Vinny Sandhu, also known as “Mr Maximooooo”, continues to ponder the European Cricket League qualification quandaries for ECL21.

European Cricket League - NAVIGATING THE ROAD TO ECL21 - Part Two: Digging Deeper

In Part One, I outlined the qualification framework for the 2021 European Cricket League, revealed by ECL founder Daniel Weston on European Cricket Live recently.

The decision to automatically qualify 2019 champion clubs for ECL21 if no champion can be found in 2020 is one that few could contest. After all, it would be fitting reward for the clubs who have earned the right to be European Cricket League representatives.

However, the prospect of cricket being played at some stage in 2020 does cause a bit of a conundrum. The league presented a couple of options as outlined in the second scenario.  Some were of the opinion that ECL20 representative clubs should retain their spots in the 2021 tournament regardless, and I can absolutely see their point of view from a romantic perspective. In preparing for this year’s tournament, my colleagues and I have certainly enjoyed gathering information on the 2019 champion clubs, connecting with so many of their players and coaches who were set to be involved in the tournament this year, until the forced cancellation.

But taking this action and unilaterally qualifying the 2019 champions for the 2021 tournament discounts the possibility that cricket might be played this summer. At the moment, this is looking more likely in some places than others. Currently, so many cricket players across Europe just can’t wait to get back out on the field.  We owe it to the wider cricket community to make any cricket played this year meaningful. Preserving European Cricket League qualification as a genuine possibility goes a long way towards doing that.

That being said, I think the concept of ‘meaningful’ also applies to the nature of the competition played.  If I was in charge of a national federation, I would be very careful about assigning the prize of European Cricket League qualification for national tournaments which are not run over a sufficiently lengthy time period, or are not robust enough to produce a deserving champion worthy of such an honour. Of course, this is a decision for the federations, and I certainly hope they do use good, common sense and judgement in making these choices.

Planning cricket in the summer of 2020 for a window of uncertain length requires innovative thinking.  Perhaps if only a month or two of competition is possible in August and September, federations could consider these games as the first games of an extended 2021 season?  This would allow them to honour the ECL appearance for their 2019 champions who were crowned after a full season of competition, whilst providing an even more thorough process for selecting their next ECL representative club who would take part in the 2022 competition.

Seeing the Australian club season shut down suddenly due to COVID-19 last month opened my eyes to a couple of truths. Yes, the players want glory, the thrill of being victorious; but they want to earn the victory. Talking to players who were awarded championships by default because they were the highest-ranked team when the season got shut down, it was obvious that they were not feeling the euphoria and satisfaction which always comes with triumph in a showpiece championship match.  Even when reminded that they had earned the honour because of their table-topping performances from earlier in the season, they confessed that the satisfaction was somewhat hollow and unfulfilling because of the way they were ultimately awarded victory.

If a 2020 champion is found, countries do have the option to automatically enter that team in ECL21 as their most recent champions.  However, in the name of sportsmanship and fair play, the ECL heavily favours the second option, where a play-off is organised between the 2020 champions against the 2019 champions for the honour of European Cricket League participation in 2021. 

The prospect of such a clash of the titans is mouth-watering.  Imagine a best-of-seven contest, similar to a World Series, between the two champion clubs, played over two days in a T-10 format, with 50 metre boundaries (simulating the La Manga Club ground dimensions). All broadcast live on the European Cricket Network and watched all around the world? Sounds like a fitting way to determine the champion of champions to me.  As a former player, I know that I could handle the disappointment of missing out on a European Cricket League appearance if beaten by a better team in a fair contest of this length, rather than being rubbed out by a virus.  A single T-10 game would be a lottery, so I think a seven-game series (or as close to that as possible) would be the best way to go.

I can hear administrators raising their concerns already. “How are we meant to fit this into our already busy schedules?” The answer is simple. No schedules currently exist for the 2020 season, and when they are released, they will already be heavily modified due to the much shorter season. If there is a plan for a 2020 champion club to be eligible for ECL selection, then factor in the play-off when drafting the season schedule!  Allow two days for a best-of-seven schedule, or even a single day for a best-of-five decider. With T10 games being wrapped up in around 90 minutes, these things are possible.  Additionally, these contests will be of extreme and unprecedented interest to the wider cricket community of the entire country.  Imagine this play-off weekend taking place in September and the potential crowds this unique series could attract.  Better stock up on the drinks and hot dogs!

Ultimately, it is sporting to make sure champion clubs that have earned the right for their shot at the European Cricket League get fair treatment. Otherwise, it’s just not cricket!