Franchise failings are laid bare by lack of team ethic

The Champions League was supposed to see the IPL heavyweights dominate, instead it is the long-established sides who are making the early running. Will Hawkes reports
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The Independent Online

This wasn't in the script. When the Champions League was conceived, Lalit Modi, the brains behind this tournament and the Indian Premier League, must have imagined it would be won by one of his teams. That now looks significantly less likely. With all three IPL sides having made their bow in the tournament (Delhi have played twice), the ledger reads: played four, won just one.

How could this be? The pre-tournament talk assumed the IPL teams would dominate – a reasonable belief given their financial advantage and the fact they would be playing at home in front of vociferous Indian crowds. The first hint, however, that things may not go entirely as expected came in the opening match on Thursday, when Cape Cobras beat Bangalore in a thrilling contest by five wickets.

That could have been written off as a fluke (and a fluke that, incidentally was very good for the tournament – after all, "underdogs win in thrilling finish" is a great story whatever the sport) had it not been for the absolute thrashing administered to the Delhi Daredevils – who, let us not forget, can boast real talents like Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and Tillakaratne Dilshan among their number – by Victoria the following day. Delhi were bowled out for 98, the Australians reaching that total with 20 balls to spare.

The third indignity came on Saturday, when Somerset – just the second best team in the Twenty20 Cup this year, remember – defeated the Indian champions Deccan Chargers. While it may have been the most painful of the three losses for Indian fans to bear, it also gave a vital clue as to why they have struggled so far in this tournament.

Justin Langer, captain of the victorious Sabres and a former member of the Rajasthan Royals, said afterwards that the "close-knit" nature of his side was crucial to their victory. "Most of us have played together for a very long time," he said. "That is going to be an advantage for us. We have also had a couple of fantastic years in county cricket and we won a lot of close games like this. This win is a tribute to the character of the guys."

If there's one thing IPL squads lack in comparison to their rivals, it's that closeness. Their season lasts just over six weeks, just enough for team-mates to get used to playing with each other before they go their separate ways – many of them to play for other Twenty20 teams in their domestic leagues.

The Indian sides' problems could prove costly for the competition, where ticket sales have been far brisker when a home side has been involved. The first match of Friday's doubleheader – New South Wales against Eagles – was played out before a moderate crowd before Delhi's humbling by Victoria brought them flocking in. That said, the Indian sides still have it within their power to ensure they are around for the league stage given they all face matches against teams from the smaller nations. Bangalore Royal Challengers just need to beat Otago while Deccan Chargers face Trinidad & Tobago. Delhi's win over Wayamba last night is very likely to see them through. After the defeats they've endured, however, that could be as far as any of them go as results between qualifying teams are carried forward into the league section.

After his team's win over the Chargers, Langer was understandably euphoric. "It's funny because Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds and most of the support staff at the Deccan Chargers are some of my closest mates," he said. "We might have a laugh in a few days time, but I'm not sure they will be laughing about it tonight." Much more of this, and the men behind the IPL won't exactly be chuckling either.

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