India prevailed over England in Sunday's final in Birmingham, England, of a compelling
2013 ICC Champions Trophy tournament. Below are three takeaways from the event.
1. Dhoni still has the Midas touch
After capturing the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup, it might have seemed like Indian captain MS Dhoni's stature couldn't get any bigger. Somehow Dhoni has found a way to reach new heights with every trophy he claims. In the wake of the World Cup, he spearheaded his Chennai Super Kings side to a second Indian Premier League title in 2011, adding to a Champions League Twenty20 title with the Super Kings. Before that was the trophy that started Dhoni's legacy as a brilliant captain, when he led India to a championship run at the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in 2007.
Other captains in India's history may be more revered for the skill sets and charisma they brought to the field, like Kapil Dev or Sourav Ganguly, but Dhoni continues to leave them in his wake in terms of on-field success with the amount of hardware he has raised. India had Sachin Tendulkar in its 50-over lineup for more than two decades, but it wasn't until he was placed under Dhoni's captaincy that international cricket's career leader in runs scored was able to win a World Cup.
Dhoni reminded everyone in the Champions Trophy that he can lead a side to a championship at the international level without Tendulkar. He did it in 2007, with what was more or less a developmental squad, in South Africa for the first ICC World Twenty20. The prestige of 50-over championships like the World Cup and Champions Trophy may be greater, but leading India to a 20-over world title in 2007 may have been Dhoni's finest and most impressive achievement. It was the best indicator of the success that has followed because the tools he was given to work with were not nearly as glossy as some of the others he's had in more recent title-winning runs, like Shikhar Dhawan, the Champions Trophy's player of the tournament.
India followed its 2011 World Cup triumph on home soil with disastrous tours to England and Australia, during which there were calls for star batsman Virat Kohli to replace Dhoni as captain. That turmoil seems like an eternity ago now, as does the spot-fixing scandal that blighted the end of the most recent Indian Premier League season. Dhoni brushed off the criticism that came his way and has come out with his reputation intact, even if his hair and beard turned a lot grayer in the process. Now that he's provided India with a third trophy in six years, he'll have the final say on how long he remains India's captain in all formats.
2. Cricket's administrative decision-making process is bizarre
It would be unthinkable for a Grand Slam tennis tournament to be curtailed and for the finalists to share the title because organizers couldn't find a way to get event staff, fans and players in place to come back for a day longer than originally planned. Plenty of people on all sides may be inconvenienced by having to stay on for an extra day, whether it's rescheduling flights or trying to find hotel availability for one more night. At the end of the day, though, the integrity of the tournament is maintained.
Not so for the Champions Trophy. If the final could not get underway and finished around the steady rain that came down in Birmingham on Sunday, it would have meant that, according to the tournament rules, England and India would have shared the title. As if the laws of cricket aren't difficult enough for many Americans to wrap their heads around, this regulation is even more of a head-scratcher. Such an absurd situation could have been avoided in a variety of ways.
Instead of scheduling the final on a Saturday, as has been done for the past two ICC Cricket World Cups, so that Sunday could be used as a backup/rain date, the final was left to Sunday with no backup plan in place. Either side of Sunday, the weather was good enough in Birmingham. It was overcast and there was a brief shower near Edgbaston Cricket Ground on Saturday afternoon, but the rain stayed away for most of the day; and sunny skies were forecast for Monday.
The concept of needing to "schedule" a reserve day for a final is in itself strange, but perhaps the strangest part of the whole rain-delay saga and the time limits that were put in place as a result is the fact that the final was played at a ground that has lights. The match was originally scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m., but if play could not start by 4:15 p.m., the match would be called off and the trophy would be shared. Play eventually started just after 4:15, but after only 44 deliveries had been played, the players came off for another rain delay, which lasted for almost an hour. The ICC Technical Committee declared that another hour could be added onto play for the day and the final could continue until 8:30 p.m. There are too many rigid guidelines in cricket and not enough flexibility and common sense.
The first four batsmen in England's order in the final -- captain Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott and Joe Root -- were not selected for England's Twenty20 squad for two matches against New Zealand beginning this week. The style of their batting is not especially suited to playing such a short game. Conversely, a shorter match played right into the hands of India's aggressive batsmen and tipped the scales heavily in its favor. Combine that with the fact that India's players entered the Champions Trophy after playing two months of Twenty20 cricket in the Indian Premier League domestic season, and it would've taken a special effort for England to win a reduced match in the final, regardless of the fact that it was playing on home soil. Taking a 50-over tournament and transforming the championship match into a 20-over game fundamentally altered the format.
If this situation is compared to tennis, never in a million years would a Grand Slam organizer reduce a best-of-five men's final to a one-set winner-take-all match because of meteorological interference. If a match needs to be postponed because of weather or other unforeseen circumstances, it is eventually played in the format it was intended to, come hell or high water.
There is the example of a third-round match in the 2008 Australian Open between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis. The match was scheduled in the evening for Rod Laver Arena, but a five-setter between Roger Federer and Janko Tipsarevic earlier in the day delayed the rest of the schedule. It meant that Hewitt and Baghdatis didn't start their match until shortly before midnight. Tournament organizers had in place what was termed a "discretionary rule" not to start matches after 11 p.m., but they waved it so that the locals who'd waited for so long could still see Hewitt. Finding video of the match on YouTube shows that Rod Laver Arena was just as packed and raucous past 4 a.m., when the match had gone into a fifth set, where Hewitt eventually prevailed.
That was a third-round match, though. When it comes to a final, ask Andy Murray or any British tennis fan if they minded having to stay an extra day into Monday for last year's U.S. Open men's final to be played after severe weather altered the schedule. Britain had been waiting 76 years for a men's Grand Slam champion, since Fred Perry did it at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1936. So having to wait another 24 hours into Monday was worth it for Murray to win a five-set thriller over Novak Djokovic.
If fans had been forced to wait until midnight or asked to come back on Monday in Birmingham for a legitimate 50-over result, there might have been a few long faces initially. However, judging by the delight with which Indian fans celebrated the final result, most would probably say they would do it all again. There's little doubt that Edgbaston would have been just as packed on Monday as it was on Sunday if the match was shifted to another day. In the end, a match was completed on Sunday, though not as a 50-over affair the tournament was billed for.
3. Short tournaments provide the best entertainment value
The Summer Olympics last 17 days. Grand Slam tennis tournaments are two weeks. The FIFA World Cup, despite having 32 teams, takes just four weeks. The NCAA men's basketball tournament, now with 68 teams, is over in three weekends. The ICC World Twenty20 lasts 20 days. The eight-team ICC Champions Trophy lasted 18 days with 15 matches and was a very compelling tournament.
Meanwhile, the 2011 Cricket World Cup had 14 teams and lasted 44 days. The 2015 Cricket World Cup will have the same number of teams and in all likelihood will span the same number of days with the same format of two groups of seven playing a round-robin followed by quarterfinals, semifinals and a final for a total of 49 games. There is a misconception that having fewer teams will make the event shorter, but the 2019 Cricket World Cup, currently scheduled for 10 teams, will probably be as long as a 14-team Cricket World Cup because the current television rights contract stipulates that there must be a minimum of 48 games.
Much of the blame for a lackluster 2007 Cricket World Cup was placed on too many teams that were deemed to be not very competitive. The format had four groups of four teams, but instead of going straight from group play to knockouts, a second round-robin stage called the Super 8s -- which lasted 26 days -- was sandwiched between the initial group stage and the semifinals. This was mainly done for the commercial appeal of having an India-Pakistan matchup in the Super 8s, one which never took place after both teams were eliminated in the initial group stage. At one point during the Super 8s, Australia had seven days off between matches against Bangladesh and England.
A lengthy tournament is a drag on the players, the media and, most important, the fans. Many die-hards will be more than happy to save up enough money and vacation days from work to plan around following their countries for one or two weeks at a global tournament, as is done during the group stage of the FIFA World Cup or the Olympics. Unless your name is Gloria MacKenzie and you've just hit the winning numbers in a $590 million Powerball jackpot drawing, it can be pretty hard to find the time and money to spend on seven weeks' worth of hotel rooms, taxi fares and meals to follow their teams at a Cricket World Cup.
The pleasantly surprising popularity of what has been billed as the final edition of the Champions Trophy should send a message to the ICC that the Cricket World Cup needs to be shortened by the number of tournament days and matches, not necessarily by teams. Make it short and sweet. If need be, play two matches per day during the group stage, with one in the morning and the other an afternoon start. Having four groups of four can work, as long as that is followed by progressing to knockouts right away, 31 games inside of a month. It can provide just as much entertainment as this Champions Trophy and be a truly global event without exhausting players and fans.