The third edition of the Champions League Twenty20 gets under way in Bangalore Friday with the tournament struggling to carve a niche for itself and experts blaming the short format of the game for increased injuries.
The 19-day tournament, featuring top domestic Twenty20 teams from around the world, comes immediately after India's disastrous tour of England, adding to the challenge for organizers hoping to popularize the tournament.
Organizers were left looking for a last-minute replacement for title sponsorship as India went from the high of a Cricket World Cup victory to the low of an England tour on which it failed to win a single game.
In between, India organized the six-week Indian Premier League that has been blamed for fatigue and injury to its players.
"The amount of cricket India are playing, they just cannot survive," West Indian great Michael Holding wrote in a column in The Asian Age newspaper this week, adding his opinion that players had their priorities wrong.
"Look at Harbhajan Singh. He was not fit to play the test and ODI series against England, but is fit this week to play club cricket and I would suggest that his return to full fitness was not a recent occurrence."
Last month, former Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga said the Indian cricket board had "got carried away with their IPL."
"Some of [the India players] even delayed surgery after the World Cup not wanting to miss the cash-rich IPL and, after arriving in England half-fit, broke down half way through the England tour," Ranatunga said.
Though Harbhajan will be seen in action in the Sept.23-Oct.9 tournament, his Mumbai Indians teammates Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Rohit Sharma and Munaf Patel, among nine to suffer injuries during the England tour, are not fit.
Because of the spate of injuries, the Mumbai team has been given special permission to field five foreign players whereas the others are allowed four each.
Anticipating that the Champions League may not match the popularity of the IPL, title sponsor Bharti-Airtel eased itself out of a five-year deal worth $40 million US and fellow telecom giant Vodafone stepped in last month.
Broadcasters ESPN-Star, though, are buoyant and are expected to earn over $20 million US in ad revenue.
"The long schedule of the Indian cricket team or its debacle in England has not affected the CLT20 advertisement sales," ESPN executive vice-president Sanjay Kailash was quoted as saying in The Economic Times.
As for the composition of teams, the cash-rich IPL teams have managed to lure players who qualified for more than one team in the 10-team Champions League organized jointly by the Indian, Australian and South African cricket boards.
So Australians Brett Lee and Brad Haddin are playing for Kolkata Knight Riders rather than for New South Wales, West Indian allrounder Kieron Pollard is turning out for Mumbai Indians instead of South Australia or Somerset, while Sri Lanka's Suraj Randiv is in the Chennai Super Kings squad rather than of Ruhuna, which played in the qualifiers.
The tournament begins with a league format with the top two teams from each group going through to the semifinals.
Kolkata qualified from the pre-tournament competition in Hyderabad to join three other Indian teams — defending champion Chennai, Bangalore Royal Challengers and Mumbai — in the main tournament.
Australian teams NSW and South Australia, and South Africa's Cape Cobras and Warriors have got direct entries while the West Indian outfit of Trinidad and Tobago and England's Somerset made it through the qualifiers to complete the lineup.
Kolkata was to host three preliminary games but heavy monsoon rains forced an abandonment of the venue with matches shifted to Bangalore and Hyderabad. Chennai will host the final.
Chennai, led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, is the defending champion while NSW is the other past winner.