned senior partner in the enterprise, taking the lion's share of the cash from the Euro Slam, the direct payouts to local players for the two junior partners already represents a significant step toward professionalisation.

Yet the league remains commercially outward-facing, and in cricketing terms focused on the three countries' high performance and national players. Indeed only the 18 players nominated by each of the boards were eligible for the local slots, with other Irish, Dutch and Scottish players having to throw in with the overseas players. For domestic players then, it is not so much a draft as simple selection, with even the allocation between teams at least partly pre-agreed, with only respective local local teams competing for each country's players and indeed the Irish franchises apparently dividing up their players between Dublin and Belfast entirely on the basis of their place of birth.

There's much to be said for preserving such a local connection between players and teams as a unique selling point of course, and indeed while the pursuit of that strategy was (poorly) disguised at the Euro Slam draft, it could be said to be the guiding principle of European Cricket League. The brainchild of German national team wicketkeeper Daniel Weston - a former hedge fund manager who now moonlights as the head of the European Cricket Network - the inaugural European Cricket League pits the domestic champions of the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Italy, France, Romania, Russia and Spain against one another in a three-day T10 tournament, with a view to crowning a European club Champion. With plans to move to a T20 competition spread over three weeks next season, this week's festivities are something of a dry-run for what Weston and his team hope will become a regular and high-profile fixture in the European cricket calendar, hoping to add clubs from two further countries year on year.

Though the ET20 Slam's backers also claim inspiration from Europe as the "home of the league," Weston's club-centric vision for European cricket has much more in common with the UEFA Cup and Champions League than does any franchise model, and indeed shares some personnel. The idea of the ECL was born out of chance meeting (at Cricket Switzerland's Ice Cricket event) between Weston and Roger Feiner - former head of broadcasting at FIFA - who introduced him to two of the men behind the UEFA Champions League itself, Frank Leenders and Thomas Klooz who had been the driving force behind early 90's revamping of the old European Champion Clubs' Cup as the Champions League.

Of the three, only Leenders (who had played growing up in the Netherlands) was familiar with cricket, but all are now on board, Fiener as CEO, Koonz on the board and Leenders as president. The trio are by a distance the most illustrious names attached to the project, players included. Though Danish Champions Svanholm CC can field a number of players with World Cricket League experience, not least national captain Hamid Shah, and Dutch representatives VOC Rotterdam share three Dutch internationals (Pieter Seelaar, Max O'Dowd and Scott Edwards) with the Rotterdam Rhinos, it is fair to say that the league lacks the star power of a big money franchise league, as well as, perhaps more concerning, the engineered parity produced by a draft system. It may be that the T10 format will go some way to obscure the disparity in quality between the teams, but there's little question that the Dutch and Danish champions are a cut above their rivals in terms of pedigree and international experience.

But for Weston, what happens on the field in the coming three days seems almost secondary to what happens off it in the coming years. The tournament itself is just a most visible aspect of this vision for European cricket. Rather than creating a new competition and new teams from whole cloth, the ECL looks to build on the existing competitive structure and cricketing culture in Europe. Whereas in traditional cricketing countries, especially those with some degree of a British sporting inheritance, cricket tends to revolve around state or county, and is primarily learned in schools. But in continental Europe cricket, like most other sports, is rooted in clubs, often multi-sport clubs.

"Kids playing, Mayors paying" is how Weston sums up what he hopes to achieve with the league, in combination with the European Cricket Network, an online content platform that grew out of German Cricket TV, another Weston project that involved ad-hoc streaming and video clips of German domestic cricket distributed across social media. Weston hopes the potential for clubs to return as European Champions will aid them at enlisting support from local government, attention from local media and, presumably, envy from local rivals. An eight team, mostly amateur-level, T10 tournament in out-of-the way La Manga is a modest starting point, and despite some remarkable success in finding commercial and broadcast partners, is no more likely to generate any immediate financial return than the flashier business playing out in the Netherlands, Scotland and Ireland a month later.

But while the Euro Slam has the potential to show fans from around the world the best European cricket has to offer, the more modest sideshow in la Manga is aiming for a higher, or at least more challenging ambition: to turn European cricket fans into fans of European cricket. Ultimately, the game in Europe is far from a crowded market, and it is to be hoped that there's plenty of room for both competitions to succeed.

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